Professional handymen live by the phrase “measure twice, cut once,” to avoid waste and get things right the first time. But that may not work for a smart amateur.
A homeowner should probably approach any new DIY project by taking the original estimate and factoring in twice as much time and three times as much money.
The reason? DIYers mess up. We asked home-improvement experts around the country for the most common mistakes a home handyman (or handywoman) might make — and how to avoid them.
Mistakes such as not taking out the required permits, or starting a job without the necessary tools and supplies. Or not properly preparing the job site or readying the walls for painting.
Or just failing to get a clue.
So lace up your work boots and read on for tips on how to get professional results.
Considered a bother at best by many DIYers, permits actually serve a greater purpose than just raising money for the government.
“People in permitting offices aren’t evil,” says Lou Manfredini, the official Ace Hardware Home Expert.
“They’re there to make sure the job is done right and you don’t hurt yourself,” he says. Plus, for some jobs, such as putting in a wood stove, you need proof of the permit or your insurance carrier won’t cover it.
Not sure if your job requires a permit? The rule of thumb is that you need one for anything larger than painting and wallpapering. It doesn’t hurt to call the building department and ask.
Nothing slows down a job more than not having the right materials and implements.
Manfredini says the reason the pros can do what they do is that they buy quality tools. “There’s always a bargain bin,” he says. “It’s not a wise investment. You lose time and money.”
So make sure to research the supplies you’ll need in advance of the job.
You don’t want them out of order or exposed to the weather while you are working, says Ed Del Grande, author of “Ed Del Grande’s House Call” and former host of the DIY Network’s “Warehouse Warriors” show.
Beware: Thieves can make off with your materials if they’re not properly stored.
And, if you have a septic tank, make sure you know where it is. If a supplier delivering materials in a heavy truck drives over it, you could be looking at a cracked tank. Yuck.
Barbara Kavovit, a do-it-yourself guru and designer of the DIYVA collection of tools and accessories, says she often sees DIYers use 1/4-inch drywall for building walls. It’s better to go with the minimum 5/8 inch, or with 3/4 inch, if you want a good sound barrier.
The same rule applies to plywood for subfloors. Go with 3/4 inch.
It creates a much stronger floor, especially if you’re installing wood on top.
One of the most popular do-it-yourself projects around, painting can make a place look great. But make sure you’re getting the correct paint for the job.
Ace Hardware’s Manfredini says flat paint should be used only for ceilings because it’s usually not as washable as paints with an eggshell or satin finish.
On outdoor decks, “sun and rain tear the heck out of the wood,” he says. Clear sealers don’t block the UV rays, and they peel. So, use a linseed oil-based stain — it drives the pigment into the wood and preserves it.
A good, quality paint job is 90 percent preparation, Manfredini says.
Clean the walls, sand them and patch any holes before you paint. A coat of primer or stain blocker is advisable if you’re trying to cover over oil-based paint, stains or peeling paint, or if you’re painting a lighter color over a darker color.
Let’s say you’ve taken out a personal loan or have obtained other funding to get the work done. Nothing will diminish the return on your investment like a trip to the emergency room.
Wear safety goggles when using power tools or working with drywall or wood; wear hard hats when you’re working under other people on scaffolding; and open some windows when you’re painting or staining, or stripping old finishes off of floors or walls, says Del Grande, the author and former TV host.
And never wear loose-hanging clothing, especially when using power tools. Protect your hands with gloves when carrying wood, metal and rock, or when hammering, and wear a nail or tool pouch to prevent damage to your floors and more importantly, the feet of people and pets.
Are you sure you want to cut there? That’s one of the key questions you want to ask yourself again and again during the course of any home project.
It’s so important for things such as building walls, hanging drywall or cutting baseboards, countertops or pipe. If you’re going to err, err on the side of too long. You can always make something shorter; you can’t make it longer.
Spackle can cover only up to a 1/8-inch seam.
Are there some projects you just shouldn’t try to tackle on your own? Everyone has limits.
Del Grande won’t work on a roof. You might draw the line at plumbing or electrical work.
Here are a couple of good universal restrictions:
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 43 percent of all fatal falls involve ladders.
You don’t want to use your own house as a classroom if you don’t know the basics on how to do a home project.
If you have a friend who is a contractor or an experienced DIYer, offer your assistance on one of his projects so you can learn. No one will turn away free labor.
If you need to remove a supporting wall, have an engineer look at it to see what kind of beam you need to replace it.
“If you have a saw in your hand and have a question about what you’re doing,” Del Grande says, “stop. Follow that little voice in your head.”