Like DIY? Avoid These 10 Costly Mistakes

I love DIY. I’m completely awful at it, but as I’m thrifty I’d much rather do something myself than pay someone else three times as much to do it. But here’s the rub. You can end up costing yourself more in the long run by doing it yourself. So, I scoured the web looking for the obvious and not-so-obvious mistakes DIY addicts make and compiled this list. (See also: DIY Home Improvement: 10 Free Options for Training and Advice.)

Mistake #1 – Cheap tools, no tools, the wrong tools

You can start a job thinking you have all the right equipment, but hammering a nail in with the back of your shoe ain’t gonna cut it. Neither is that nifty saw you got in the $1 store with less teeth than your old gran. Do yourself a favor. If you’re going to DIY, buy quality tools like the pros, and research your job fully so you have all the right tools for the particular job at hand.

Mistake #2 – The Superman (or Wonder woman) syndrome

You ever meet one of those people who could do everything better than you? They’re the same people who think they can build an entire house in one weekend with no help from anyone else. This is known as working beyond your scope. If you can’t do plumbing, don’t do plumbing. If you’re rotten with heights, avoid the roof. Don’t think that you can stand on tiptoes on the top rung of a rickety old ladder and think you’ll always be safe. One day you’ll be telling your DIY story in the E.R. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, ladder mishaps land over 164,000 people in the Emergency Room each year. So, if electrical work happens to be your Kryptonite, steer clear.

Mistake #3 – “Permits? What Permits?"

Permits aren’t there to just be a pain in your butt. They have a real purpose, and it’s in your best interest. Those folks in the permit office are there to make sure the job is done right and that you don’t go hurting yourself or anyone else. They also ensure that when you do an improvement, your insurance carrier has the necessary paperwork to keep you covered. Don’t quite know if you need one? Well, unless you’re just giving a lick of paint or new layer of paper to the guest room, chances are you’ll need one. If in any doubt, call your local building department.

Mistake #4 – Saving a few too many bucks on materials

Like you know, I love a bargain. But make sure you know where to draw the line. ¼ inch drywall may save you a fortune, but it’s about as effective as a pair of curtains for soundproofing. You’ll need ¾ inch for a good sound barrier. And flooring is the same story. ¾ plywood is your best friend when it comes to keep the noise down and giving you a strong foundation. So, crack open the piggy bank. Do the job once, do it right and do it with quality materials. (Of course, if you can haggle over the cost of those materials, you’re being a true Wise Bread shopper…go for it).

Mistake #5 – Ummmmm, that’s close enough

My pop is a great DIY dude. He told me something that was not exactly original, but I never forgot it. “Measure twice, cut once.” And you know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever cut anything to length only to realize that you measured at 18 ¼ instead of 18 3/4 . Bang. Your money is down the drain. So, always, always err on the side of making something a bit too long. It’s much easier to cut down than build up. So, remember. Measure twice, cut once on anything from drywall to plumbing pipes and crown molding.

Mistake #6 – Duct tape for life

In my short DIY career, I’ve done the occasional plumbing repair with duct tape. It’s handy stuff. But it’s not a repair, it merely buys you a little time. If you’re walking out of the door to catch a flight for your two weeks in Hawaii, duct tape could very well save your bacon. But it’s NOT permanent. It WILL leak, as sure as night follows day. So, get it fixed as soon as you possibly can. And if plumbing is not your thing, get a pro to do it. Water damage can cost thousands and thousands of dollars in repairs.

Mistake #7 - Rushing the prep work before painting

When I first started painting my house, I jumped straight in. Yippee. But I spent more time cleaning up my many mistakes, spills, drips, runs and shoddy lines than I did painting. Do yourself a favor, do the prep. Clean your walls, patch up holes with good filler, and use a good painter’s tape for windows, doors, ceiling lines and anything else that you don’t want paint on. Lay down a good quality tarp that you can use again, and set a primer on oil-based paint or dark walls you’re painting a lighter color. You’ll thank yourself later.

Mistake #8 – Any paint will do

Sorry, it won’t. You don’t want a flat paint on anything other than a ceiling (put it in a kid’s room and watch what happens when you try scrubbing off the crayon and marker pen). Go for eggshell or satin finishes on interior walls, they can resist a lot of washing. Exterior paint is clearly marked and weatherproof. And for your deck, use a linseed-oil-based stain. Unlike clear sealers (which don’t block UV rays) the linseed stains drive the pigment deep into the wood and preserve it.

Mistake #9 – What could possibly go wrong?

How about everything? Safety is essential when working on any DIY project and even if you look like a dope, you need to wear the right equipment. Safety goggles are vital when you operate power tools, and hard hats are equally as important when working under scaffolding. If you’re painting or using harsh chemicals, open a window or two to keep the area well ventilated. If you’re a big fan of those baggy carpenter jeans and old, loose t-shirts, you may want to re-think them. Loose clothing can get caught up in power tools and machinery and the results are none too pretty. Of course, wear a good pair of gloves for carrying wood, metal, rock or anything else sharp or abrasive. If you’re in the basement, follow the safety rules regarding spiders and other dangerous critters (here in Colorado, Black Widows and Brown Recluses love basements…and one bite can do major damage).

Mistake #10 – A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

A lot of folks just dive right in on home projects. They’ve seen a Bob Villa show or two, they rented a book from the library and they think they’re good to go. That is until the new addition collapses under their feet. Don’t start on your own projects by yourself, and don’t start big. If you know someone who happens to be good at this stuff, tag along. They’ll be happy for the extra pair of hands on their own project and you’re getting valuable experience. Places like Lowes and The Home Depot offer workshops. Take them, they’re fun and educational. And when you eventually do start you own little remodeling project, listen to the voice of reason. If you really don’t feel 100% sure about what you’re doing, step back. You don’t want to knock through a supporting wall and end up in traction.

So, those are the big 10, in my humble opinion. I’m sure many of you have more tips, please feel free to post them here.

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Andrea Karim's picture

I love my dad to death, but he's one of those "Ummmm, close enough" kind of guys. He's officially banned from the crown molding projects that my family is so fond of.

Neither is that nifty saw you got in the $1 store with less teeth than your old gran.

Ha! I'm telling gran. She is going to be MAAAAAD.

Guest's picture

I hate to drop the proverbial shameless plug, but I created a site completely dedicated to sharing stories about mistakes you've made and giving advice to others.

And following in Andrea's footsteps, I will be sending this to my grandfather who inevitably cuts off a finger every time he tries a DIY involving power tools!

Guest's picture

Great ideas Paul. Why oh why is it called 'common' sense?

My Pop was a serious old-school perfectionist and he measured everything THREE times - to my eternal chagrin.


Guest's picture

I once saw some legislation roll through our area that said any improvement, change, addition or work over some ridiculous number like $50 required a permit.

Yes, I wanted to repair my downspout and a section of my gutter...I needed a permit!

Needless to say, I've 'stuck it to the man' for about eight years now...I'll get a permit to do simple home repair when the come and pry the cordless drill from my cold, dead fingers...major home repair and remodeling, on the other hand...


Everything else looks dead on though ;)

Guest's picture

Ah yes........
It's ALL about the MONEY!!!
Not just the permit, but.....
the ol' taxman wants to know about ALL improvements,
so they can collect HIGHER property taxes....

Guest's picture

...on the Duct Tape indictment.

I have ten year old "temporary" duct tape repairs.

While duct tape can cure almost anything (haven't figured out the tape solution to the common cold yet), it isn't pretty.

Or at least that's what I've been told. I've come to see it as beautiful.

I recently bought some clear duct tape. That has the (dis?)advantage of making the "temporary" repairs less visible. It looks better, but then there's no visual reminder that a more permanent solution should be in the works.

(This is a wonderful blog, by the way...)

Guest's picture

I'm reminded of what Emerson said:
"A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life; he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair, the rest of his days."

Guest's picture

The only tools you will ever need.
If it moves and it shouldn't- use duct tape.
If it doesn't move and it should- use the WD-40

Guest's picture

My father was a 'measure 8 times cut once' kind of guy, and he drove my mother bananas. She believed in the 'Principal of Limited Sloppiness', just to get things done, but he built some quality stuff in his day.

Guest's picture

dont rush things, so stupid, riped two tiles off the wall trying to rush a shower removal. step 1 remove shower, step 2 learn to tile, step three, pay a tiler, step 4 pay someone to fit the shower. haha.

Guest's picture
John O

Great article - excellent advice. I'll pile on Number 10 and say in addition to workshops and the things you mention above, there is also a great amount of information on the 'net if you have the patience to look for it. There are sites and forums (and YouTube, too) for just about every specialty, usually with DIYers' questions and follow-up responses from professionals. You can get some good, solid information to address your particular question/problem, along with stern admonition when you deserve it :-).