Duct-tape disasters and other DIY no-nos (© Steven Errico/Getty Images)

© Steven Errico/Getty Images

When homeowners strap on a tool belt or grab that roll of duct tape, they can get into a lot of trouble. Even the simplest-seeming projects can go horribly wrong. An entire YouTube category of "DIY disasters" bears witness to the world of do-it-yourselfers in over their heads — here's a compilation with ukulele music and a laugh track.

If you want to hear DIY horror stories, you have to ask the remodelers who rescue them, people like Fred Spaulding, owner of Quality Home Improvements in Houston and secretary-treasurer of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. When asked about the worst DIY errors he's seen, Spaulding tells the story of being summoned to figure out why a home's circuit breaker kept tripping.

He tracked the problem to the attic. There, he found a ceiling fan dangling in midair, suspended from its electrical wires. The fan had been left hanging when the homeowner and his friends replaced the roof weeks before. They'd dropped it into the attic while stripping off old shingles. "This way they didn't have to disconnect it," Spaulding says. (Bing: How to repair a shingle roof)

They finished the roof and forgot the fan.

Professional Services

Find local plumbers, electricians, contractors and more.

Meanwhile, the fan kept running, winding up the cable that held it, which wore the insulation off the wires. As the bare wires twisted and touched, they shorted, tripping the circuit breaker. Once the power shut off, the fan cord unwound, only to spool up again, wearing the insulation further, after the homeowners turned the power back on.

It’s amazing, Spaulding marvels, that the mess hadn't sparked a fire.

Favorite shortcuts
When DIYers get stuck or are running out of time, it's tempting to take a shortcut and face the consequences later.

Read:  How to stay out of DIY trouble

"Typically, they think, 'I’ll just knock that out in an hour,'" says Lawrence J. Heuvelman III. He owns One Home Cinema in Antioch, Ill., specializing in lighting and home theaters.

"Then they've got a whole weekend into it," Heuvelman says. "And then they take a day off work. The wife's upset with him because he didn't finish it on Sunday. He gets to the point where he doesn't know what to do next and has to go ask some buddies."

Article continues below

This happened to a friend of Heuvelman's, whose rushed home repair left a gaping hole at the spot where electrical lines entered the home. She covered the hole with plastic and stuffed it with insulation, but cold air was still leaking in. So she sprayed insulating foam into the hole from outside.

"Picture this," he says: "A 5- to 10-inch-square hole of drywall is missing around this pipe. So they just foamed the heck out of it."

His friend called for help when a large, solid, yellow bubble of foam broke through the drywall into a finished room in her home.

It may not surprise you to learn that a lot of the worst shortcuts involve duct tape. It's cheap, easy to use and sticks like crazy — at least at first.

Spaulding has seen duct tape used:

  • instead of glue to join vent pipes together (the tape loosens over time).
  • in place of the paper drywall tape on a home's interior (it lifted up under the paint, exposing drywall seams "all over the inside of the house," he says.
  • to install a shower head instead of the requisite wood blocks and metal plumbing straps (the shower head wobbled once the tape loosened and it had to be reinstalled).

"I think they know these are shortcuts. But they just don’t think they’ll ever get caught," Spaulding says of homeowners. "They think, 'It'll last until I leave the house.'"

The real cost
Fixing a botched DIY job can easily cost more than the hoped-for savings. Tim Sweeney, owner of Sweeney Construction Corp. in Madison, Wis., said he was helping a client repair a self-inflicted catastrophe. Remodeling an upstairs room, the homeowner hired contractors for some jobs and did some himself, including installing a supply line between a second-floor toilet and the wall.

Maybe a component was defective, or maybe the owner made a mistake. Whatever the reason, the toilet sprang a leak while the house was empty. The family arrived home after eight hours away and found the upstairs bathroom flooded. A deluge was raining onto the first floor. The downstairs laundry and kitchen were destroyed, including cabinets and floors. The repairs cost almost $100,000, only some of which was covered by insurance.

Sweeney sympathizes with the DIYer, though. He has been in trouble himself, although it was minor. Having tackled what promised to be a simple wiring job in his home's bathroom, he finished and turned on the light — surprise! — the fan started up, too.

Sweeney is a second-generation builder, but he's not an electrician.

"I knew enough to be dangerous," he says, pointing out that all people, even pros, tend to be unrealistic about their skills.