Thanks to a growing interest in homeowner DIY projects and a proliferation of online DIY tutorials, more and more inexperienced homeowners are DIY-ing home improvement jobs, some with costly and dangerous consequences.
We asked Adam Long, President of HomeTeam Inspection Service, about the most hazardous DIY design trends he’s seeing and what types of projects homeowners should avoid.
What Is a Home Inspector?
Long defines a home inspector as someone who visually inspects a home to ensure all the parties involved in the financial transaction fully understand the house before it is purchased. Not to be confused with a code inspector, who makes sure any construction done to a house meets current building codes, like proper clearances for a stairwell. Long likens a home inspector to a primary care physician—based on their findings, a home inspector may recommend a specialist, like a structural engineer or electrician, to do a more in-depth review of the home.
Long’s advice to new and potential homeowners before tackling DIY projects in their homes? “Do not overlook the potential safety hazards of a project. Also, be honest about your construction knowledge and local building codes limitations. There are valid reasons why trade professionals are licensed in a specific trade.”
The Most Hazardous DIY Trends
The top DIY projects that are unsafe for inexperienced homeowners to tackle, according to Long, are those that deal with electricity (chance of electrocution or electrical fires), plumbing (potential leaks and flooding), and roofs (injuries from falls).
1. Exterior Paint Job
“Examining exterior paint and caulking is essential for a home inspection,” says Long. “We are looking for damaged wood that may not have been properly sealed.” While the color of the paint is not within the scope of a home inspection, Long notes that lighter colors don’t hide imperfections as well as darker shades of paint.
2. DIY Decks and Porches
As more and more homeowners extend their living spaces outdoors; DIY decks are gaining popularity as projects homeowners try to do themselves. “These are often found to be unsafe by home inspectors—usually they are not secured properly to the house, the homeowner didn’t use the correct hardware or fasteners, or the deck and porch are sitting on poor foundations. These are all common DIY mistakes,” says Long.
3. DIY Landscaping
A lot of homeowners look to save money by doing their own landscaping but don’t plan for the proper drainage away from the home’s foundation—a commonly flagged concern during a home inspection. Long says several issues can arise from water seeping under slabs and into crawl spaces and basements, such as mold and rot and rodent and insect infestation.
4. DIY Tile
Laying ceramic and porcelain tile floors are a popular homeowner DIY—especially trendy, fun patterns like herringbone or modern stack bond. While it seems like an easy enough project to execute (plus all the savings on the labor), unless the homeowner is meticulous in their installation, home inspections often find uneven, cracked, loose, or splitting tiles—a clear indication that the tiles were installed improperly.
5. Removing Handrails from Staircases
Another trend home inspectors see is removing handrails from a staircase. And while the result may be a clean, modern look, a home inspection will report the missing handrail since it is a potential safety issue for home buyers, not to mention a major building code violation.
6. DIY Plumbing
Bathroom and kitchen remodels are on the top of everyone’s punch list, but with DIY plumbing comes potential water leaks and even bigger disasters. Long stresses that home inspectors are trained to look for visual signs of current or past water leaks during the home inspection—critical to note because these leaks can lead to foundation issues, wood rot, and mold.
7. DIY Wood Floors
Removing wall-to-wall carpet and installing a new hardwood floor is another popular DIY trend. But Long says wood floors often get flagged by home inspectors due to rookie mistakes. “A lot of the time, DIYers don’t leave enough space between the floor and walls, not realizing wood expands and contracts with temperature.” Unfortunately, that leads to wood floors lifting, cracking, and buckling.
According to reports, the following repairs are the most dangerous to attempt. Here’s why these are better left to the professionals—and what you, as a homeowner, should do instead.
8. Wall Demolition
Any demolition of walls should be approached carefully, says Long. “Plumbing pipes and electrical wiring may be behind the wall. Also, the wall could be load-bearing, so if it’s removed, the foundation can be compromised.” Before you take a sledgehammer to knock down that wall and open up your space, Long recommends hiring an experienced contractor to show you how to identify load-bearing walls, identify and mark studs, and remove drywall without damaging what is behind the wall.
9. Repairing Gas Lines
“Most homeowners enjoy the sense of accomplishment they get from DIY projects but fixing a gas leak just isn’t a DIY project,” says Long. “You can investigate a leak and perform the bubble test,” he adds, “and with the proper tools and materials, you may even repair a loose connection in the line. But beyond that, unless you’re a professional plumber, don’t try to handle a gas line repair on your own. Call a licensed plumbing company instead.”
10. Electrical Work
Electric and wiring are even more touchy than plumbing and more dangerous. “In fact, this is the most dangerous job you can do without being trained to do it,” says Long. “And when it comes to actual wiring, let a professional handle it because it’s never worth the risk of electrocution or an electrical fire.”
11. Roof Repairs
A damaged roof is an incredibly common problem to inherit as a new homeowner, and an expensive one to fix, which may tempt homeowners to perform roof repairs themselves. Long warns this decision is not only costly in the long run but also potentially deadly. “Amateur repairs can lead to leaks that cause even more damage to the home, not to mention repairing a roof is dangerous—falls are a major concern.” According to the CDC, “Falls are the leading cause of construction worker deaths on the job.”
12. Removing Lead Paint and Mold
Removing chipped paint from your baseboards or window trim may seem like a simple enough job, but it could cause serious health issues if you’re not careful. According to the EPA, if you are buying or living in a home that was built before 1978, your home most likely has lead paint and it should be removed by a lead-safe-certified firm or renovator. Homeowners can carefully remove paint chip samples and send them to an EPA-recognized lead lab for analysis, but the abatement should be left to the professionals. The same goes for mold.
13. Cutting Down Trees
Felling a tree is a recipe for disaster. Falling trees and tree branches can hurt people on the ground or, worse, hit electrical poles or wires and cause electrocution. “Without the proper skill and experience, you may be putting your home and life at risk,” Long warns. “Do not attempt to drop large limbs or perform aerial and technical cuts of overhanging limbs without training,” he says.
In a seller’s market, where housing inventory is low and competition high, aspiring homeowners often waive their right to a home inspection. Long says, while waiving an inspection may make sense for some, buyers should still have their homes inspected even after the closing. This way, they’ll know what they’re getting into.