7 Common DIY Renovation Mistakes to Avoid

Jodi N. Gonzalez is a home trends expert and veteran journalist with over two decades of experience covering topics such as home decor, organization, cleaning, and celebrations. She has been published by the Tribune family and the Austin American-Statesman.

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The DIY industry is booming, with a bevy of television shows dedicated to updating flooring, painting a room, and more. But not everything is as it seems on TV and planning ahead for some common mishaps will help your renovations turn out a lot better. And some tasks really do need a professional in order to meet the vision you have for the project.

Tim Tracy, a national sales trainer with foundation services company Groundworks, says a big trend he is seeing is in entertaining space. “During the pandemic, a lot of people were renovating houses. We saw a lot of people making ‘fan’ caves, places in their basements where they could watch sporting events and hold more in-house gatherings. Covid kind of changed the game as far as people going out to the bar to watch the game or other spaces. So, they looked at how they could reuse the space internally as a place to do in-home entertaining. We had a lot of people getting big-screen TVs and setting their audio equipment up.”

MEET THE EXPERT

  • Tim Tracy is a national sales trainer at Groundworks, a foundation services company.

Waterproofing

The pandemic has actually been a boon for the home renovations business, he said. “We did more home renovations during Covid than we did in the years prior. Windows, doors, and more—people are spending money are their homes.” That work doesn’t come without precautions, however. With more people doing their own renovations, Tracy has seen more issues.

“The biggest problem we have seen is people planning a home renovation without making sure it’s waterproof,” he says. “They haven’t taken care of moisture problems, or they haven’t verified if they have moisture problems. Anytime you do a home renovation project, you are bringing in new lumber and all those kinds of things, and none of those things holds up against the water.”

This is a particular issue for basement renovations. “If you have an unfinished basement and then finish it but have that ‘basement’ smell—that’s coming from moisture. People become noise blind to it. You get to a smell and then you forget it’s there.”

Plumbing Surprises

Homeowners often plan a project without fully knowing what they are getting into. They think they are just renovating a specific space, but they find surprises. “They will open up a wall in one space and then realize that it is connected to another wall or ‘I didn’t know this was behind here,’ and they run into trouble,” says Tracy.

“We have some homeowners who have taken up their basement flooring and find that a previous homeowner had just covered up the asbestos tile with carpet because the asbestos isn’t bad if it’s undisturbed. But once you start construction, you say ‘oh wow. I wanted to put a wall here but to do that I will have to drill through this asbestos.’ And that will disturb the asbestos, so if you want to do that work, you have to have it abated.”

Similarly, if you want to change the plumbing in a basement or one-story home, there’s more to it than just adding pipes. “You are going to have to cut up the concrete. That water is going to have to have some kind of pump to get out of the house. It has to have a way to get in the house and once you get it in, how are you going to get it out?” says Tracy. “Even if you’re just doing a backyard barbecue, where you want a tap to be there, you’ll still need a drain somewhere.”

Ground Mishaps

“It doesn’t take very long at all for any money you would have saved get eaten up in restoration,” he says. The frustration factor alone is enough to send you running to the professionals.

Even if you are planning an addition with no plumbing, you will have to dig up a place for the footing for that addition, which proves problematic for some homeowners, especially those in rocky areas.

“Nobody has X-ray vision,” he says. “If you have a large stone that needs to be jackhammered out of removed,” you will start to see the cost go up for that project. And if you live in the north, you have to get below that frost line. That’s one reason there is an up of basements up there. Because by the time you get below that frost line, you have to go a couple more feet and you can have a basement.”

Any type of update where you are installing or fastening to concrete is tricky as well. “Any time you do anything with concrete, it can be difficult to get that dry and looking presentable,” he says.

Extra Trips

“As a rookie, someone who hasn’t done this before, you always forget one or two things” at the home improvement store, he says. “It’s a lot of wasted time. I am always amazed at the time that the drive is. You didn’t realize you needed extra screws or that you need 2.5-inch screws.”

The extra cost of gas alone could sink the savings you were hoping for.

Not Thinking Through the Process

It isn’t always simple math. Just because you have eight boards that total 96 feet and you need 96 feet, you still have to cut those boards. “Someone that doesn’t do this very often is amazed at how much waste it made,” explains Tracy. “You can’t just translate the linear feet into the amount total that you need of boards. You have to think about what those cuts look like.” It isn’t the money-saving venture you might have anticipated.

Electrical Work

For instance, in adding kitchen cabinets or countertops, you might need to figure in supports for the floor because that extra weight can cause the floor to settle. “If I am just thinking about the supplemental beam and not thinking about where it goes, I might miss that plumbing line that needs to be moved or the electrical might need to be rerouted. This is where the inexperience comes in for people who don’t do this often.”

Even people in the home renovation industry know their limits. “I can rewire an outlet or a light switch but even then, I am still going to the breaker box two or three times to make sure that thing isn’t live because I don’t want to get shocked. As a layperson, the risk to reward for doing it yourself just doesn’t pan out,” says Tracy.

The dangers are real, and they aren’t worth it. Before you tackle a home project yourself, take the time to consider all areas that you will need to handle and consider whether it’s really saving you time or money first. You will be glad you did.

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