Top 5 Don’t Do-It-Yourself Projects
#1: Electrical Work
Want to install a dimmer switch or replace an old ceiling light? No problem. Upgrading existing devices and fixtures is relatively easy and safe, just be sure to first turn off the electricity to the circuit you’re working on.
However, when it comes to extending existing electrical circuits or adding new ones, call in an experienced, licensed electrician. When homeowners start messing around with electrical circuits and running new cables, there are two likely outcomes and both are potentially lethal: electrical shock and fire.
All aspects of electrical work—from wire nuts to cable connectors—are governed by very strict codes. Violate even a single code and you’re asking for trouble.
I recently saw a photograph of a homeowner-remodeled bathroom that was taken by Illinois home inspector, Tom Brooks. It showed a wall switch mounted inside the shower stall. Now imagine the ramifications of standing in a wet shower while flipping a light switch. It’s a miracle that no one has gotten fried.
#2: Plumbing Work
As with electrical work, there are certain plumbing jobs that any competent DIYer can tackle, such as replacing faucets and showerheads, installing toilets, and hooking up sinks and washing machines. But there are other jobs that require the expertise of a professional plumber.
A homeowner should not attempt to expand or modify a home’s water supply lines or hot water heating system, which are typically comprised of copper pipe and fittings soldered together with a propane torch. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could easily start a flood or fire. Try explaining either of those scenarios to your homeowner’s insurance agent.
And be aware that even a little leak can cause a tremendous amount of damage if it goes unnoticed even for a relatively short period of time. That’s why, as a general rule, DIYers shouldn’t tackle a plumbing repairs or improvements that are concealed behind walls, floors or ceilings.
#3: Tree Cutting
Maybe it’s a guy thing, but there’s something irresistible about grabbing a chainsaw and cutting down a tree. Perhaps it’s the roar of a two-cycle engine, or some innate urge to clear land, or maybe we just need to yell, “TIMBER” every now and then.
Regardless of the reasons, tree cutting is inherently dangerous. First there’s the chainsaw or axe with its ability to cut flesh as easily as a sapling. Then there’s the danger of the tree toppling onto a car, house or person. All of which happens all too often.
Two years ago, just a few miles from my home, a DIYer was in a tree with a chainsaw—a huge no-no—trimming branches for his son’s treehouse. The limb he was cutting didn’t fully break away and it swung back and knocked him out of the tree 25 feet form the ground. He’s now confined to a wheelchair and his prospects of ever walking again aren’t good.
Most homeowners can safely cut trees smaller than 4” in diameter and less than 20’ tall. But for any tree larger than that—especially one that’s close to a house, road or power line—hire a professional arborist or tree-clearing expert. The risk of loss, both personal and property, is simply too great.
There’s no better way to meet an orthopedic surgeon—or an undertaker—than spending an extended amount time on your roof. One small slip or misstep, and it’s a long way down.
Still, every year perfectly sane individuals decide to test gravity—and their good luck—by climbing onto their homes to nail down a new roof.
I’ll admit that installing roof shingles doesn’t seem all that difficult, especially when you see roofing contractors using pneumatic nail guns. But climbing up and down ladders with supplies and tools, and scurrying across every inch of a roof is exhausting and dangerous work. Not to mention that it requires experience and skill to install a weatherproof roofing system, which includes flashing and vents.
So, leave roof installations to the pros and stay off of your roof, especially if it has a slope steeper than 4-in-12, which is about a 20° angle.
#5: Removing Walls
In their zeal to “open up” living spaces and create a more spacious interior, an increasing number of homeowners are taking down walls between rooms. And that’s a great idea, unless it’s a load-bearing wall that’s supporting the floor or roof above.
Removing a load-bearing wall without adding the necessary support can prove disastrous and costly to repair. The floors and roof above can literally come crashing down, perhaps not immediately, but eventually over time.
Any time you wish to alter the framing of a house, whether it’s a wall, ceiling, floor or roof, always consult with a building engineer. He or she will be able to tell you not only if the wall is load-bearing or not, but also how to safely remove the wall, and how to add the appropriate amount of support.
Note that most towns require you to obtain a building permit before removing walls, and the permit won’t be granted without an engineer’s report.
Don’t Do-It-Yourself Bonus Round
Here are 10 bonus don’t DIY tips that fall under the category, “I really shouldn’t have to tell you this, but . . .”
- Don’t cut your own hair, especially with electric hedge trimmers.
- Don’t do your own dental work, unless your goal is to subsist on a totally liquid diet.
- Don’t suture any body part with a staple gun, regardless of your HMO co-pay.
- Don’t attempt to yank out a tree stump with your wife’s minivan; I guarantee you that the stump will win.
- Don’t try to impress the in-laws by carving the Thanksgiving turkey with a reciprocating saw. It’s disrespectful to the bird and bad for the blade—and table. (Although it’ll surely make for a most memorable holiday.)
- Don’t use a hot-melt glue gun to keep your shorts up.
- Don’t attempt to gain more attic headroom by cutting away the webbing from a few trusses. That is unless you like flat roofs.
- Don’t ever use your lawnmower indoors, no matter how much you hate shag carpeting.
- Don’t ever use the words pedicure and belt sander in the same sentence.
- Don’t use a wheelbarrow for mixing coleslaw, even if your wife’s Aunt Fanny is coming to the picnic.