Many homeowners and renters do their own home repair or remodeling work in a feeble attempt to save money. But they may actually put themselves in harm's way by causing more expensive problems.march-20-pic-plumbing-small

California contractor Robert Rayfield estimates that 70 percent of his business is tied to repairing or undoing home repairs done by do-it-yourself (DIY) homeowners or unqualified builders.

"I've been called in by people who spent time and money on doing the job themselves, only to add a few thousand dollars in repair time to undo their mistakes," Rayfield says. "Even if they had common sense -- which is questionable -- they never had the skills to do the work properly."

6 classic DIY blunders

Rayfield recalls these classic DIY blunders:

  1. A customer decided to install pricey French doors on his upstairs balcony. But he put them in backward, so they opened outward onto the terrace. "The wind blew the doors open in a storm, then blew rain into the house, causing thousands of dollars in carpet and floor damage," Rayfield says.
  2. Another time, Rayfield was called in to "fix" upstairs replacement windows that were hung by a professional installer. The owner did not realize they were installed inside out, with the screens on the inside and the latches outdoors. The "professional" installer had blown town and was nowhere to be found when the homeowners tried to contact him.
  3. A homeowner bent on saving money had Rayfield out to make concrete forms for a stairway. "When he ran short on mud and didn't want to buy more concrete, he just began putting in broken rock and old pieces of concrete into the form," Rayfield says. "The first time someone tried it, the stairway crumbled and collapsed."
  4. An Atlanta man tried to save money by fixing a garage door opener on his own. He sliced off his thumb on the garage door cable and ended up with a $10,000 emergency room bill.
  5. A woman in upstate New York put an energy-efficient toilet in her home on her own. But something happened to the float and, while she was out for the evening, the toilet spewed untold gallons onto the floor, flooding the upstairs and downstairs, ruining hardwood flooring and carpets alike. She was grateful to have insurance.
  6. An East Coast man busted the handle off his post-hole digger and bought a new handle (saving $16 off the price of a new digger). Unfortunately, he parted the flesh between his finger and thumb while trying to saw the rusted bolts off the old digger. While he saved $16 on parts, he spent $409.99 on a trip to the emergency room to get nine stitches.

Common mistakes

Home designer Tamara Dalton cites these other common DIY flubs:

  • Installing faucets improperly, so "H" is cold and "C" is hot.
  • Wallpapering over electrical outlets.
  • Installing bulbs on the wrong side of the ceiling fan, creating a permanent strobe light effect.
  • Placing vanity mirrors too high, so you can only see your face from the eyebrows up.
  • Installing lever handles upside down so you have to lift them to open the door.
In sum, it's scary out there in do-it-yourself land. If you're fixed on the idea that you're an expert, buy yourself a good insurance policy.