The Top 10 DIY Jobs Homeowners Should Avoid

by Paul Michael on 23 May 2013 7 comments

Doing it yourself is a great way to save money. Home improvements and repairs can be costly, and any contractor you hire to do the job will mark-up prices on materials and labor. Some will also charge for an estimate, although that is rare these days.

So, with that in mind, and with the Internet being such a vast resource of free information, it's very easy to be tempted to do a lot of these expensive jobs yourself. However, you can soon find yourself out of your depth and spending even more money than the initial job would have cost to correct your own mistakes. (See also: 5 Household Fixes You Should Stop Paying Others For)

I talked to several professionals over the last few weeks, some of whom I have hired to work on my own home. They outlined a list of jobs that you should think twice about attempting. Of course, if you're a skilled handyman or handywoman, or have experience doing particular repairs, go ahead and do your thing. But if in doubt, get a professional out.

1. Roof Repair

We recently had to replace the whole roof due to hail damage. Insurance picked up the $12,000 tab, but there's a reason it costs a lot of money to repair or replace a roof. It's time-consuming, it's labor-intensive, it takes a lot of people, it's dangerous, and it can mess up your whole house if you do it wrong. If it's replacing one or two shingles, and you are confident you can do the job well, that's one thing. But any major repairs you should leave to the pros. A roof should last 20 years or more; it's worth the investment.

2. Tree Removal

Big, bad tree taking up too much of your yard? Well, think twice before pulling that sucker out.

If it's a large tree, you need to know exactly how to make it fall in the right direction. One false move and you have a tree in your bedroom. If you do manage to plan it correctly, and it falls just where you want, you now have a stump to remove. A huge, heavy stump with a root system that could spread 20 to 40 feet. After all that heaving and pulling, probably with a truck, you now have a very heavy stump to haul away, plus the rest of the tree. Is it worth it? Nope. Hire a tree service; they do this daily and they're reasonably priced.

3. Structural Improvements

Most people know about load bearing walls. They may not know exactly how to handle them though, and if you don't do it right, your whole house is at risk. But even if you avoid the load bearing walls, you still have other walls to deal with that contain water and gas pipes, electrical wiring, and ductwork for the HVAC system. If you're planning on taking out a wall or two, plan to bring in the professionals.

4. Major Plumbing or Electrical Work

If you have a blocked toilet or a leaky faucet, don't pay big money on a contractor when you can do the job in a few minutes. Similarly, installing a new ceiling fan or light is no big deal either. But when it comes to anything that involves rerouting pipe work or significant rewiring, don't save a buck and do it yourself. This requires the work of professionals, and when you consider the house could burn down or be flooded by your actions (not to mention you could kill yourself in the process) it's not worth the risk.

5. Installing New Windows

My wife wants a new window in our bathroom. Well, she wants a window in our bathroom period. There isn't one in there right now. I'm tempted to do it myself; it would be so much cheaper. You may feel the same way, too. But when you consider you are literally cutting a huge hole in the side of your house and have to make sure it is safe and watertight, is it worth saving the money? What if you don't get it quite right, and the window falls out? It could kill someone. Even a small mistake could result in serious damage to your home and the contents. Hire a contractor.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

6. Attic Insulation

What? Just throwing a bit of insulation in the attic? No worries. Well, think again. If you don't know which type of insulation to use, how much to use, and where to put it, you can actually create new problems. These include improper ventilation, home overheating, and even wood rot from moisture buildup. And if you don't watch your step, you could come right through the ceiling. If you feel confident and have done your research, you could give it a try. But I would recommend a professional service.

7. Replacing Exterior Siding

A little piece here or there, well, that's something you could attempt to do if you consider yourself handy. But the whole house? If the siding on your abode is looking past its prime, it will take a serious amount of time and knowledge to replace it. This is what is considered a major DIY task, and one most homeowners know better than to take on. Remember, this is not just making your home look good; it is protecting it from the elements. Mess this one up and you can severely impact the value of your home and its ability to stand up to the elements.

8. Gutter Repair or Replacement

At first glance, it seems easy enough. A few screws here and there and you're done. Easy. But consider this — the guttering system is directly linked to the roof, and it is virtually impossible to repair it without impacting that roof. It's also tricky work, done on a long ladder with limited stability. It should certainly not be attempted alone. But save yourself the headache and the risk of injury to yourself and damage to the roof. Call the pros.

9. Basement Finishing

If you have an unfinished basement, you have probably already thought about the option of getting it transformed into a livable space. No doubt you have even looked into the costs and cried a little. It is expensive. And there's a reason for that. It takes time, planning, and a lot of experience.

I have a friend who just finished his basement remodel. He started it five years ago. He said he's probably spent twice what it would have cost to get it done by a professional firm, taking into account his own time, the amount of mess-ups he had to replace, and the "money" he spent learning on the job. This is a massive undertaking. Some call it an adventure, others, a potential nightmare. And if you do it wrong, you may have to pay someone to rip it out and redo it. Unless you have some major DIY chops, a stockpile of equipment, and a lot of friends who can help, give this one a very wide berth.

10. HVAC Systems

HVAC, if you don't already know, stands for Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning. This is complicated stuff. Your air conditioner, your furnace, your boiler, the ductwork, the electrics, the pipe work — it goes on and on and on. You may know a few things about HVAC, but certainly not enough to rival the professionals who do this for a living. This is what makes your home livable. It keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer, and if it's done wrong, it can seriously mess up your home's value. This is not something you want to tackle, even if you consider yourself fairly handy.

That's my top 10 DIY jobs homeowners should avoid. Did I miss anything? Is something on this list that you believe is easier than I've made it sound? Let us know in comments!

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Guest's picture

I've done 4 and 6. It's just not that hard. I got into 4 fixing what a professional did wrong...

Guest's picture

The only one I have done is the attic insulation. My father-in-law and I spent a day taking care of it, renting a machine and blowing in an extra few inches. I probably would not have done that without his expertise, but if you have to pick one that's do-able, I would say that one fits

Guest's picture
Dennis

Great list. How many disasters started with an arrogant phrase "Well let me just try fix it myself first!" :)

I'd add all electricity-related jobs to the list. "Honey let's have another socket here" sometimes results in wires getting on fire.

Guest's picture
Melody

Hmm. 3, 4, 6, 7, some 10. I'm sensing a pattern here.

It takes planning, knowledge, commitment, and time. You have to be prepared for everything to take much longer than it would for a professional. We've hired people to grind stumps, drill holes through our 18" thick stone foundation, and work on gas lines - all worth it. Next time, we'll consider hiring out drywall.

However, our house is an old fixer upper that needed some help - and hiring out all of those projects can get extremely expensive extremely quickly. If you have more time than money - prepare well and do it yourself.

Guest's picture
Diane

I would say know your strengths before starting a home improvement job~ and do your research on "how to".

Some of the items listed I would not attempt. But we've successfully done attic insulation and we're considering doing more. We've done drywall & tiling in the garage & kitchen & it came out great. I can tape & float drywall with no problem and I'm not a construction worker, just a mom with an office job! I tiled the kitchen backsplash myself and it's great!

My son actually replaced the back wall of our house with hardiplank for his Senior Project in high school and it looks like a professional job. He asked a neighbor who had done this on his own home to serve as his mentor and we all pitched in to do the work. It's really not that complicated!

Guest's picture

DIY's are good but there are things that you should only let experts to handle. Aside from the safety factor, you might do it right and cost you more.

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Mr.CBB

I love DIY as a homeowner but there are certain jobs that I just won't bother doing because I don't have the skills for them. If it takes a trades person years of experience and an education to become an electrician I'm not going to pretend I can do it without that experience. There's no sense spending money twice either. Making smart decisions makes more sense than trying to be a DIY hero.