Maybe it’s the word “shortcut.” It’s hard to find home improvement ideas that make for good shortcuts, but there are plenty of home improvement shortcuts that are bad ideas. Here’s a look at four shortcuts every homeowner should avoid doing, and four that could be good ideas when done right.
Never Do These Home Improvement Shortcuts
1. Neglect to Get a Permit
It may seem like a cost-saving device, but cutting the permit corner is always at a homeowner’s peril. When you don’t have a permit for a home improvement project the completed work may not meet the minimum standards required locally, state-wide, or federally. This invariably leads to additional costs to fix problems created by not having a permit. Whether you are doing the work yourself or hiring a contractor, a permit protects you and your home. If a contractor tells you a permit isn’t needed, as the homeowner, you need to research to protect yourself.
2. Electrical Work
Considering the dangers related to working with anything electrical, unless you’re a homeowner who is also an electrician, spend the money to hire a pro. DIY electrical is a shortcut that could cost you in serious injury, electrical fires, and worse. No amount of cost-savings makes sense when it comes to electrical work. Don’t do it yourself.
3. Plumbing Re-piping or Replacing
Ill-fitting pipes and old plumbing are disasters in the making. Whether it’s replacing a section of pipe to fix a leak, or removing old piping completely, don’t try this at home. Replacing only a section of leaky pipe can lead to bigger leaks than the one you’re attempting to stop. And removing old plumbing can expose you to hazardous materials such as asbestos. Hire a professional plumber for these two plumbing jobs every time it's needed.
4. Surface Makeovers
"Surface makeovers” such as painting over of old wall paper or putting new flooring over old are shortcuts that seasoned homeowners know to avoid. It may seem like a quick way to get a new look in place, but in the not-to-distant future you might have to scrap off painted wallpaper instead. And you will have to replace the floor again. What is underneath inevitably rises and you will pay, again.
Sometimes Do these Home Improvement Shortcuts
1. Improve Drainage
If you notice standing water anywhere on your property after a storm, but particularly near your home, garage, or other out buildings, you can put in a French drain in a day. A quick web search will give you the step-by-steps instructions. The only caveat is when you are ready to dig your trench, request a visit from your local utility company to be sure you’re not going to dig into underground gas or electrical lines. Most utility companies will come out for free.
2. Add GFCI Outlets
See shortcut no-no number 2 above if you even have a glimmer of doubt, and hire a pro. But if you know how to turn off your whole home’s electricity at the panel, this is the only type of electrical work a skilled homeowner might try. Older homes in particular may not have standard GFCI outlets in kitchens, laundry rooms, or bathrooms. And GFCI outlets do not last forever, so if you suspect an outlet is more than 10 years old, consider replacing them, particularly any closest to sink or other water source.
3. Temporary Fixes
Sometimes you just can’t get a plumber in a hurry. But when you find a small plumbing leak, you don’t want to just let the leaking water continue its damaging ways. A quick fix is to buy a repair clamp from your local hardware store. Ask a specialist if you’re unsure what to buy, but a repair clamp can be a great short-term solution to minimize water damage until your plumber arrives.
4. Add Heat
If you just can’t get warm enough in winter, you may be tempted to close vents in rooms other than the one you’re in. This is a no-no as it can make your HVAC system work less efficiently and can impact system performance over long run. A better shortcut is to invest in an indoor space heater. For under $100 you can find one to suit the room size you need, and look for one with an automatic shut-off timer and temperature control. If you follow safety precautions, you can keep one room nice and cozy all winter.