10 home improvements that can really hurt

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | July 13, 2015

Who doesn't want to save money on home improvement projects? That's why so many homeowners turn to DIY every year -- but all too often, they wind up in the emergency room for injuries sustained when doing something that was far beyond their skill set.

In fact, a 2013 survey by 3M TEKK Protection and the National Safety Council found that more than one quarter of homeowners who tried DIY wound up with an injury to themselves or someone else in the household. The top reasons why? One in two were injured doing yard maintenance, one in four were injured while painting, and one in five were simply doing routine maintenance.

If it's so easy to be hurt doing basic things around the house, how likely is it to get hurt when power tools and tall ladders are involved? That question should be enough to give you pause before picking up the hammer!

Here are the ten home improvement projects most likely to result in injury, as well as some advice on how to prevent that emergency room visit.

  1. Cleaning out the gutters. Combine serious height, a shaky ladder and wet leaves - what could possibly go wrong? Falling from as little as three feet can lead to serious injury. If you must do this, use a sturdy ladder, wear solid shoes, and never go up on the roof.
  2. Taking down that old tree. Cutting down a formidable tree can lead to broken bones if it comes down the wrong way, and using a chainsaw can lead to some gruesome, life-threatening injuries. Protect yourself by only cutting up trees that have already fallen.
  3. Roof repairs. Climbing up on the roof is always fraught with danger, and the worse the slope, the more likely you are to tumble to the ground. Some minor repairs that can be done from the safety of the ladder might be okay, but don't climb on the roof to fix major issues. That's what contractors are for.
  4. Carpentry work. It might sound easy enough, but fixing that cabinet or building a bookcase might call for the use of power tools, such as table saws, nail guns, and more. One false move with these handy items can land you in the hospital. Some protection can be had by using one tool at a time, paying close attention at every moment, and using all the appropriate safety gear and shields provided with the tools.
  5. Any electrical work. Where there is electricity, there is danger - without exception! Electric shock can be anything from a small warning jolt to a massive surge that stops your heart. If you must tackle a small job, like changing out an outlet, always wear protective gear and ensure the power is off at the main. Anything bigger needs a professional.
  6. Repairing a gas line. There are so many possible scenarios for danger when it comes to gas lines that it is impossible to list them all. It wouldn't be responsible to list safety tips, other than this one: When working with gas lines, always call in a professional. Period.
  7. Landscaping. Again, there are power tools at play. That can always spell trouble. Fortunately, most homeowners manage to do this kind of work every year without injury. The trick? Keep your equipment in top condition, always use safety gear, and never forget that you are working with something that could easily remove your foot or hand if you slip up. Respect for the power of your tools goes a long way.
  8. Working with chemicals. Whether you are painting your house or stripping the old finish from hardware, work with harsh chemicals can lead to problems before you realize what is happening. Stay safe by never mixing chemicals, using them only as directed, and always keeping the area well-ventilated.
  9. Demolition. Many homeowners try to save money by doing their own demo work before the contractor gets there. But demolition can release toxins into the air, result in falling wood, and make the whole area unstable. If you must tear that wall down, wear serious safety gear and keep family members and pets well out of the way.
  10. Simple household fixes. Sometimes the "easy" things result in injury because we don't take into account just how serious they could get. Moving heavy furniture, accidentally mixing cleaning chemicals, or simply being distracted can lead to problems. Though you might not want to hire a contractor to move that couch, always be aware of your own limits, and follow proper safety and lifting procedures.

Engaging in DIY is a time-honored tradition for any homeowner. There is no reason to stop doing things yourself - but there is ample reason to choose those projects wisely. Go for the simple stuff on your own, but for the heavier work, take the safer route and call in a contractor.

Photo credit to Myryah Shea

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer 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.