5 DIY Home Repair Mistakes That Are Easy to Avoid

There’s a comedian who jokes that if he had to take over hosting the TV show “This Old House,” he’d rename it “This Fat Check” – as in “Watch me write this fat check to the contractor who’s going to fix all the awful mistakes I’ve made.”

It’s no joke to people like me. I’ve left gaping holes in drywall trying to do something as simple as installing a toilet paper rack. So I’m wary of tackling a larger project. Then again, hiring others to do the work is not only expensive, but sometimes the workmanship isn’t much better than what a klutz like me can do.

Don’t believe me? Last month, the Consumer Federation of America released its annual list of top 10 consumer complaints, and No. 2 was “home improvement/construction.” It specifically mentioned “shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job.”

(No. 1, by the way, was complaints about car sales and repairs.)

If you’re about to embark on a DIY repair project – big or small – watch this video by Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson first. Then we’ll review five DIY home repair mistakes you’ll want to avoid so you don’t cause bigger, more expensive problems.

1. Don’t have a list or a plan

Small projects need a list. Big ones need a plan. Of course, a natural question is: Where do I find out what goes on the list? One easy place to start is with the stores you’ll buy the stuff from. The Home Depot’s website has a section called “Project How-To,” while the Lowe’s home page has a big button called “Ideas & How-Tos.”

2. Don’t get a permit

Your city or county will demand one if you’re tackling a big job. “Yes, they cost money up front,” Stacy says. “But not as much as a fine and applying for one after you get a citation.” How do you get a permit? It’s easy. Start online. We haven’t heard of a city that doesn’t have that information on its website, whether it’s Sheboygan, Wis., or Scranton, Pa.

3. Don’t measure

A dozen years ago, my brother-in-law helped me re-tile my first floor. (I helped him, truth be told.) My wife had chosen some new tile, but my brother-in-law didn’t really measure the space. So he told me to buy more boxes than we needed. To this day, our garage contains boxes of unused tile. My brother-in-law’s reply? “Better than not having enough and having to go back and get more.” But best of all would have been accurately measuring the space and saving a couple hundred bucks.

4. Ignore safety

Most DIYers know that electrical jobs are dangerous and require safety precautions. But those aren’t the only kind of jobs that can be harmful. Even small jobs can cause injury. Last summer, the National Safety Council and 3M released a DIY safety survey that found, “Among those who sustained personal injuries, 41 percent say they came into harm’s way because they weren’t wearing personal protection gear, even though what they needed was right at their fingertips.”

Even worse: 50 percent “who were personally injured taking on a home improvement project got hurt doing basic yard maintenance.” So for anything more complicated than raking leaves, you better think about safety.

5. Use cheap materials

After investing in tools and committing your time, the worst thing you can do is buy cheap raw materials – which, even if you can hide their cheapness, will likely fail sooner than later. And that’ll mean doing the same project over again.

If you really want to save on materials, plan your project well enough in advance so that you can watch for sales at stores like The Home Depot and Lowe’s. You can also see if Habitat for Humanity has a ReStore near you. ReStores sell “new and gently used furniture, home accessories, building materials, and appliances to the public at a fraction of the retail price.” Well worth a visit.

Bottom line: DIY doesn’t mean doing it without help and doing it without careful thought and planning.

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  • Jcatz4

    No. 3 Don’t Measure – just wondering why you didn’t return the extra boxes of tiles to the store. Even if you couldn’t get your money back for some reason, you could have probably gotten a store credit.

    • I.Popoff

      He’ll be glad to have those extra tiles when eventually some of them need replaced and identical tiles are no longer in stock.

  • cybrarian_ca

    Two words – Angie’s List. I know it’s not everywhere, but I’ve gotten some great contractors this way.

    One more tip: if you’re doing something large-ish, a newly graduated architect may be a good source for a plan. I hired a friend’s newly-graduated architect daughter to design a new basement for us after Hurricane Sandy destroyed ours. It was a small basement, but in our converted fishing cottage, it’s half our living space. She came over one Saturday afternoon, listened to what I wanted, took measurements, and a week later, sent me a PDF of the plans she designed. They were great, and the contractor was thrilled to have a clear, easy to understand, professional plan. The architect got her first solely-designed space for her portfolio, and charged me only $300! If I had to do this in a city where I didn’t have a friend with an architect daughter, I’d post a small ad with a local architecture school, if tthere was one.