Eight home improvement projects you shouldn't do yourself

Doing your own work around the house can be a real money-saver, but even the bravest and handiest of homeowners shouldn't take on certain jobs.

James Quigg/The Victor Valley Daily Press/AP/File
Laying out moulding while remodeling a home in Hesperia, Calif.

At DealNews, we're all about helping you do your own work around the home; it saves money (especially when you take advantage of one of our deals) and provides a great sense of accomplishment. However, even the bravest of homeowners shouldn't undertake certain home improvement jobs.

If you're not an advanced repairman, then endeavors that take up too much time, ones that end up costing far more than anticipated, and projects that are outright dangerous just aren't worth the little money you might (might) save. So steer clear of these potential DIY home catastrophes by opting to pay for a pro.

Resurfacing Hardwood Floors

Perhaps you have lovely hardwood floors, but they have been marred by years of use and abuse. You can salvage the original wood by resurfacing, or repairing, sanding down, then refinishing the floor.

Along the way, however, you'll deal with a mother lode of dust, irregular sanding marks, exposed nail heads that shred the sandpaper, and a finish rich in the aforementioned dust. You'll also find that it's hard working on your knees while wrestling with the sander. And don't even think you can get away with refinishing just one or two rooms. Unfinished rooms will gnaw away at your conscience like Bowser with a bone. Bite the bullet and get the job done right and all at once by hiring a pro.

Cutting Down a Tree

In the introduction, we mentioned that potential danger is a reason to hire a pro, and dropping a few tons of lumber onto the ground is an exercise fraught with peril. There's potential hazard to your home, electrical, DSL, and telephone lines, and the chance that you'll drop that limb right on your own head.

There's a right way to do the task, which often involves climbing the tree with spurs and wielding a sharp chain saw. But you'll also need to deal with a huge amount of branches and leaves; they'll have to be disposed of in a chipper, which is also an expensive tool.

It's a thing of beauty when a tree is dropped to the ground at the exact spot planned; enjoy watching a pro take care of the task while you stand a safe distance away, not sweating the task.

Putting a Cap on Your Chimney

Birds, squirrels, and raccoons love to find warm, dry spots to hang out in, and many homeowners find too that the chimney provides just such a climate. To discourage these interlopers, most homeowners opt to install a chimney cap in the flue.

However, on two-story houses, that chimney top is way up in the air and requires quite an ascent.

Before climbing up that tall ladder, ask yourself: are you taking meds for which a side effect is dizziness? Is there a wind that could compromise your balance? Are you the kind of person that seeks out adrenaline rushes or one that values attachment to the sweet, sweet Earth? There's one overarching reason to hire a professional to install your chimney cap: it's a long way down to the ground if you fall, and the sudden stop is going to hurt.

Replacing Your Garage Door Springs

Your garage door probably opens via the torque supplied by a pair of powerful springs. These springs are wound tight when installed, and function as you press your garage door opener, but they loosen over time. The first step in replacing these springs is to release that tension. The last step is putting the same tension back into the springs. Unless you really know what you're doing, playing with these strong forces can lead to unfortunate consequences for you and your garage door.

Removing Lead-Based Paint

What a bonehead move we made for hundreds of years, painting our houses with poisonous lead. 

Now that we know better, we are mandated by law to take great care in removing it from our walls. You've probably seen the pros in hazmat suits on TV trying to capture the lead dust. The cost of removing lead paint is substantial, but it's no do-it-yourself project.

Building a Retaining Wall

Say you have a bank of dirt that you need to hold back, and you want to create a walkway or a flower garden. No doubt you've seen the results of under-supported walls that collapse after a good rain. That's because the wall wasn't properly built, a process that requires a great deal of heavy lifting and scrabbling in the dirt. It also requires a number of special tools and supplies, including block, paver base, leveling sand, landscape fabric, drainage pipes, topsoil, a wheel barrow or two, a hand tamper, a garden rake, chisel, mallet, rubber mallet, construction adhesive, caulk gun ... and the list goes on.

Run the numbers; if you don't already own most of these tools, you might be better off hiring a contractor to get the job done. And I don't imagine you would miss hauling all that heavy block around yourself.

Installing a Natural Gas Fireplace

I did this several years ago, and even had the good fortune to have a gas log starter already plumbed into my fireplace box. Nonetheless, out of ignorance I left a very small leak in the supply line joint, which I didn't realize until the gas company came out to inspect our new furnace.

Why shouldn't you do your own installation? Because gas has the tendency to go BOOM! if you allow it to leak and pool in your house, just waiting for a spark. In retrospect, endangering my home and family to save a few bucks was a very bad decision on my part, and one you shouldn't duplicate.

Erecting a Backyard Fence

Perhaps you want a place for Bowser to run free, or a secure environment for the kids to play. Or maybe you're just an old crank that wants to keep the pesky neighbors out of your yard. A chain link fence is a popular and relatively modest fencing option.

You could install this fence yourself, but break down the tasks. There are post holes to dig (renting a hole auger makes the job much easier but costs some dough), posts to set, and fence to stretch. And how good are you at geometry? Nothing says DIY like a fence that wanders or fails to rise and dip with the contours of the lawn. It's no one-person job, and a professional crew can be the difference between a fence that enhances your property value and one that suggests it's a slum in the making.

Knowing when to roll up your sleeves, hit up a Home Depot or Lowe's, and do it yourself, verses when to hire a professional, is something many homeowners learn by trial and error. Instead of wasting your time on these eight jobs, you can optimize your time by undertaking work that any reasonably competent homeowner can handle. Choose your battles, and don't be afraid to hand off anything that will likely be hazardous, back-breaking, or too expensive.

Tom Barlow is a contributor to DealNews, where this article first appeared. 

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