Do-it-yourself projects by homeowners are a multibillion-dollar growth area within the U.S. economy and the bread and butter of corporate giants such as Lowe’s and Home Depot.
And for good reason: When done right, DIYs are great, saving you money and time. They can even be fun and give you a sense of pride in what you’ve accomplished. But they can also be rolling disasters when they go off the rails.
David Pekel, president and chief executive of Pekel Construction & Remodeling in Wauwatosa, Wis., has gotten frantic calls over the years from homeowners pleading for urgent help because their DIY job went seriously south. “We really need someone to come out to our house to save our marriage, right now!” yelled one panicked spouse whose partner had messed up a major repair.
In another case, an owner inadvertently connected the plumbing from a new bathroom to the home’s sump pump discharge in the basement. Uh-oh. The sump pump, designed to expel excess rain water, was now connected directly to a toilet in an upstairs room. Flush! For as long as it could before getting clogged, it pumped raw sewage into the yard, creating a stinky and unhealthy mess.
Pekel, president of the 6,000-member National Association of the Remodeling Industry, better known as NARI, says Americans are constantly bombarded by messages from big box retailers, cable TV shows and You Tube videos telling us, in effect, “Get off your butt, you can do it yourself. It’s not that hard. Just follow the directions.” Inevitably, in some cases the directions turn out to be not that simple and the job itself is beyond the training or capabilities of an ordinary homeowner. Nobody advertises that cold reality.
So how many DIY projects turn out to be disappointments? You can find videos and TV shows online that illustrate the perils, but now a new study of 2,000 homeowners who said they’d had problems with their DIY efforts provides some hard numbers. It also offers insights about what types of fix-ups are most popular and which ones are most likely to fail or produce poor results.
Nearly two-thirds of participants in the survey said they had regrets about at least one of their projects. In a third of the cases, the job they did was botched badly enough that they had to call in a professional to redo their own work. Sponsored by ImproveNet, an online referral network for remodelers, the survey found that installing floor tiles ranks among the most popular DIY projects — 20 percent of the respondents said they had done it — but it was the No. 1 “most regretted” project. Painting interior walls was by far the most common type of DIY (40 percent of owners had tried) but it ranked No. 10 out of the 32 most regretted. Adding trees or shrubs to yards was by far the least regretted/most popular project, tried by one-fifth of the respondents and ranked next to last on the regrets scale.
One of every 12 consumers (8 percent) said they actually “caused damage to my home” as the result of their work. One in 16 (6 percent) revealed that they suffered some type of bodily injury in the process. More than half (55 percent) reported that things took longer than anticipated to complete, and 50 percent found it “physically harder” than they thought it would be. Seventeen percent said they spent more money than expected.
When DIY projects cost more than owners anticipated, the average overrun pushed the final expense to nearly double their original estimate. When projects took longer than estimated, the average extra time they spent was nearly a day — 22 hours.
The study categorized the types of projects most likely to defy DIYers’ expectations — sort of a “special caution needed” list. Here are the projects most likely to:
● Get you injured: Installing a fireplace or windows or repairing a foundation.
● Cause damage to the house: Replacing a ceiling, installing a roof or repairing a foundation.
● Exceed your technical expertise, thereby increasing the odds that things could go badly: Installing anything electrical, installing a backsplash or building furniture.
The message here isn’t that you should avoid DIY. Rather you should take a sober look in advance at how your own technical and physical skills match up with what you have in mind. When the match doesn’t look all that favorable, call in a pro.
Ken Harney’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.