Homeowner Alert: How to Avoid a DIY Disaster
Life + Money

Homeowner Alert: How to Avoid a DIY Disaster


If you’re a homeowner, chances are you’ve taken on a home-repair project that you probably shouldn’t have.

Whether the results were disastrous, costly or comical, we can all relate to the desire to do-it-yourself instead of calling a pro. After all, that will likely save you a bundle of cash. However, ask a pro and he or she will invariably tell you that it’s best to reserve home repairs to them.

“I always say ‘do what you know how to do competently and safely’ and leave the rest for a professional,” says Sean Murphy, a D.I.Y. specialist at Build.com. “While these D.I.Y. disasters may make for riveting dinner conversation, avoiding them altogether will save you time, money and headaches in the long run.” Here, meet four people who went it alone, with less-than-stellar results, and then read on to hear what the experts say they might have done differently.

Their heartbreak just might save you big the next time you decide to whip out the toolbox.


The Homeowner: Patrick Morris, 51
Troy, New York

The Situation: “I had just bought my house, and my then wife was painting rooms,” explains Morris, a public relations manager who has since divorced. “At one point, she went downstairs for something and came back to find that our two-year-old had used the paint roller as a push toy throughout the hardwood floors upstairs. There was light blue paint all over the floor in each room.”

What Went (Really) Wrong: ”My then wife proceeded to use Zip Strip to try to remove the paint, which further wrecked the floors,” he says. “I went to Home Depot to get a floor sander, sand paper, polyurethane finish, etc. Five minutes into sanding, I realized what a huge mistake it was to undertake the whole thing. There was wood dust everywhere, the sanding was difficult, uneven and a total mess, and the rental and purchase of everything was over $300. And, since we couldn’t get flooring guys to show up to give us an estimate on the cost to refinish the floors, we went to Sears and arranged to have wall-to-wall carpeting installed to the tune of $3,000. The whole thing cost us $6,000!”


What the Expert Says: “When you’re painting walls, especially with children in the home, you should always be using a low VOC water-based paint on the walls,” says Amy Matthews, host of DIY Network’s “Sweat Equity.” “It’s the healthiest choice for your family, and when wet, it can be removed from most surfaces with soap and water. Always be wary of using harsh chemicals to clean up any mishap, and never rush for a solution to a home improvement mistake. Take time finding a pro to solve the issue for the right price at the right time. There is no crime in having a patch of temporarily damaged wood floor, but it is a crime to lay carpet over it!”


The Homeowner: Kathi Rollberg Boldt, 45
Ashland, Massachusetts

The Situation: “I’ve always enjoyed watching renovation shows and was excited to learn new skills, like tiling,” says Boldt, a middle school math teacher and married mother of three. “So, we decided to renovate our bathroom while we were also doing the kitchen because there was a sale on bath countertops—if you ordered them with the kitchen, you saved a bit.”

What Went Wrong: ”In the end, we had to buy a different sink because the countertop wouldn’t fit the dimensions of our bathroom,” she explains. “Then it got worse: After demolishing the wall tile, we found water damage on the walls. We had to bring in someone to re-wall the bathroom—that cost about $1,500. All the while, I was going to grad school, but I still wanted to do the tiling. I put on the tub surround, but finally admitted defeat and let the woman who was tiling our kitchen floor grout the tub surround and the floor. When all was said and done, the job that was going to just cost us for the tiles, countertop and cabinet ended up being about $3,000!”

What the Expert Says: Beware of what seems to be a “good deal,” but leads you to expand the size of your project, suggests Matthews. “If you don’t asses the reality of the cost, physical commitment and tools needed for the job, you will always end up biting off more than you can chew,” she says.

While she understands the temptation to hone your skills while going it alone, “You’ll end up paying for it both financially and mentally with added stress,” says Matthews.


The Homeowner: Kyle James, 39
Redding, California

The Situation: “I fancy myself a pretty handy guy,” says James, the founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com, and a married father of three. “So last year, after we had our pool professionally installed, I took on the task of doing some erosion control on a fairly large slope created by the pool installation. I did some research, installed jute netting to hold the soil, and seeded the hill with seasonal rye grass.”


What Went Wrong: ”One afternoon, early on, I went outside and turned on the sprinkler on the hill to water the seed. We left for a family get-together and returned only to discover that I hadn’t turned the water off. The hill got completely saturated, which knocked the sprinkler on its side and created a mudslide. It almost completely ruined the structure of the pool. After a phone call and a $2,500 bill to get the hill fixed, I learned to leave some D.I.Y. projects to the pros.”

What the Expert Says: “Kyle had good intentions and did nothing wrong by taking on the task of doing erosion control,” Matthews says. “Doing basic landscaping on your own is always a great way to save money. Kyle’s only mistake was not turning off the water! When doing your own projects, you have to be very mindful. Attention to detail can make the difference between a successful project and a debacle. However, don’t ever beat yourself up for making a mistake. Even pros make mistakes once in a while—the only difference is their mistakes come with a warranty.”


The Homeowner:
Marci Echeverria, 50
West Orange, New Jersey

The Situation: “We have a finished room on the third floor of our house. It’s a room we call ‘The B&B’ because we only use it for visitors. After a few days with us, some family members were leaving and I went up to make sure they hadn’t left anything. While I was up there, I heard the toilet running. I tried playing with the handle, which didn’t help at all. My husband Tony came home and he went upstairs to take a look at it, knowing full well that neither one of us had any experience in this area. Still, Tony was determined to fix it and found some online videos explaining how. He began working on it and finally came downstairs and declared that the toilet was fixed.”

What Went Wrong: ”Two days later, I saw drops of water on the floor of the second-floor hallway,” says Echeverria. “Thinking it was our daughter’s leftovers from her shower, I wiped it up and dismissed it. The next day, there were more drops on the floor, and I knew nobody had taken a shower yet. Next, I saw water dripping down from a huge wet spot. I called the plumber right away, who came right over. Total cost: $300–$400, including paying the plumber to fix the toilet and a contractor to patch the ceiling. For every other repair since, we’ve gone straight to the pros!”

What the Expert Says: “Considering the extent of damage that could have occurred in this scenario, these homeowners got off pretty easy spending less than $500,” Matthews says. “Water damage can be one of the most costly (and inconvenient) repairs in a home. And, though a running toilet can be an easy fix for even the most novice D.I.Y.’er, ask yourself if the risk is worth the reward when a professional can often leave you dollars ahead in the long run.”

This piece originally appeared at Learnvest.com. Ready more from Learnvest:
New-Home Syndrome: How Renovating Dreams Can Dig You Into a Hole
5 Renos That Up Your Home’s Value…and 5 That Don’t
D.I.Y. It: 10 Things to Repurpose This Weekend