DIY Decisions

DIY Decisions

Walk into a Home Depot or Lowe’s store on Saturday morning and you’ll be surrounded by the home improvement equivalent of cheerleaders shouting “you-can-do-it!” Classes, displays and advice on everything from caulking a window to installing a skylight can make you feel like there’s never a reason to hire a pro. And the Internet and bookstores are rife with do-it-yourself tomes designed to instruct would-be Bob Vilas on the ins and outs of home repair.
But just because someone says you can install that new electrical outlet doesn’t mean you should grab the wire strippers and jump in. Whether you ought to tackle a home-improvement project on your own depends on your knowledge, experience, comfort levels and patience.
“Work within your ability,” suggests Tom Kraeutler, host of the nationally syndicated home improvement radio show “The Money Pit.” “If you tackle a plumbing job, you can get wet. If you tackle an electrical job, you can get dead.”
With that in mind, here are 10 projects with expert advice on what could be done in-house and what should be farmed out.

Do it

1. Paint.
It’s not as easy as it looks, but it’s not hard. A little patience in the form of pre-painting preparation can yield the same results as a pro, Kraeutler promises. “The two enemies of paint: surface that has not been roughed up and mildew or mold. Mildew will kill a paint job.”

2. Anything cosmetic in nature
Sure, your first wallpaper attempt might have an air bubble or an uneven seam. But nothing that you do for aesthetics only will risk your family’s safety, so they’re good projects for a neophyte.

3. Patch a wall
“Anybody can do it,” believes Joe Hayes, owner of Hayes Properties, and the frequent instructor of home-improvement adult education courses. “If it looks wrong, you just patch more and sand more.”

4. Add weather stripping
It’s as simple as peel and paste. Inexpensive kits at the hardware store show you how to clean surfaces before you press and where to seal drafty windows and doors. Just read the directions first.

5. Fix a dripping faucet or leaking toilet
Serious plumbing work is a novice’s no-no (see below), but small jobs, the kind that aren’t worth a pro’s house-call time, are perfect for weekend projects.

Don’t do it

1. Make structural changes
“I had someone who called the radio show who wanted to get a pool table in the basement. These big old metal poles were in the way and he wanted to cut them right out,” says Kraeutler. Such a cut could have brought the house down. “Making repairs that effect the structure requires skill and training.”

2. Install new kitchen countertops
Even professionals have a tough time with this. Unlike cabinets or shelves, no matter how many times you measure for a countertop, there are always little spaces that have to be adjusted and filled, because corners are rarely — if ever — square, and the surface must be level. The time it takes you to measure twice, or 10 times, is better spent looking for a qualified contractor.

3. Install new plumbing
Moving a toilet, a sink, or replacing pipe behind walls are jobs best left for professionals, says Mark Ladner of Chicago-based Ladner Construction. “Virtually every time I’ve seen plumbing put in wrong, it was the homeowner who had done it himself.”

4. Refinish hardwood floors
It seems easy enough, but the job is deceptive and the large mechanical sanders are difficult to maneuver, Hayes cautions. “Everybody has seen a floor done by homeowner: It is the one that’s lumpy and bumpy.”

5. Replace central air units
You need specialized tools to handle Freon (considered hazardous waste), says Mark Rogers, a general contractor at Precision Craft Inc., based in Mount Prospect, Ill. And the unit has to be precisely charged: Either over- or undercharging can cause system damage.

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