Don’t Do-It-Yourself: DIY Projects Homeowners Should Avoid

By: Joe Truini

Roofer roofing house with wood shingles.

Here at Today’s Homeowner and todayshomeowner.com, we’re in the business of educating do-it-yourselfers. We teach skills and feature products that empower you to become more self-reliant, and confident enough to tackle your own home repairs and improvements.

However, when it comes to being an active DIYer, there’s a thin line between being fearless and foolish. I should know I’ve crossed that line more times than I’d like to admit—and have the scars to prove it.

Now I don’t want to shatter your DIY dreams, but there are certain home repair chores that are better left to the pros. Some jobs require special tools or hard-earned skills, while others are just plain dangerous. Here’s a list of five don’t-do-it-yourself projects, followed by a bonus round of 10 more chores to avoid.

Top 5 Don’t Do-It-Yourself Projects

#1: Electrical Work

Want to install a dimmer switch or replace an old ceiling light? No problem. Upgrading existing devices and fixtures is relatively easy and safe, just be sure to first turn off the electricity to the circuit you’re working on.

However, when it comes to extending existing electrical circuits or adding new ones, call in an experienced, licensed electrician. When homeowners start messing around with electrical circuits and running new cables, there are two likely outcomes and both are potentially lethal: electrical shock and fire.

Hooking up electrical wiring

All aspects of electrical work—from wire nuts to cable connectors—are governed by very strict codes. Violate even a single code and you’re asking for trouble.

I recently saw a photograph of a homeowner-remodeled bathroom that was taken by Illinois home inspector, Tom Brooks. It showed a wall switch mounted inside the shower stall. Now imagine the ramifications of standing in a wet shower while flipping a light switch. It’s a miracle that no one has gotten fried.

#2: Plumbing Work

As with electrical work, there are certain plumbing jobs that any competent DIYer can tackle, such as replacing faucets and showerheads, installing toilets, and hooking up sinks and washing machines. But there are other jobs that require the expertise of a professional plumber.

Soldering copper pipes with torchA homeowner should not attempt to expand or modify a home’s water supply lines or hot water heating system, which are typically comprised of copper pipe and fittings soldered together with a propane torch. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could easily start a flood or fire. Try explaining either of those scenarios to your homeowner’s insurance agent.

And be aware that even a little leak can cause a tremendous amount of damage if it goes unnoticed even for a relatively short period of time. That’s why, as a general rule, DIYers shouldn’t tackle a plumbing repairs or improvements that are concealed behind walls, floors or ceilings.

#3: Tree Cutting

Maybe it’s a guy thing, but there’s something irresistible about grabbing a chainsaw and cutting down a tree. Perhaps it’s the roar of a two-cycle engine, or some innate urge to clear land, or maybe we just need to yell, “TIMBER” every now and then.

Regardless of the reasons, tree cutting is inherently dangerous. First there’s the chainsaw or axe with its ability to cut flesh as easily as a sapling. Then there’s the danger of the tree toppling onto a car, house or person. All of which happens all too often.

Cutting down tree with chainsaw

Two years ago, just a few miles from my home, a DIYer was in a tree with a chainsaw—a huge no-no—trimming branches for his son’s treehouse. The limb he was cutting didn’t fully break away and it swung back and knocked him out of the tree 25 feet form the ground. He’s now confined to a wheelchair and his prospects of ever walking again aren’t good.

Most homeowners can safely cut trees smaller than 4” in diameter and less than 20’ tall. But for any tree larger than that—especially one that’s close to a house, road or power line—hire a professional arborist or tree-clearing expert. The risk of loss, both personal and property, is simply too great.

#4: Roofing

There’s no better way to meet an orthopedic surgeon—or an undertaker—than spending an extended amount time on your roof. One small slip or misstep, and it’s a long way down.

Nailing shingles on roofStill, every year perfectly sane individuals decide to test gravity—and their good luck—by climbing onto their homes to nail down a new roof.

I’ll admit that installing roof shingles doesn’t seem all that difficult, especially when you see roofing contractors using pneumatic nail guns. But climbing up and down ladders with supplies and tools, and scurrying across every inch of a roof is exhausting and dangerous work. Not to mention that it requires experience and skill to install a weatherproof roofing system, which includes flashing and vents.

So, leave roof installations to the pros and stay off of your roof, especially if it has a slope steeper than 4-in-12, which is about a 20° angle.

#5: Removing Walls

In their zeal to “open up” living spaces and create a more spacious interior, an increasing number of homeowners are taking down walls between rooms. And that’s a great idea, unless it’s a load-bearing wall that’s supporting the floor or roof above.

Removing a load-bearing wall without adding the necessary support can prove disastrous and costly to repair. The floors and roof above can literally come crashing down, perhaps not immediately, but eventually over time.

Removing a wall

Any time you wish to alter the framing of a house, whether it’s a wall, ceiling, floor or roof, always consult with a building engineer. He or she will be able to tell you not only if the wall is load-bearing or not, but also how to safely remove the wall, and how to add the appropriate amount of support.

Note that most towns require you to obtain a building permit before removing walls, and the permit won’t be granted without an engineer’s report.

Don’t Do-It-Yourself Bonus Round

Here are 10 bonus don’t DIY tips that fall under the category, “I really shouldn’t have to tell you this, but . . .”

  1. Don’t cut your own hair, especially with electric hedge trimmers.
  2. Don’t do your own dental work, unless your goal is to subsist on a totally liquid diet.
  3. Staple gun

  4. Don’t suture any body part with a staple gun, regardless of your HMO co-pay.
  5. Don’t attempt to yank out a tree stump with your wife’s minivan; I guarantee you that the stump will win.
  6. Don’t try to impress the in-laws by carving the Thanksgiving turkey with a reciprocating saw. It’s disrespectful to the bird and bad for the blade—and table. (Although it’ll surely make for a most memorable holiday.)
  7. Don’t use a hot-melt glue gun to keep your shorts up.
  8. Don’t attempt to gain more attic headroom by cutting away the webbing from a few trusses. That is unless you like flat roofs.
  9. Don’t ever use your lawnmower indoors, no matter how much you hate shag carpeting.
  10. Don’t ever use the words pedicure and belt sander in the same sentence.
  11. Don’t use a wheelbarrow for mixing coleslaw, even if your wife’s Aunt Fanny is coming to the picnic.
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9 Comments on “Don’t Do-It-Yourself: DIY Projects Homeowners Should Avoid”

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  • Dave Says:
    August 11th, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Learning from books and videos may contribute to your mental knowledge on a subject.
    Learning from hands on mistakes will in time make you an experienced proffessional.
    If theres one thing I’ve learnt in fifty years working in the building industry is never take anything for granted, especially some clown who has all the fancy paperwork, and credentials but when it comes to practicalaties knows absolutely blow all.



  • MastercraftHCP Says:
    June 24th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Hahah, I had a neighbor try something similar and all he managed to do was leave giant tire tracks in his lawn.


  • Official Comment:


    Joe T. Says:
    June 17th, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Dear MasterCraftHCP, Glad you enjoyed the list. And you’re right about the tree stump tip. When I was about 10 years old, I remember my dad trying to yank out a big weeping willow stump with his pick-up truck. We worked all day with shovels and pick-axes to dig around the stump. There didn’t seem to be much holding it in place, but we never did yank it out. I think my dad finally soak it in gas and burned it out. Anyway, thanks for writing and good luck!–Joe T.



  • MastercraftHCP Says:
    June 17th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Fun list, Joe. I believe #4 is actually tried all too often! The tree stump one, that is.


  • Official Comment:


    Joe T. Says:
    June 15th, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Hey Sam, Sounds like your mom is a very resourceful–and rugged–woman. Thanks for sharing!–Joe T.



  • Sam Says:
    June 1st, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Ha.

    and my mom has used a belt sander to “soften” her feet.

    Thanks Joe


  • Official Comment:


    joe t. Says:
    May 12th, 2011 at 12:34 am

    To Scott the First: Thanks.

    To Scott the Second: Ok, I didn’t think it was necessary to state the obvious, but here goes: If a homeowner is experienced and skilled, then he or she should not hesitate to tackle any DIY project that falls within their comfort zone.

    And I should also mention that you completely missed the point that the blog was written to be slightly entertaining (hopefully) and just a bit tongue in cheek.



  • Scott Says:
    May 11th, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    I’m sorry, but this list feels like a real slap in the face for every competent, properly-educated, common-sense DIYer, especially in the areas of electrical and plumbing. I mean, installing a switch in the shower? That’s the example you used? Does that mean that anyone not licensed to do electrical work is going to be so stupid as to make that kind of a mistake? Or anyone who uses a torch in plumbing work is going to burn down their homes without a proper license? I know countless people, including myself, that have taken on projects ranging from simple home improvements to major remodeling that required at least one of those five no-no’s, and those jobs were completed successfully and safely.

    Also, what about all those countless resources out there that teach you these skills without having to carry around a shiny, solid gold license? Every Lowe’s and Home Depot on the planet has a huge selection of DIY books covering electrical, plumbing, roofing, etc. You can go on Amazon and find not just books, but entire instructional video series on these topics. Well-known companies and services have countless articles and videos covering these topics on their web sites. And all of those reputable sources make a point of keeping safety and code requirements in the forefront. Do you think that all this should be banned from the eyes of those who are unlicensed? I hope not.

    I agree that not everyone should take on jobs like this. I, too, have seen plenty of those “what were they thinking” inspection photos to know that. But if people have the skills and competency to take on these jobs safely and correctly, then more power to them. Saving thousands of dollars in labor costs and learning new skills in the process is just icing on the cake.


  • Official Comment:


    Scott Says:
    May 11th, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Well Played Mr. Truini!


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