DIY mistakes of the rookie homeowner

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | February 5, 2015

Homeowners really love the "do it yourself" route. In fact, 83 percent of homeowners in 2009 were eager to try their hand at their own home improvements, according to an Angie's List survey. While many small home improvement projects are simply made to be done yourself -- interior painting and faucet replacement come to mind -- there are others that test your skills, knowledge and patience.

These rookie mistakes can lead to serious frustration for homeowners, and at worst, serious injury. Here are the most common mistakes and how to avoid them:

Getting in way too deep

It's just a small project, right? How difficult can it really be? Besides, the YouTube video made it look easy! But soon that weekend job has turned into a month-long nightmare, and you aren't even close to being finished. This is what happens when you tackle something that is much bigger than your knowledge.

How to avoid it: Know your limitations. Don't try to put up new drywall if you have never patched a small spot. Don't try to fix the furnace if you have no idea how to change a fuse. You have to crawl before you can walk, and the same is true with home improvement: You have to build the knowledge before you can go full DIY mode.

Using inaccurate measurements

This is a case of thinking, "I just need to cut a few boards, and then I'm done!" But once you've done it, you realize that something isn't quite right. A few minutes later you are kicking yourself for measuring the board in the wrong direction, and subsequently making that cut without double-checking. Now the whole project is derailed, you have to go back to the home improvement store, and as a bonus, you feel like a complete idiot.

How to avoid it: Remember that old adage, "Measure twice, cut once"? Modify that to your advantage by measuring twice, then again, then again -- only then should you make the cut! The importance of good measurements cannot be overstated. Remember this each time you pull out the measuring tape.

Creating an unrealistic budget

No matter if the job is large or small, if you're on a budget then you need a budget. You might be tempted to avoid the research and just promise yourself that you'll keep track of your spending as you go. But what happens when you are halfway through the work and realize you are already way in over your head financially? This is one of the most common issues a homeowner can face when trying DIY, and often leads to throwing in the towel on a project that is only halfway complete. If you've blown your budget, you'll have to wait and save up before you can call in the pros or take another stab at it yourself.

How to avoid it: Write the entire project down on paper, down to every last nail and screw. Don't forget the little extras, such as rental of a particular tool or disposal fees when you're done with the job. Do thorough research to figure out the prices, then add ten percent to the total. That extra cash will be your cushion for the moment things get out of hand or an unexpected problem comes up.

Using the wrong tools

Too many homeowners find themselves tempted to use what they have on hand, even if it's not the best tool for the job. That's why they end up cursing at a stubborn nut that won't budge or staring at a ragged cut on that expensive block of wood. If you are considering just doing the best you can with what you have in the light-duty toolbox, think again.

How to avoid it: Plan out what you need and why. For instance, that pressure washer could be a serious no-no when it's time to clean the siding, and you don't want to use a small manual saw when a power saw is recommended. Besides that, know how to use the tools you do choose, even if that means taking a class at your local home improvement store.

Not being careful

This is by far the most important point of DIY, so listen up: according to Abriza, about one in four homeowners get hurt in the process of a DIY project. Of those, 41% were not wearing protective gear at the time of the accident. If you're worried about injuring your eyes or inhaling fumes or sawdust, take action! Protective goggles and masks aren't nearly as expensive as a trip to the doctor. And if you're truly concerned about your ability to handle a project safely, then it might be best left to professionals.

How to avoid it: Never, ever take chances. Don't assume that ladder is safe; make sure it is. Don't assume you know how to use a tool; read the instructions. Wear goggles, gloves, and heavy work boots, and avoid loose clothing and hair. Always ventilate the area. Have a helper on hand in case things go awry. Never, ever take your safety for granted -- your good health is worth much more than any home improvement project.

You don't have to take chances when you're tackling home improvement projects. Start small, build your knowledge base, and invest in the tools and equipment that will get your job done right - and done safely. Don't forget that help is available. If you get in over your head or have any lingering doubts before you get started, call a local professional.

Photo credit to Kevin Irby

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.