Mistakes We've Made, So You Won't Have To
Never does a home improver feel so foolish as when he or she makes a mistake and loses money in the process. Trust us, we know
Never does a home improver feel so foolish as when he or she makes a mistake and loses money in the process. Trust us, we know. The staffers at This Old House, in our zeal to make our homes a better place, have fallen prey to impulse buying, overspending, mismeasuring, and plain old paying someone else to clean up the mess—the kinds of things that shouldn't happen to anyone, let alone a valued reader. So, to help all our friends avoid the red face and the empty wallet, we humbly offer just a few of the lessons we've learned the hard way. Read on to see how not to let the cost of home maintenance get the better of you.
To save the lumberyard's $20 fee and second-day delivery, I borrowed my brother's hatchback to pick up a bunch of 2x4s. I slid the lumber in from the rear, over the back seat, past the passenger seat, and onto the dashboard. Happy about the fit and looking forward to riding home with the AC on, I closed the hatchback with a little shove. That's when the door pushed the slightly too long lumber right through the front windshield. The new glass ended up costing $500—twice as much as the materials and 25 times what it would have cost to have the yard deliver it.
—Mark Powers, Senior Technical Editor
During a recent powder-room remodel, I ordered my dream vanity, sink, and faucet online. Then I had a marble top custom-made for $600. But my contractor goofed on the measurements,
and I had to send it all back. That's when I noticed the 50 percent restocking fee.
—Amy Hughes, Features Editor
We recently replaced some windows, which required a lot of messy demolition. I was so eager
to get started that I didn't take 20 minutes to cover the floors. The area in front of the windows got trashed. I had previously planned
to give the floors an inexpensive screening and recoating; now I need a full-on sanding and refinishing job.
—Sal Vaglica, Editorial Assistant
Two years ago, my husband and
I kept our remodeling budget
down by repairing the plaster walls in our dining room ourselves and stripping and painting all the millwork. But we were torn over what to do with the ceiling. The acoustical tiles surely concealed badly failing plaster, but we feared the time, cost, and mess of pulling it down. We compromised with a fresh coat of paint.
It bothered us daily. So recently, when we hired a plasterer for some other work, we asked him to do the ceiling, too. Unfortunately, his repairs meant all new carpentry and paint touch-ups where the ceiling meets the walls.
—Deborah Hood, Producer, TOH TV
I jumped to buy a kitchen faucet I saw on sale one day because I liked the modern lines. I didn't think about how this low-profile faucet would work with my shallow sink. Two months later, after several frustrating attempts to fill a pasta pot, I replaced it with a taller spout.
—Deborah Snoonian, Senior Editor
Should have cost: $200 for one faucet
I was plumbing a bathroom/laundry room addition and guessed at what I'd need in the way of copper tubing and connectors during a quick stop in town. I brought it all home and set to work, not realizing until most of it was soldered together that I didn't have the right elbows and tees to make the layout work. I had to redo an entire wall of pipes.
—Jennifer Stimpson, Editorial Assistant
I had a large Art Deco light fixture that I'd been eyeing installed in my kitchen. Then I tried opening the upper cabinets—and realized the doors in my narrow galley space didn't clear the glass shade. Now I'm out the cost of the fixture and the slimmer replacement track lighting, plus two electrician's visits.
—Kelly Beamon, Senior Editor
I hired a tiler to replace an old fiberglass shower stall with tile and used the plumber he recommended to install the new shower pan (the liner that sits under the tile mortar bed and has vertical sides to hold water in). I trusted the tiler and didn't check the plumber's credentials thoroughly. When water started pouring through the ceiling fixture in the kitchen, a different, reputable plumber discovered that the shower pan had been cut at the corners so it would lie flat.
—Tom Baker, Building Technology Editor
I hired a well-known local contractor to repair a failing brick facade and left him to do the job. He called me on the second day, in a panic, after discovering the wall he was taking down was a bearing wall—which
he should have known from the engineer's report I'd given him. The engineer showed up and told me I needed $10,000 in emergency shoring—then promptly quit, fearing liability. But first he called the building department, who cited us for working without a permit. The contractor had never gotten one.
—Alex Bandon, Multimedia Editor
We took a bid of $10,000 over one of $15,000 for a gut-reno job on a bathroom. We were happy with the results until I was steaming up the room to soothe my 2-year-old's cough and aimed the hot water against the shower wall to run it awhile. Ten minutes later a neighbor rang our bell to tell us water was streaming down the siding. Seems the cheaper contractor had saved by cutting corners behind the tiles—there was just a big gap of nothing back there.
—Kathryn Keller, Deputy Editor
Have you made a costly mistake, too? Share it with us and your fellow readers.