Fixing Homeowners' Do-it-yourself Disasters

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

More people are taking on remodeling projects themselves, which is good business for outfits that specialize in correcting their mistakes.

Remodeling projects can look very easy on television - but can end up being very hard for many do-it-yourselfers. Often hapless homeowners need help to complete the jobs they take on. They might call on a handy brother-in-law or neighbor for help but, increasingly, franchised businesses are springing up around the country to rescue DIYs in deep trouble. TV's bad influence "The more that shows like 'This Old House' make things look simple for homeowners to do, the more it makes things great for me," says John Ogg, chief of operations for HomeFIXology, a franchise operation that gets a good proportion of its business from owners who have botched a remodeling job. Other franchises that fill the need for handyman services include House Doctors Handyman Service, Handyman Connection, Mr. Handyman and Case Handyman System. All will clean up DIY disasters. Americans will spend somewhere in excess of $160 billion on home remodeling projects over the next year, according to the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies. But some homeowners will try to save money by taking on more of the remodeling tasks themselves than they are actually capable of. "The TV shows jump from a guy leaning down to put in the first floor tile to a shot of the finished floor," says Ogg. "It's not that easy." Many homeowners find themselves in the middle of a job before they realize they can't do it. The bathroom is one place where the professionals see some of the worst do-it-yourself disasters. Tile work is one of the jobs most often botched, according to Dan Landon, a House Doctors Handyman Service franchise holder. "Trying to get it level and straight with the right spacing for grout is hard if you don't know what you're doing," he says. Mike Esposito, who owns a House Doctors Handyman Service in Virginia Beach, specializes in bath remodeling. He says that he gets at least a call a month from desperate housewives (and husbands) screaming for help in the middle of a job. Beyond the basics Esposito says the TV shows don't reveal the details of a remodeling job. They portray couples tearing out walls, putting up new sheetrock, even replacing bathroom fixtures. But his clients often get stuck after the teardown part. "Anybody can gut a bathroom. It's putting it back together again that can be tough," he says. One common problem betrays a real lack of forward thinking. For instance, it's not uncommon for DIYs to install the tub without hooking up the drain pipe according to Esposito. But civilians can mess up even a very simple job, such as putting up a shelf. "The whole thing falls off because they didn't find a stud," he says. Dale Robinson, who owns a House Doctors franchise in Austin, says he is often called in to correct wayward ceramic floor tiling projects. The problem can be that people don't realize that sub-floors have to be very, very solid before a ceramic floor can be laid on top. Otherwise, the tiles can snap as the floor buckles under the weight of traffic. Esposito says that he doesn't even try to fix the work of DIYs most of the time --instead he just starts over from the beginning. Bathroom wall tiling, for example, often must be redone from scratch. Often DIYs will put in a first course of tile and fail to get it perfectly level -- it may be off, say, a sixteenth of an inch. But as they go up the wall that error can multiply and stretch out to an inch or more. "The only way to fix it is to start fresh," says Esposito. High stakes The worst DIY problem he ever encountered involved a husband and wife team of do-it-yourselfers who redid their bathroom. Hubby messed up the wax-ring replacement, which is what sits under the toilet base, seals it and keeps gas from escaping. The husband's blunder was bad enough, but his wife had also made a little miscue when she put up a picture on the wall behind the toilet. She drilled right through the waste pipe, which caused a slow leak. Weeks after the couple finished the job, they discovered the problem. "We got a call that there was wet carpet on the floor," says Esposito. He found that waste water had collected in the walls and was seeping out onto the floors into other rooms. A carpet filled with raw sewage is not a small problem. "They had to move out of the house until it was fixed," says Esposito. As long as there are DIYs like that couple, the handyman franchises will thrive.

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