Don't try this at home

By Julia Fairclough, Globe Correspondent, 3/28/2004

There are just some things better left to professionals when it comes to renovations.
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It's springtime, when the fancy of the handy turns to home projects.

Do-it-yourselfers are behind 42 percent of home improvement projects, according to a recent study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

The study also found that homeowners accounted for more than three-quarters of the $214 billion in remodeling spending in 2001, devoting over $131 billion to home improvements and over $34 billion to maintenance and repairs.

Most do-it-yourselfers tackle projects beyond their abilities, however, according to building inspectors, contractors, and the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards. Here are eight jobs they say are best left to professionals:

  • 1. Wiring -- Hitting the wrong wire in a circuit panel can result in electrocution, and 95 percent of electrical fires are due to homeowners failing to splice wires correctly. Only licensed electricians can obtain permits for electrical work, and must do so for any wiring job.

  • 2. Plumbing -- Likewise, it is illegal for homeowners to do their own plumbing. Only a plumber can obtain a plumbing license, with the exception of unclogging a toilet or changing a washer. While websites list generic ways to hook up a tub, the instructions do not meet the state building code.

  • 3. Demolishing walls -- Taking out a supporting beam can cause the roof to sag and leak. To remove a supporting wall, an engineer must ascertain what kind of additional support is needed.

  • 4. Installing windows and doors -- People don't typically understand the nuances of door sizes and verifying measurements. There's a difference between ordering a door to fit a 72-inch finished opening and a 72-inch rough opening. Tearing into an opening which may hold an exterior sliding glass door can lead to the removal of studs that compromise the structure of the house.

  • 5. Roof repairs -- The average do-it-yourselfer should stay off the roof. People are rarely sure of their balance at precarious heights.

    Homeowners may also construct scaffolding that is unsafe.

  • 6. Building decks -- Often, people don't understand that decks need flashing, or the piece of metal between the deck and the house that protects the joint between the home and the metal from getting wet. If a deck is poorly flashed, the water gets in and causes rot.

    A deck must hold at least 60 pounds per square foot.

  • 7. Chemical or heat stripping of wood work -- Homeowners who strip heavy layers of lead paint off old moldings are at greater risk of contracting lead poisoning. A licensed lead abatement specialist or certified lead carpenter must do the job.

  • 8. Finishing the basement -- Homeowners often improperly lay down wood on concrete basement floors, which causes moisture to collect and the wood to rot. Mold can also form.

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.