Thursday, February 1, 2007

Top 4 Do-It-Yourself Mistakes…and Tips!

By Christopher Frey
Stay-At-Home-Dad ~ Master to the Apprentice
Licensed General Contractor ~ Master
Certified Home Inspector ~ Certified Kitchen

"A Home Improvement Project That’s Done Wrong -- DECREASES a Property’s Value!"


With the increase in DIY channels offering 24 hour home improvement suggestions more and more people are tackling home repair and improvement projects. The rising cost of hiring expert professionals is also making more people turn to their local home improvement stores for a quick fix.

TV makes it look so easy, “I can do that!”

While this increased initiative should be applauded there are some drawbacks. I’ve outlined some “pitfalls” below.

Your home is your biggest investment it should be treated as such. Remember the old computer adage, “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” the same holds true for home improvements.

There is no substitute for knowledge, skill, and quality materials. Television and magazine segments are edited after many hours of production, to fit into condensed, bite size formats. These should be used only as guidelines and concept resources, not as a substitute for actual instruction.

To prove this point, the fastest growing professional contractor specialty is Homeowner Rescuers - Contractors who specialize in fixing DIYers mistakes.


“It won’t take that long, we can do it in a weekend!”

Here’s an inside secret; most contractors usually estimate the time a project will take based on their own skill level, the skill level of their workers and the availability of materials and then add another 50% and sometimes even 100% more. A project I think will take me two days, I’ll quote a week. If I’m done early, great, if not, I’ve left myself a cushion of time for the unforeseen. Yes, there’s always the unforeseen. It’s what causes most time and cost overruns. Also, the lack of planning and preparedness.

Time Rule #1:

However long you think it will take you to do something… double it! (Even if you’ve done it a million times before!)

Time Rule #2:


Not only does it lead to an unwanted result, injury and in some cases DEATH might occur!


“It cost us double what we thought it would!”

Another inside secret; contractors’ always add between 10-25% on material costs. This covers damages, waste, and fluctuations in prices from the original contract date.

Many building materials are considered commodities and are traded as such. Today’s price will not be the same price this summer.

When planning to build that deck this spring (with that big tax refund) price the lumber and materials now, but beware, when you go to purchase them the costs might go up as much as 50-100%.

Items to include in your calculations:

  • Materials
  • Tools Required
  • Protection Materials (i.e. Drop Clothes, Dust Masks, etc.),
  • Additional Outside Labor
  • REFUSE REMOVAL (Often a large budget item that’s overlooked.)
  • Any Building Permits Required

Always check with your carting company and local municipality to see what their bulk removal policies are. A lot of times you’ll find it’s easier to rent a dumpster for medium to large projects than cart stuff to the dump yourself. But beware; the cost of refuse removal is skyrocketing as landfills fill up.

Budget Rule #1:

Whatever you estimate your project to cost add 10-25%!
udget Rule #2:

Plan for the unexpected and unforeseen… another 10-25%!

Remember, if you don’t spend it, it’s yours. But if you need it, it’s there!


“Honey, I’ll be right back I have to run to the store to get a tool we need!”

“It’s okay we’ll just use this instead.”

Yes, tools are my favorite things on earth… well besides my wife and children. In the twenty-five plus years I’ve been purchasing these wonders you’d think I’d have them all… you’d be wrong.

This is one area that causes increases in the two categories above. Not having the right tools for a particular job causes a poor result, and is also unsafe. Additionally, using the wrong tool increases a project’s time and ends up costing more in the long run. If there’s a tool you need for a particular project, but it’s a large ticket item, look into renting instead of buying.

For example, if you’re tiling your bathroom, a simple carbide wheel tile cutter and a pair of nippers will do the job, but a tile wet-saw will make the job go much faster and the result will be much better. Not all of us need a tile wet saw (well some of us did,) they’re expensive, big and bulky, but they rent for about $50 a day. Money well spent. And some rental places will even drop off and pick up.

Planning is a big piece of this section. Look at your project, look at everything involved, and then look at what it’ll take to complete it. Do you have the right tools, if not; can you get the right tools? Do you know how to use the right tools? If the answer to any one of these questions is NO, consider hiring this project out to a professional… who has the right tools and knows how to use them. It’ll save you in the long run.

Tool Rule #1:

Use the right tool for the job!

Screwdrivers are meant for screws, not for prying… that’s why they make pry bars!

Tool Rule #2:

You get what you pay for! Don’t cheap out on your tools!

Quality tools are an investment and will give you a lifetime of service. I’ve had some $30 paint brushes for more than 15 years… they’ve more than paid for themselves.

Tool Rule #3:

Read the instructions and safety warnings from cover to cover, before operating ANY tool. Never remove or disable any safety feature and always replace broken or missing parts.

It’s easier to order a new blade guard than it is to re-attach a finger!


“We’re so overwhelmed… it’ll never get done!”

This is the case of “our eyes are bigger than our stomachs.” Just because you replaced a vanity and painted the bathroom does not mean you’re ready to rip out and remodel the kitchen. You’re painting the kitchen and suddenly decide the dining room doesn’t match… finish the kitchen first, 100%, before moving on!

One of the most common problems I have seen with DIY projects is things left undone. People get in way over their heads and don’t know how to finish. Or in some cases have run out of money or time; see #1 and #2. This is where those contractors, I discussed in the beginning, come in. They often charge a premium to finish started projects. But mostly, those projects will remain unfinished until more money and/or more time avails itself.

Project Scope Rule #1:

Stick to the plan! Once you’ve started a specific project; finish it before moving on to something else.

Project Scope Rule #2:

Seek professional advice. Ask questions! Plan, analyze, plan and plan some more before buying a single item or picking up a tool.

I know it’s tempting… you’re in the local home improvement store picking up trash bags and batteries and you see that great wood floor you’ve always wanted… and it’s on sale. Last week, on TV, you saw two people install it in two days. Its Friday night… you say, “Great! Let’s get it!”

Slow down, go home, and look at the scope of the project. Create a plan of attack. What has to be moved? Who’ll watch the kids? Do I have all the tools I need? What’s really involved in installation?

Some last words:

I advise all homeowners to stick with projects that involve finishes, (i.e. paint, wallpaper, flooring, counter tops, etc.) Never, ever do anything mechanical like electrical or plumbing unless you’re fully trained and confident in your abilities, and even then, have it checked by a professional when you’re done.

And…stay off your roofs!

The number one homeowner accident is falling off a ladder.

It’s always interesting to me that people scoff at the price a professional contractor charges for a particular task. Yet, no one questions paying a doctor $60-$100 for a fifteen minute office visit for a sniffle.

Another inside fact; professional contractors pay liability and worker’s compensation insurance that rivals the rates of malpractice coverage. When we do something wrong many people could be injured or die. The contractor’s inside “joke” is that a doctor can only kill one person at a time. If we build a deck wrong or wire an outlet improperly we put many lives at risk.

Please comment or email me with any questions… I’m at your service.

Thanks for reading.


Mike said...

As the king of unfinished home improvement projects, I applaud you for this great post.

Number of years since I started kitchen floors? 5

ETA at finished floors? Who knows, what's the rush?

Long Island Dad said...

Mike- My father-in-law would say you should always have 1 unfinished project, otherwise there's no point in living anymore! So leave the floor and live long and prosper my friend!

Gretchen said...

How timely for me!

I recently painted a couple walls in the kitchen, and then decided we needed granite. Well, wouldn't you know it but one of the DIY shows had a project where they condensed installing your own granite countertops into about 15 seconds. We haven't, and won't. But I can't stop thinking about it!

Wonderful article and suggestions.

Angel L. said...

All of this is sound advise. I enjoyed this post. As the planner, designer and mastermind of many projects (from deck, pool deck, basement refinish at old home and many more) all of what you have said is very important. I know when hubby asks me, 'what will this job cost?' before we do it and I price it all out I always add 10-20% for the small things you didn't remember you needed.

Excellent post as always bud!

David LaFerney said...

As a Contractor and a do it yourselfer I recommend that you break up larger projects into smaller discrete steps. Then complete each step before beginning the next. For example if you are redecorating a room, first do the ceilings, then the walls, then the trim, and finally replace the floor. That way if you get side tracked, or lose interest between two steps, you aren't living in a construction project, and the cost is more manageable.

Anonymous said...

Hey I'd love to congratulate you for such a great made site!
thought this would be a nice way to introduce myself!

Johnie Maverick
if you're ever bored check out my site!
[url=]harry potter Party Supplies[/url].

Anonymous said...


מלון [url=]כפר בעיר[/url] - [url=]חדרים[/url] גדולים אנו מציעים שירותי אירוח מגוונים כמו כן יש במקום שירות חדרים הכולל [url=]אחרוחות רומנטיות[/url] במחירים מפתיעים אשר יוגשו ישירות לחדרכם.

לפרטים נוספים אנא גשו לאתר האינטרנט שלנו - [url=]כפר בעיר[/url] [url=][img][/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

Hello. My wife and I bought our house about 6 months ago. It was a foreclosure and we were able to get a great deal on it. We also took advantage of the 8K tax credit so that definitely helped. We did an extensive remodeling job and now I want to refinance to cut the term to a 20 or 15 year loan. Does anyone know any good sites for mortgage information? Thanks!