DIY — or not?
The do-it-yourself industry is certainly benefiting from a sluggish economy as homeowners trim repair costs by acquiring their own fix-it skills. But certain jobs are best left to the pros.
Simple improvements such as hanging a porch swing or dabbing some paint on faded trim are fine for do-it-yourselfers, but trying to tackle repairs that affect the structural integrity or safety of a house is another matter.
Too often, failed DIY attempts can cost more to fix than the original repair.
Drywall goofs by unskilled husbands can incite rage in otherwise good-natured wives.
"Drywall is definitely something people attempt to do on their own, and it doesn't usually turn out that great," says Mark Anderson, owner of Anderson Drywall in Medford.
"I had one guy whose wife was arguing with him in front of me. He had hung Sheetrock and didn't apply the material right, and it was really lumpy and just really, really bad. He didn't want to admit he did it wrong, but the only option was for me to tear it all off and start over."
Small patch jobs are usually OK for homeowners to try, Anderson says. But bigger jobs, "like hanging drywall or repairing cracks, you really want to have a professional come out. Then you save the money of having someone tear off the mess you made to redo it later."
Another substance best left to someone with experience is concrete, which can prove unforgiving for even seasoned professionals.
"I can't even keep up with how many times I've seen a case of, 'My uncle came down, and we decided to have a few beers and pour 17 yards of concrete for the back porch,' " says Concrete Concepts owner Mark McGuire.
"It'll end up not looking all that good, but they'll just live with it — maybe put a swimming pool over it or something — because what else are you gonna do? It's concrete."
A level surface is the key for concrete work. So if homeowners really want to be involved, McGuire says, they might think about doing some of the prep work and leave the pouring and finish work to the professionals.
"Most guys in the business will provide a day-labor rate and tell them what to do if they want to try doing some setup," McGuire says. "It's just really helpful to know someone who has been around it because concrete can have a mind of its own in the best circumstances."
Perhaps the job most susceptible to disaster if mistakes are made is electrical work, which can have bigger consequences than aesthetics.
Electricians spend years mastering their trade, says Medford electrician Gary Middleton.
"One of the biggest things I see is people who go in and try cutting up old knob-and-tube wiring and splicing into it," Middleton says. "They overload the circuit with a microwave or blow-dryer or other modern conveniences, and they end up starting a fire."
Keep in mind, Middleton says, electrical systems in older houses often are ungrounded, and most structure fires are traced to electrical systems.
Homeowners can trim costs when hiring a professional by making sure electricians have easy access to wiring — maybe by removing drywall or providing a direct route to electrical panels.
Another big no-no for DIY gurus is plumbing work, says Ted Curtius, president of Curtius-Huntley Plumbing in Medford, Plumbing involves three unpredictable components: water, sewer and gas.
"Having a major problem with any of those could be catastrophic," he says.
While it's normal for homeowners to replace faucets or try tackling a leaky toilet in a pinch, consider the expense of paying a plumber do a small job versus fixing a big mistake.
"Plumbing isn't like carpentry or Sheetrock, where you do something wrong, and you end up with a crooked wall or bad finish," Curtius adds.
"Mistakes with plumbing can, at the very least, damage property, if not life or limb. A couple-hundred-dollar fix can turn into a couple-thousand-dollar job."
While saving money is a good idea, don't cut costs on repairs that affect resale value, functionality or safety of your home.
"You wouldn't try to do brain surgery on yourself," Curtius says. "Sometimes, it's really better to call someone who knows what they're doing."