Savings vs. Safety: 3 Home Projects to Think Twice About DIY-ing
Home improvement and repair costs can stack up quickly, and oftentimes they come when you least expect them. Tackling the problem yourself can be an affordable alternative to calling a repairman, and many Americans are doing so. But before you pick up that hammer, be sure to consider the risks, from legal to safety to financial hazards.
On the legal side, it’s always best to check whether the project you’re planning requires permits or licenses. “The homeowner should abide by the laws and rules set forth by the governing jurisdiction,” says Kia Ricchi, author of Avoiding The Con in Construction. “For example,” Ricchi says, “The building department – as gatekeeper – can advise what work is authorized by practitioners, and what work must be performed by professionals. In fact, many government entities no longer allow for ‘owner builder’ permits because the layperson can endanger not only him or herself, but the adjacent buildings.”
Once you address legal concerns, you’ll also want to think about the your personal safety, as well as any financial risks that come with a botched job. In some cases, a botched DIY project may result in additional expenses for removing the improper work already done, paying additional credit card or personal loan interest for the delay or even penalties for not following legally required procedures.
Here are three jobs that, in many cases, are better left to the professionals.
Performing your own electrical work can be extremely dangerous. According to a spokesperson from the Electrical Safety Foundation International, “each year, thousands of people in the United States are critically injured and electrocuted as a result of electrical fires, accidents and electrocution in their homes.” The problem is, “most people do not have the training or experience needed to safely perform home electrical work.” The EFSI recommends hiring a qualified, licensed electrician to perform any electrical work in your home.
“When you start talking about which home repairs are best left to the experts, roofing is certainly one of them,” says Howard Rittenberg, owner of Roof Masters, a company that services the Washington, DC area.
“Every now and then we run into a DIY-er with a big problem on his hands,” says Rittenberg. “Roofing is more than mindless work, and a lot of times, those who try to take on a project find that there is more physical effort and knowledge than they assumed. It can take 4-6 skilled mechanics to replace a roof.”
And when things go wrong with roofing, they really go wrong. “We’ve seen houses flood because of improperly constructed roofs. We once had a customer who tried to put in a skylight and ended up cutting the rafters. It’s easy to mess things up quickly. Of course there are also safety concerns – guys who don’t set up the ladder properly and end up breaking an arm or leg.”
To make matters worse, after you pour time and effort into a botched DIY project, you still have to pay the additional cost to have an expert come in and fix it. “Roofers have to come in to undo and correct what they’ve already done, and that’s an additional cost on top of the time and supply the homeowner has already invested,” says Rittenberg.
HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) repair or replacement can be quite pricey, but in many cases, DIY adjustments can lead to serious issues down the line. “Poor performance with HVAC may lead to mold issues,” says Ricchi. Aside from checking the thermostat, emergency switch and fuse, you might be better off calling in a professional.
For more tips on DIY maintenance, check out our full Home Improvement Budgeting series.