When the home repair bills start to mount, many people suddenly become passionate about DIY home repairs—and there are certainly plenty of projects around the house that you can do yourself to save money. But a home repair is only worth it if you don’t make things worse in the process, and it’s surprisingly easy to leave your house in worse shape than before you launched your ill-fated project.
The worst part is that many of these mistakes aren’t obvious, and you don’t realize how much damage you’re doing until you finish and start the cleanup—and experience the sinking feeling that you messed up. Here are some common home repair mistakes everyone should avoid.
Damaging walls and floors
Congratulations, you noticed something, broke out the ladder, moved some furniture, and fixed it. That’s awesome. Now look at your walls and floors and note how many scratches, scuffs, and dents you left behind. Make sure you utilize the following to prevent this sort of collateral damage to your home while doing minor repairs and maintenance:
- Ladder covers. A pair of inexpensive ladder covers can prevent leaving scuffs, marks, and gouges on your walls—or you can DIY these out of pool noodles, if you don’t want to spend $15.
- Drop cloths. A simple canvas drop cloth will protect your floors and furniture from scratches, spills, and splatter.
- Rosin paper & hardboard. If you’re going to be carrying stuff around the house, you should consider protecting your floors with either rosin paper and some painter’s tape, which will protect floors from minor scratches and spills, or hardboard or something like Ram Board, which will protect them from more serious damage.
- Booties. If you’re going to be moving between the work area and the rest of the house, consider investing in shoe covers to protect the floors in the parts of the house where you’re not working.
Making your house a dustbowl
If your home repair project is going to involve any sanding or sawing, there’s one guarantee: You will be cleaning dust for a long time afterward. Drywall dust in particular manages to drift into every nook and cranny of your house, appearing years later like the Ghost of Failed Projects Past. It’s more than just annoying—dust and sawdust can clog up filters and duct grills in your HVAC system and be sucked into any appliance that uses air to ventilate and cool itself, potentially causing problems. Do yourself a favor and tape up a plastic barrier around your work area to contain the dust, using some adhesive zippers to make access easy.
Using the wrong cleaning products
Home maintenance is often as much about cleaning the place as anything else—and it is easy to damage the things you’re trying to clean. Not all cleaning agents are appropriate for all surfaces—even all-natural stuff like vinegar can be dangerous to natural stone, so using it to clean your granite countertops might result in damage. And trying to augment the cleaning power of vinegar with something like hydrogen peroxide will create peracetic acid instead—a potentially toxic substance that will do more harm than good.
Even store-bought cleaners need care—just because it says it’s good for all surfaces doesn’t mean there’s no potential for damage. Read your labels and always spot-check before you slather it everywhere.
Using the wrong tools
There’s nothing worse than doing all the prep for a home repair job—moving stuff, laying out dropcloths and taping up plastic, doing all the planning and shopping—only to discover that you don’t have the right wrench, saw blade, or other tool. It’s tempting to just power through with what you have, and hey, sometimes that even works.
But more often than not, trying to use an inappropriate or incorrectly-sized tool will just result in damage or injury. From stripped bolts to scratched-up walls, it’s always better to give in and purchase or borrow the correct tool. This goes double for something like an outdoor extension cord: If you don’t have one, go get one. Using an indoor extension cord for an outdoor project is a fire waiting to happen.
Misusing a power-washer
The pleasures of power-washing are well-documented. And power-washing isn’t exactly a home maintenance chore that requires an engineering degree to comprehend. And yet, somehow, people manage to do incredible damage to their homes with a power washer. The number one mistake you can make is using too much pressure, or getting too close, which can physically damage the surface you’re trying to clean—but it’s also important to know that not every surface in the universe will react well to a power wash.
Not turning things off
We get it: Locating your gas and water turnoffs and understanding your electrical panel is a chore, and you don’t have time to waste in your busy schedule. So you decide to just charge ahead with a quick repair, whether it’s changing a light fixture or investigating a slow drain. That simple repair job could wind up doing thousands of dollars in damage to your house—or cashing in your life insurance policy. Whenever you’re interacting with any part of your house that is wired or plumbed, turn off the appropriate supply before you do anything.
Over-relying on duct tape
Duct tape is amazing stuff! Sticky, strong, and flexible, it can be used for a wide variety of temporary repairs, and everyone should have a roll of it in their tool box. But let’s stress the word temporary: Duct tape isn’t really a permanent solution—heck, you’re not even supposed to use it on ducts. The danger of duct tape repairs is the urge to just leave your pipes wrapped in it, your structure supported by it, and your cracks sealed with it. These “repairs” will eventually fail. And if you do get around to removing the tape to effect a more robust repair, you’ll find that it leaves a pretty durable residue behind.
Painting is a cheap and relatively easy renovation—changing the wall colors in a room can have a dramatic effect for less than $50. But if you skip the proper preparation of your walls, you’ll probably end up with a mess. Glossy surfaces don’t adhere well to paint, so just slapping a new coat on top of an existing gloss or semi-gloss finish (especially if it’s older, oil-based paint) will get you a peeling, bubbling mess before too long. Prep your walls, use a high-quality primer, and repair any minor damage that will show up after a fresh coat of paint.
Drilling or nailing into wiring or plumbing
Nothing makes you feel more capable than a power tool, but sometimes this feeling is an illusion. Your house is also an illusion, because it presents this neat, clean, stylish interior to you, but it’s actually riddled with pipes and wires hidden in your walls, ceilings, and under your floors. And if you just start drilling into walls or driving nails into floors willy-nilly, you will probably discover this fact in the worst way possible. To avoid puncturing a pipe and instigating a water or gas leak or possibly injuring yourself by drilling into an electrical cable, follow a few simple steps:
- Invest in a stud finder. Not only will locating the studs in your walls make it more likely that whatever you’re attaching will stay attached, if you buy a stud finder with a wire-detection setting you can avoid a shocking discovery.
- Don’t push. If you’re drilling into a wall and meet unexpected resistance, stop drilling. You’ve probably hit either a metal pipe or a metal strap placed over electrical wiring to prevent you from drilling through. If you keep pushing, you’re likely to receive a nasty surprise.
- Measure. If you’re drilling or nailing into a floor or ceiling, make sure you know the depth underneath and use the correct length of fastener. There’s nothing worse than thinking you did a great job until you go downstairs and see a bunch of screw tips sticking out of your ceiling. And if you know there are pipes and wiring snaked through your joists or rafters, be certain you know where they are so you can avoid them.
Using the wrong pipes
Replacing a section of pipe might not seem like it’s beyond most people’s basic skill set, but it’s very easy to use the incorrect material. Plastic pipes aren’t always rated for hot water, for example, and mixing copper and galvanized metals can result in a corrosive reaction that will cause more damage than what you just fixed. If you refuse to call a plumber for a small repair, at least know what kinds of pipes you’re working with.