Next Time Hire A Pro
Some are ugly, some dangerous, and some are just funny. But they are all DIY disasters!
Hire a pro
It’s true that not all homeowners can afford to hire a professional for each home repair and improvement, but not every project is DIY friendly. Sometimes calling a pro makes more sense and will save you money in the long run.
Missed it by that much
Looks like the HVAC technician took an early vacation, or the roofers forgot to reconnect these exhaust ducts to vent hoods on the roof. This is going to exhaust warm, humid air (from kitchen and bath fans) into the attic, creating the perfect conditions for mold and mildew. In the winter, frost will build up in the attic. When that frost melts, it will damage ceilings and give the false impression that the roof is leaking.
The right way to install a duct
Exhaust ducts should always be insulated so moisture won’t condense on the inside or outside of the duct. And, of course, they have to exhaust outdoors, not into the attic.
Fake access panel
Building codes require an access panel behind bathtubs so you can access the fixtures and drain lines if they need work. Here, someone was trying to fake out the building inspector by installing a false panel. Nice try.
The right way to install a panel
Generally, creating an access is just a matter of cutting a hole in the drywall behind the tub plumbing and installing a panel. If the access is in a closet, just cover it with a piece of plywood. If it’s in a finished room, use a more decorative panel.
Don't kill a lineman
This homeowner is powering the house with a portable generator by plugging it directly into a house circuit. He’s made a double-end male plug so he can plug in an extension cord from the generator. Yes, it works. And yes, it’s extremely dangerous. If the main breaker isn’t turned off, electricity is getting pumped right into the power grid outside the house. Linemen working on the electrical system down the road could very easily get electrocuted.
The Right Way: Install a transfer switch
Appliances or other devices should be plugged into the generator itself using an extension cord. If you want to power a few vital circuits, you can do that through the main panel, but the generator has to be wired through a transfer switch with a power inlet receptacle (powered by the generator) that is then connected to those circuits in the main panel.
The pages below contain DIY disasters from previous volumes of Next Time Hire A Pro
Three slapped-together 2x2s do not a railing make. It’s hard to say which this getup fails at more miserably—looks or safety.
The right way to install a handrail
Adding a custom-made wrought iron rail is the best way to provide a strong, safe, code-compliant handrail for your exterior stairs. After careful measuring, an ornamental iron company will weld the parts to create a perfect-fitting rail. The rail can be bolted down or set in holes that are then filled with mortar.
Electrified gas line
Bonding your CSST (corrugated stainless steel tubing) to your electrical system is required by code, but what you can see above is a disaster waiting to happen. The bonding clamp may pierce a hole in the thin wall of the gas tubing, and the plastic jacket prevents an any semblance of a bonding connection.
The right way to bond CSST
Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for bonding CSST. The electrical bonding jumper must be connected to a CSST transition fitting or somewhere on the rigid gas pipe. Go to csstsafety.com for more information.
Motion detector light
Adding a motion detector light outdoors provides extra security at night. But there are right and wrong ways to do it. Nonmetallic-sheathed cable is not approved for use in wet or damp locations, outdoors or in direct sunlight. Also, and maybe more important in this installation, conductors, raceways and cables must always be protected from physical damage.
The right way: install rigid conduit
The installer should have used electrical metallic tubing (Type EMT, also called thin-wall conduit) or rigid PVC conduit (Type PVC). Both are approved for use in wet outdoor locations.
A hair-raising switch
Adding a circuit by tapping directly into one of the cables feeding power to your breaker panel is extremely dangerous.
The right way: install a breaker
Every circuit must be protected by a circuit breaker. Most electrical panels have spare spaces where a breaker can be added. Connecting the hot conductor to the breaker screw protects against overloads, overheating, short circuits and ground faults that can lead to a fire.
An epic collapse
A retaining wall that needs to hold back this many tons of soil requires a well-engineered design. Our guess is that this wall didn’t have drainage built in. It looks as though water from a big rain event, with nowhere else for it to go, may have exerted too much pressure on the back of this aging wall.
The right way to design a wall
A properly designed retaining wall requires a solid, level foundation, properly stepped-back blocks and backfill that drains well.
A hair-raising switch
To meet code, switches and outlets belong inside a correctly sized electrical box. With the setup shown here, a slip of the finger could get you a nasty shock or worse.
The right way
Adding a cord to your disposer and then plugging it into a GFCI-protected outlet allows you to quickly disconnect the unit for servicing or replacement. For easy control of the disposer, wire the outlet to a switch located in a convenient location above the countertop.
Greasy kitchen stuff
We understand that venting the range hood into a wall cabinet saved a lot of labor, but we admit that we’re puzzled by the louvers.
The right way to install an exhaust duct
The exhaust duct from vent hoods should lead outside. In single-story homes, it’s usually easiest to go through the roof. But the vent duct can also run horizontally through an exterior wall.
That's not how flashing works
Shingles that abut a wall do require step flashing, but the flashing isn’t installed on top. And relying on caulk to seal step flashing is a formula for disaster.
The right way to install step flashing
Step flashing consists of bent rectangles of metal that prevent water from entering where roofs meet walls. The flashing pieces are installed along with the shingles and must overlap one another and fit behind the siding. If the step flashing can’t be installed behind the siding, then an additional piece of counterflashing should be installed over the top edge of the step flashing.
Trip proof fuses?
Saving a few bucks by replacing your bad air conditioner fuses with copper tubing may seem like a good idea—that is, until you burn out your overloaded compressor. Copper tubing will complete the circuit, but it doesn’t provide the protection of a fuse.
Check if fuses are burnt out
Use a continuity tester to see if fuses are burned out. Replace spent fuses with new ones of the same amperage.
Dr. Frankenstein’s wall switch
We think this is a way to turn on a light switch to a room that has no access but-not sure! Believe it or not there are electronic ways to remotely operate lights with wireless switches.
Legends of the fall
Wonder why you’d even need the 2x4 cribbing when you have a ratchet strap doing the job! Wonder if the painting will get done before the fall. Renting a lift or putting up scaffolding would be a lot safer approach.
One way to save money on flooring
I’ve got a great idea! We don’t need new flooring under the rug. Nobody will ever know.
March of the roof vents
Yes, attic venting is important. This, however, might be a bit much. Maybe trying to save on shingles?
A shower found in Munchkinland
After mom and dad moved out, the toddlers decided to make the bathroom more user-friendly. But when they grow up they’re gonna have to install a new shower.
Come on down to Bob’s Really Good Surgery Shack! This week’s special is brain transplants! Actually, this might provide pretty good shop lighting in the garage.
A garage prepped for elective surgery
Do NOT look this mess in the eye! You’ll turn to stone! I think these supply lines could be a bit shorter. Plus the water pressure is bound to be affected
Sure, the Low-E glass on the neighbor’s windows is doing a great job at keeping their house nice and cool, but the neighbor's vinyl siding, not so much.
Dueling appliance doors
Well? I suppose we could roast the turkey on the drying cycle? A little bit of kitchen planning goes a long way.
Water cooled outlet
Can you say, “Shock Hazard!”
Toasted curtains. Where’s the jelly?
Now that’s a close call! Flammable materials close to electric baseboard heaters is a good recipe for a fire!
Drastic leaks...drastic measures
Why fix a roof leak when you have cookie sheets?
What’s wrong with this picture? Let's count the ways…
The first question is, "Why did someone cover up this beautiful ceiling with a hideous drop ceiling?! More importantly, there are specific steps to follow when a receptacle SAFELY...and this ain't one of them.
One more reason why voltage sniffers were invented
Which ones? That’s the game! Try your luck! First prize is one free shock-therapy treatment.
Not even sure what the intended fix was here. But guessing this isn't low expanding foam.
Given how finicky toilet flappers can be, it would be awesome if an apple would do the job. As for the sock, we suspect it’s a substitute for a missing fill valve cap (see next page). Or maybe it’s just decorative.
The Right Way
Replacing the flapper is probably a better solution.
We're guessing that the same bloke who installed the vent also installed the flashing.
Saddle Up for a Headache
Saddle valves are frequently used to route water to appliances like ice makers and furnace humidifiers. They work by piercing the copper line with a hollow needle. A rubber gasket seals between the clamps and the copper line. But saddle valves are notoriously unreliable and eventually clog or leak. And they’re virtually impossible to shut off after a few years. See the next page for an example of the right way.
The Right Way
Instead, install a sweat or compression tee with a 1/4-in. shutoff valve. This system will give you years of trouble-free service.
One Small Step
This bathtub must have been installed in a tightrope walker’s house. Just think about turning on the water to fill the tub, then walking the ledge to get in. After your bath, you’d be getting out with wet feet on 8 in. of slippery tile. Talk about a fast trip down the stairs!
Missed the Stud
Drywall anchors are the hardware of choice for hanging pictures and mirrors, but handrails need more support. The installer of this rail either didn’t bother to find a stud or miscalculated the location of the handrail bracket. See the right way on the next page.
The Right Way
Find and mark the studs with masking tape. Then hold the handrail in position and mark where the brackets should be mounted so they’ll align with the studs. This ensures a safe, solid connection.
That’s one way to heat an attic
There’s enough wattage here to fry a circuit and enough heat to melt snow on the roof. Bulb sockets like this aren’t meant to be daisy-chained.
Stairway to Nowhere
Maybe these folks have a future second-floor addition in mind. Is a handrail required by code if the stairs don't actually go anywhere?
Hanging clothes from exposed wiring is a bad idea. The heavy load of clothes could pull connections loose, and the hangers could abrade the plastic insulation and expose the wire, potentially causing shocks or a fire. Instead, mount a clothes rod. The small expense in time and materials could save your house and your life.
Cave dwelling pipes
This corroded joint is likely the result of a pinhole leak in one of the joints. Water seeps out slowly and evaporates, leaving behind these deposits.
Wye is this wrong?
Connecting a trap to a vertical drain with a wye fitting and a 45-degree elbow seems like a good idea. But it’s not. As water drains down the steep slope at the wye, it can create a siphon effect such that water will be sucked out of the trap. And the empty trap will allow sewer gas to flow into your home. Check out the right way on the next page.
Note: Joining ABS (black) pipe to PVC (white) may look like a blunder, but it’s actually allowed by many local codes—as long as you use “universal” cement to glue them together. For more info on this, check out our story on joining dissimilar pipes.
The Right Way
When a trap connects to a vertical drain, install a tee fitting. A “sanitary tee” gives the waste arm a slight downward slope, enough for good flow, but not enough to create a siphon.
Dangerous water heater vent
Hot air rises. And so do hot exhaust gases from a water heater. But if an exhaust vent slopes downward, as this one does, exhaust fumes containing poisonous carbon monoxide could leak into the house with potentially lethal consequences. Check out the right way on the next page.
The right way
This vent is sloping upward until it connects to a vent pipe running up through the roof. The hot flue gas rises until it safely exits the building.
It’s hard to find anything good to say about the placement of this carbon monoxide (CO) detector. The biggest problem is that it’s not in a good location to detect carbon monoxide. It’s also in a place that’s vulnerable to damage from vacuuming, dirt or a curious child. Check out The National Fire Protection Association for more information.
Don't lean back
The bench in the photo above looks like a nice place to sit and enjoy the view, and it would prevent you from accidentally walking off the edge of the deck. But it’s not a substitute for a guardrail. More on the next page.
Guard rails are better
Codes may vary by municipality, but where the International Residential Code is in force, decks that are more than 30 in. above the ground are required to have a guardrail that measures at least 36 in. from the deck surface to the top of the guardrail. Also, the guardrail design must not allow a 4-in. sphere to fit through any opening. And finally, the guardrail must be able to withstand a concentrated 200-lb. force anywhere along the top of the rail.
Missing Cap Flashing
At first glance, this chimney-flashing job looks good. But wait! How does it keep out water? There’s a gap between the chimney and the flashing—any water running down the bricks will run right into the house.
Looks funny, works great
This air conditioner compressor covered with a plastic sandbox lid may look funny. But this is actually a good way to protect your compressor in the off-season. Covering the top keeps out debris and protects the compressor from falling branches or ice during the winter in cold climates. And the open sides allow air to circulate. The only downside of the “turtle shell” system is that it will surely blow off and should be strapped down in some way.
Actually not as good
Completely enclosing a compressor with a cover, even a purchased one like this, can trap moisture, which leads to corrosion. It also creates a perfect nesting place for mice. The simple cover in the top photo is actually much better. Most AC manufacturers don't recommend using covers like this.
Duct Tape Wall
Duct tape is not a good substitute for grout, but we suspect that this tape is actually holding the tile on the wall.
Hubcap Vent Cap
Home centers do carry roof vent caps. Of course they’re not as cool as this one (unless you’re a Ford fan).
Flashing in a Can
Spray foam can be used for many things—flashing is not one of them.
The More the Merrier!
Stacking more cheap filters doesn’t necessarily add up to better filtration. It will likely create too much resistance and burn up your fan motor. Best to buy the filter that fits your furnace.
It’s never a good idea to hang a ceiling fan from a hook. They make ceiling fan braces that make the job safe and easy.
Wayne Gretzky’s Fascia Repair
What else ya gunna do when you run out of caulk? Hockey pucks are waterproof. Right? There are better ways to repair and replace soffit.
Salvador Dali’s Ceiling Fan
Cheap indoor fans don't like high humidity.
Toboggan ice-dam solution
Granted, this is quite a clever setup. But it seems like it might be less work to fix the ice-dam problem! And is that a beer bong?
It’s important to understand load-bearing posts.
What’s a TPR valve?
Not willing to be outwitted by a water heater, Jim decided that the TPR (temperature, pressure relief) valve should only drip when he wanted it to drip. A TPR valve is an important safety feature, and the photo shown above is NOT an appropriate solution. This baby could explode like a bomb.
All employees MUST wash their hands before returning to work!
Genius! With this setup, you can wash your hands and your feet at the same time! A small bathroom requires a certain amount of planning.
Indoor kitchen venting
Marion loved the smell of her cooking so much, it seemed a waste to vent all of the wonderful aromas outside. Generally, most people prefer kitchen venting to exhaust outside the house.
Brilliant extension ladder leg extender
Another clever use for a five-gallon bucket, just prior to kicking the bucket. Please be careful with extension ladders, folks.
Inexpensive fill valve repair
Replace the fill valve or cover it with a plastic cup...you decide.
Why aren’t the clothes getting dry?
A vinyl dryer vent hose is such a bad idea on so many levels. A smooth metal dryer vent is the best solution.
Anyone see a one booted chimney sweep, send him my way.
The installer who connected this bonding clamp and wire to the plastic jacket of the CSST gas line may not be entirely familiar with the properties of electricity.
That’s some bad framing
If you study it closely, you can almost see the progression of how this wall came together. Why it came together that way is another story.
Sump pump insanity
Constricting the discharge line with a garden hose will kill your sump pump. Dumping the water into a house drain will kill your wallet after you pay the hefty ticket you’ll get if your city ever finds out
Subpar stair stringer
Either too cheap to buy new stringer boards, or too proud to admit he cut them wrong the first time, or both.
The cost of privacy
This what happens when you don't plan ahead. Pretty impressive coping skills though.
Door stop/smoke detector
It also helps hide the huge gouge in the ceiling caused by the swinging door.
The gutter guy said, “Sure I can do it.” Yes that really is a downspout tied into the ductwork.
A couple drawer extensions will fix that problem, right?
The long way 'round
The shortest distance between two points is NOT this ductwork.
Duct tape, the ultimate solution
The proof is in the plumbing!
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