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Common DIY and Safety Questions

By Mike Auger

Inspecting homes throughout Rhode Island, I get a repeated question...

Mike, how bad is this defect?

When I get this question is usually means: How expensive is it to fix? Can I do it myself? How urgent is it?

Well, here goes...

First with the urgency. Typically safety items and water intrusion items are the most urgent. Safety is urgent obviously because the longer you let something like this go, the more opportunity there is for someone to get hurt. With water intrusion, you always want water where it should be: outside or in plumbing, not anywhere else. Nothing short of fire will destroy your dwelling quicker than water can - not to mention the potential for mold issues as well. So bad stairs, railings, fire safety issues, loose railings, failing roof/gutter systems, breaches in siding and leaks are among the biggies to hurry up and get to on the double.

The other tricky part: how expensive is this issue, and/or can I "DIY" it? In Rhode Island, a home owner can perform many repairs deemed to be licensed trades. There is some electrical and plumbing work that you can do on your own home, but that a paid contractor must be licensed to do on your home. This does not necessarily mean that you should do the repairs yourself just because you can. It's tough for me to try to judge your aptitude or skill level on various repairs, but a good rule of thumb is that if you are not 100% confident than you better leave it to a pro. There are dangers to trying and failing at DIY projects.

I have a network of tradesmen I know and can refer you to, but if you want to try the DIY route, keep the following in mind:

Plumbing is more than simply that if it isn't leaking it's fine. There are items that affect proper drainage and venting of the system to prevent back ups, sewer gas entry and the like. Know your stuff before you try to fix any of these things. Also, keep in mind that a nearly fixed leak can be worse than a noticeable leak: if you get a leak nearly stopped and think it's all set, the water will slowly and silently destroy the areas around it and likely cause a mold issue. By the time you notice the slow leak, it can cause thousands to repair, when an initial visit from a plumber may have only cost hundreds to get it right the first time.

Electrical issues are another important one not always so simple as white to white, black to black. There are dangers associated with adding too many junctions on one circuit, or accidentally overloading a GFI or AFCI protected circuit, or leaving wires not completely connected creating arcing, or improper fastening or stress protecting wires. Getting these items wrong can cause electrocution or fire. They can even damage your electrical items in the circuits. Know what you're doing before you dabble here too.

The dangers with the roof are similar to plumbing: if you nearly fix a leak it will slowly deteriorate your home, and you will not notice until your ceiling stains. Also there's the danger of falling off while trying to fix it!

Other mechanical items are usually a safer DIY bet, like replacing doors, planing doors to close better, installing locks, trimming molding, minor siding fixes, painting and the like. Your biggest worry here is cosmetic, and not likely a structural thing. Sure these items do take experience to get right as well, but not such a big deal if you get it wrong.

Just remember that safety items are important to get correct, because you can get hurt doing trying to fix them and because it is important for these items to be handled properly. For example, a stair rail may look nice, but you may never know it isn't secure until it's too late: one slip and it rips out of the wall. Also, if you are doing a DIY fix, don't put it off too long - get it remedied right away.

And as always, you're a client for life, so feel free to call me!

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About The Author

My pre-RI home inspection career prepared me well for my current profession. I grew...

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