Measuring twice is still a thing.
Doing a little home improvement on your own can be a great way to cut costs on a project. But you can find yourself having to do a project over again or in the middle of a dangerous situation if you don’t have a firm grasp of what you’re doing – no matter how many YouTube videos you’ve watched. Home inspection and contracting professionals weigh in on some of the most common do-it-yourself hacks that are a major don’t.Skipping the permits
Skipping the permits
Permit regulations vary depending on your location, but they
are often required when conducting plumbing, electrical, heating or air work to
ensure a home is safe. There will be an extra cost, but it’s
worth the price over getting caught doing the work without a permit, or far
worse, doing the work wrong. “The permits are there to enforce minimum quality
standards,” says Michael Flanagan, heating, ventilation and air conditioning manager for Michael & Son Services in
Leaving wires exposed
Leaving wires exposed is an obvious no-no,
but they also need to be covered properly when they’re hidden. Frank Lesh, the
executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors, says inspectors commonly find exposed wires in suspended ceilings of recently
finished basements. “It’s not that someone’s going to touch it, but mice are
everywhere … and they start gnawing on the electrical wire and insulation," he points out. "And
if there’s no cover on [the wire] … it could rub up against metal and short-circuit.”
Any electrical fix
Attempts at adding circuits or overloading circuits can
easily cause you to blow a fuse. Dave Geradine, owner of Expert Home Repairs in
Hollywood, Florida, says electrical work is particularly sensitive because a
connection could work a number of ways, but its flaws may not be apparent until
it’s too late. “If you don’t make your connections properly, you can have … an
electrical fire caused by an arcing of the two wires that aren’t tightly
connected,” Geradine says.
Closing vents to focus heat on another part of the house
Winter is coming, and parts of your house may feel it more
than others. You may be tempted to close the vents in one room to send more
warm air to other parts of the house, but Flanagan says that’s a bad idea.
“While you can close some vents to force more air to this part of the house and
that part of the house, you’re destroying your efficiency and you’re certainly
shortening the life of the equipment,” he says.
Squeezing space heaters into tiny spots
Electric space heaters are another way to heat up those colder rooms, but be careful where you put them. Lesh says people often push up space heaters against curtains or place them in other
areas where they become a fire hazard. Jury-rigging
a space heater to sit above a baby’s crib is a definite don’t. “A truck could go by or an airplane, and this little
heater on the shelf could fall into the crib and start a fire,” Lesh says.
Putting new flooring on top of old material
Replacing a floor is a great way to make a room feel new
again, but you should always remove old material, such as tile or linoleum, before putting new
flooring on top. Otherwise, you could find yourself with an uneven surface, and
you’ll have to replace it yet again. “You always want to go down to the bare
wood or concrete surface when you do new flooring," Geradine says. If you don’t? "What’s underneath your new flooring fails, [and] then your tile comes up,” he says.
Using the wrong replacement pipe
Finding the right pipe to match a section of plumbing that
needs replacement can be tricky and expensive. Aside from leaks, which are
possible with ill-fitting pipes, Lesh says you can easily raise a new
bunch of issues without even realizing it. For one, replacing a portion of copper or
steel pipe for a water heater with a plastic option can spell out
“If your electrical system is using the plumbing pipes
for grounding, there has to be a circuit there," he explains. "If you replace one of the water
pipes with something that’s not conductive like steel or copper ... then you no longer have that ground. And then the house
could be ungrounded, so that could be a fire or safety hazard.”
Using standard outlets near a sink or tub
If you don’t already know that water and electricity don’t
mix, put the drill down. When remodeling a bathroom or kitchen, be sure to use
outlets that include a ground-fault circuit interrupter for any areas near water.
In the event an appliance that’s plugged in falls into water, the GFCI
will trip the electricity so it cuts off, Lesh says. Otherwise, “if you have a
conventional receptacle, then you could get electrocuted.”
Using all-purpose glues or tapes.
Sadly, duct tape is not an effective go-to tool, and most
likely neither are those fancy tapes and glues you’ve seen on infomercials. “Those
spray-on glues and the tape that stops the leak in the water pipe you see on TV
does not work,” Flanagan says. When it comes to taping or gluing something
together, there’s typically an adhesive specific to the need that is most
effective and least likely to cause problems down the line. For example, Flanagan
says heating and air professionals use foil tape.
Fastening a deck to a home with nails
The more people a structure is expected to hold, the bigger
the bolt should be to hold the structure in place, especially when adding a new
deck onto your home. Lesh says home inspectors frequently see decks attached to
homes with nails, when the project requires specific bolts to secure the
structure. “Every year a deck collapses because a guy just used a
whole bunch of nails to attach it to the house,” he says.
Painting over chipped paint or wallpaper
While you may think a couple coats of paint could have any
wall looking brand new, it’s important to make the surface smooth and clean
first, particularly if you’re looking to get rid of old wallpaper or
chipped paint. “Paint will moisten the wallpaper and then make it bubble. And
then you have to cut out all the bubble spots and fill them with joint
compound,” Geradine says. Ultimately, you’ll have to remove the wallpaper
anyway, and it’s far easier to take off without paint over it.
Replacing pipes in old homes without checking
Many older homes could use a bit of TLC, but be wary of the
dangers that could be lurking beneath the surface. There is a chance that old
plumbing could contain asbestos, which isn’t something you want to let
in the air. “There could be hazardous material in there, and that is nothing
to play around with," Lesh says. "You can’t just wear a dust mask and take that stuff off –
the fibers are microscopic and you can really, really injure yourself long term
if you touch that kind of stuff.”
He adds that you should seek a professional with noted experience
handling hazardous materials to ensure particles aren’t left in the air to
wreak havoc over time.
When in doubt, call a pro.
You can be handy with tools and still need to submit to a
professional’s help sometimes. If you’re unsure of the dangers of a project,
contacting someone who does know will make it far less likely that you'll turn
your home into a death trap.
“With the trades – plumbing, heating, air and electrical –
there may be five ways to do it right, but there’s a thousand ways to do it
wrong,” Flanagan says. “And people tend to find those thousand ways before they
find the five ways. So if you’re just not confident and competent in what
you’re doing, you should just call a professional.”
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She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at email@example.com.
Teresa Mears | May 3, 2019
Conventional wisdom says 20%, but you can buy your first home with much less down.