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DIY Mistakes

Top DIY Mistakes that Homeowners Make

Learn to recognize the top diy mistakes that homeowners make and the steps that you can take to ensure a successful project.

The first thing any savvy do-it-yourselfer should take into account when considering a new project is that it will probably take twice as much time and three times as much money as you thought. Or maybe it’s three times as long and twice as much money. Either way, there’s a good reason why it’s true: the top DIY mistakes that homeowners make, happen a LOT.

For example, whatever it was that I did to make all the outlets in the kitchen blow at the same time – don’t do that again. The bad news is that mistakes always wind up making your home-improvement project more expensive and more time-consuming than you want it to be.

Not taking out the required permits.

Considered a bother at best by many DIYers, permits actually serve a greater purpose than just raising money for the government. “People in permitting offices aren’t evil,” says Lou Manfredini, the official Ace Hardware “Helpful Hardware Man.”

“They’re there to make sure the job is done right and you don’t hurt yourself.” Plus, for some jobs, such as putting in a wood stove, you need proof of the permit or your insurance carrier won’t cover it. Not sure if your job requires a permit? The rule of thumb is that you need one for anything larger than painting and wallpapering. It doesn’t hurt to call the building department and ask.

And as one of the top DIY mistakes, your failure to obtain permits can easily come back to bite you when and if you sell your property. And failure to disclose that you did not obtain permits can leave you liable should the new homeowner discover this down the road.

Starting a job without the necessary tools and supplies.

Nothing slows down a job more than not having all the materials you need. Manfredini says the reason the pros can do what they do is that they buy quality tools. “There’s always a bargain bin,” he says. “It’s not a wise investment. You lose time and money.”

Inadequate preparation of the job site.

If you do a small addition, suppliers will be delivering materials. You don’t want them out of order or exposed to the weather while you are working, says Ed Del Grande, host of the DIY Network’s “Warehouse Warrior” show. Beware: They could be stolen if they’re not properly stored. (If you have a septic tank, make sure you know where it is. If a supplier delivering materials in a heavy truck drives over it, you could be looking at a cracked tank. Yuck.)

Skimping on materials.

Barbara Kavovit, owner of Barbara K Enterprises in New York, says she often sees DIYers use 1/4-inch drywall for building walls instead of the minimum 5/8-inch or 3/4-inch if you want a good sound barrier. The same rule applies to plywood for subfloors. Go with 3/4-inch. It creates a much stronger floor, especially if you’re installing wood floors over them. Subpar project materials is always among the top DIY mistakes that homeowners make.

Using the wrong paint.

One of the biggest DIY projects around, painting can make a place look great. Manfredini says flat paint should only be used for ceilings because it’s usually not as washable as paints with an eggshell or satin finish. On outdoor decks, “sun and rain tear the heck out of the wood,” he says. Clear sealers don’t block the UV rays, and they peel. Use a linseed-oil-based stain – it drives the pigment into the wood and preserves it.

Improper preparation of walls for painting.

A good, quality paint job is 90-percent preparation, Manfredini says. Clean the walls, sand them and patch any holes before you paint. A coat of primer or stain blocker is advisable if you’re trying to cover over oil-based paint, stains or peeling paint, or if you’re painting a lighter color over a darker color.

Unsafe job conditions.

Nothing diminishes your return on investment like a trip to the emergency room. Wear safety goggles when using power tools or working with drywall or wood; wear hard hats when you’re working under other people on scaffolding; and open some windows when you’re painting or staining, or stripping old finishes off of floors or walls, Del Grande says.

And don’t wear loose-hanging clothing, especially when using power tools. Wear gloves when carrying wood, metal and rock, or when hammering, and wear a nail or tool pouch to prevent damage to your floors and more importantly, the feet of people and pets.


Successful DIYers live by this rule: Measure twice, cut once. It’s so important for things like building walls, hanging drywall or cutting baseboards, countertops or pipe. If you’re going to err, err on the side of too long. You can always make something shorter; you can’t make it longer. Spackle can cover only up to a 1/8-inch seam. Material cost overrun is among the top diy mistakes, and one that’s the easiest to correct. Remember, measure twice, cut once.

Working beyond your limits.

Everybody has them. Del Grande won’t work on a roof; yours might be plumbing or electrical work. Don’t stand on the top steps of ladders, and don’t try to work beyond your reach. Ladder accidents send more than 164,000 people to the emergency room every year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Failure to get a clue.

You don’t want to start to learn how to do a project on your own house. If you have a friend who is a contractor or an experienced DIYer, offer your assistance on one of his projects so you can learn. No one will turn away free labor. If you need to remove a supporting wall, have an engineer look at it to see what kind of beam you need to replace it. “If you have a saw in your hand and have a question about what you’re doing,” Del Grande says, “stop. Follow that little voice in your head.”

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