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How to avoid common DIY pitfalls

From the front of the hardware store, you can already tell which fixtures in the home lighting section are going to be the perfect fit. Little LED bulbs, matte black finish – the kitchen is going to pop as soon as they’re installed.

And that’s where the trouble begins. You bought the light fixtures, so why not save a few bucks and install them yourself? How hard can it be?

For many homeowners, summer projects — from replacing an old bathtub to building a raised bed for a vegetable garden — are a welcome challenge and a basic responsibility in owning a home.

But a do-it-yourself project can lead to disaster if you don’t have the proper skill set or tools.

Homeowners to handymen to industry experts agree, finishing a big project is its own reward. But biting off more than you can chew in an effort to save a few hundred dollars can lead to big headaches. Here’s a guide for what to tackle yourself...and what landmines to look out for.

Pipes and drains

For most homeowners, snaking a drain or stopping a toilet with a slow run is probably an easy enough project. But Lucas Cellino, president of Cellino Plumbing, says that professionals frequently have tools not necessarily available to the average homeowner that can turn a complicated project into an easy one.

Cellino has seen it all: Christmas presents floating in five feet of water when the sump pump backs up, sewer lines leading to house fires on amateur welding jobs. “Even something like a sump pump install, generally that’s not too big of a task. However, there are little things you have to do for it to work correctly,” Cellino says.

Drain cleaning can lead to scratched porcelain and even snaking a tub drain is not nearly as straightforward as it looks, he adds.

Many homeowners get into trouble when they watch a quick (inexpert) how-to video online. That’s why Cellino Plumbing is launching a series of videos, demonstrated by industry professionals, on how to solve simple plumbing issues like stopping a running toilet.

And Cellino adds that his company has a water line crimping device that avoids needing an open flame to weld. Which is great if you’re trying not to burn down your home.

Putting in a new deck

Charlie Durante, president of Fair Home Improvement, knows his way around deck installation, with over 30 years of industry experience. He says that if homeowners want to do a building project on their own, they can find layouts and plans at most lumber or hardware stores, and associates are happy to help.

But he cautions that most towns require permits and have strict requirements in building codes.

He adds that higher quality material can cost a little more, but will last much longer.

“There are so many products out there that are everlasting products. It all depends on how much you’re looking to spend,” Durante says.

When it comes to deck building, if the foundation isn’t solid, the slanted veranda won’t do you much good.

“Some people put cinder blocks down and think that will support the deck forever. They’re going to have problems,” he adds.

Installing a new light fixture

Durante says that while electric projects are not as complicated or scary as they might look, homeowners should be in touch with local building inspectors to be sure all work is up to code and properly permitted.

“If you do it right, there are no problems,” Durante adds.

Some towns can be very strict about electric work. But in the case of a blown fuse, that’s a project a homeowner should be able to address by consulting the electric box circuit map. If the circuit map is missing, most Buffalo suburbs have detailed home plans on file at city or town offices.

Gardens and grass

Working on a raised bed or landscaping the lawn can be an enjoyable way to spend a spring Saturday. But with larger properties, pleasant weekends outside can quickly turn into a relentless and time-consuming chore. And that’s when homeowners typically reach out to professional landscapers.

“We squeeze in as much as we can,” says Brad Woollacott, a Clarence homeowner who also owns a rental property in Buffalo. “Sometimes the kids end up playing outside while we’re mowing, and we’re keeping an eye on them at the same time.”

Woollacott lives on about a half-acre property with his wife and three children. With a full-time job and a busy schedule, it leaves less time for garden projects. “We did a significant amount of landscaping in the past,” he says. “But with three kids there isn’t always time.

“I think for the most part we’re do-it-yourselfers,” Woollacott adds. “Unless it’s something complex like wiring or plumbing. Those are the two things that are most likely to cause problems.”

What about car maintenance?

With a couple tire ramps and a clean, level driveway or garage, most car owners can change their own oil or rotate tires, says Jesse Muscato, assistant manager at Munro Muffler in Buffalo.

But are you working on your car because you’re good at it, or are you doing it to save money? That distinction, Muscato adds, can make a big difference.

Many people have a “guy” ­— a friend willing to do some car work in exchange for a few bucks or a few beers. And social media is filled with how-to videos, from changing oil to changing a timing belt. Even on a newer model vehicle, Muscato says, many car maintenance projects are quite doable with the proper tools.

But Muscato has seen, literally, the wheels fall off a car when someone tried to rotate tires on their own. And if the engine light comes on, even if there is nothing apparently wrong, many mechanics will run a diagnostic test for free.

“Some people go down the road, ignore it, then they don’t bring it in until it’s catastrophic,” Muscato says. “It could be a loose gas cap. But it might be something important.”

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