DIY Skills & Techniques

10 Bad Habits That Every DIYer Needs to Break

Avoid safety hazards and subpar results by improving your approach to home improvement with these tips.
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Say No to Cutting Corners

Literally doing it yourself—as in, without a helper—has both benefits and drawbacks. You get to work at your own pace, with nobody standing over your shoulder, giving unsolicited advice. But another person on site is often the one to remind you about essential safety precautions and avoiding shortcuts and corner-cutting that could cause accidents. Start clicking to see how many common bad habits you’re guilty of—and get guidance on how to break them.

Improper Ladder Use

Falls are the third leading cause of accidental deaths in North America and worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Sadly, ladders are frequently misused on both professional worksites and projects around the house. Unsafe practices include positioning the ladder improperly, ignoring manufacturers’ warnings, and using steps as a surface for tools. In future, always place your ladder on a level surface, and maintain a four-to-one rule: Move the base one foot from the wall for every four feet up. Heed the instructions on the ladder reminding you to never stand on the top two steps. Keep tools on your person in a tool belt, not on ladder steps, where they can easily fall—breaking at best or hitting someone below at worst.

Leaving Blow Torches Lit

Blow torches are often employed to solder metal, particularly during plumbing (to re-plumb an exterior faucet or replace a water line, for example). But improper use of a blow torch, which produces extremely high temperatures and flame, is a major mistake—the most common one being leaving them lit between applications. Whether you need to unroll a bit more solder or fix the grip on a metal pipe, always turn off the torch when it’s not in use, and make sure the tip is pointed away from you, your work area, and any flammable objects when you’re ready to light it again. To help kick the hazardous habit of leaving the torch lit, buy one with a a trigger that must be depressed to light.

Pooh-Poohing Protective Gear

Wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is a simple practice that can save your life, yet it’s common for DIYers to eschew crucial gear like gloves, goggles, a face mask, and ear protection (for power tool use). Skip these essential items and you put your skin, breathing, vision, and hearing in jeopardy—and should you get hurt, the completion of your project will be delayed.

Related: Proceed with Caution: 10 Power Tools That Can Kill You

Incorrect Clothing

Yes, you want to be comfortable when working on a project, but some items of casual clothing don’t belong on the worksite. Spinning blades, rotating drills, and rotary tools can easily get caught in dangling sleeves or a loose-fitting sweatshirt. If you’re lucky, only the material will get torn to ribbons; if not, metal blades and drill bits can cut and gouge skin, while the friction of abrasive disks can cause similar injuries. Sandals and flip-flops are another no-no: Always wear closed shoes, and invest in a decent pair of work shoes if tackling a large project.

Getting Careless with Electricity

It’s hardly shocking news that electricity is dangerous, yet DIYers are notoriously prone to taking risks with that deadly force. Turning off a light switch while working on wiring is not enough to ensure your safety; you must turn off the breaker to that area of the house or remove the fuse that corresponds to that circuit. Then, before beginning, check the wires with a noncontact voltage tester just to be sure. And of course you must turn off an appliance before attempting even the simplest repair. This is your life; don’t lose it over a few extra steps.

Sawdust Negligence

Sawdust, a copious byproduct of woodworking, gets kicked up into the air and coats every nearby surface. Wearing safety glasses and a face mask to keep particles from entering your eyes and respiratory system is essential. But it’s also important to keep the work area clean as well, because sawdust creates a tripping hazard as it builds up on the floor. Wait until everything is cut before cleaning is asking for trouble. Instead, keep a push broom nearby and sweep after every cut to keep your workspace as safe as possible.

One-Coat Corner Cutting

Painting may not be your favorite project, but if you cut corners by slapping on just one coat, you’ll soon be doing the job again. One coat just isn’t enough to fully cover the surface underneath: The result will look sloppy and won’t provide the desired color. At least two and often multiple coats of paint are generally required to achieve adequate coverage and color depth—even when painting a bold or dark shade over lighter tones. Also be sure to time those additional coats properly: Wait at least two to four hours between coats for latex paint and 24 hours for oil-based paints before adding a second coat; rush things and the first coat being pulled up by the roller.

Related: 5 Easy Steps to a Successful Paint Makeover

Skipping Sanding

Prep is key to successful, durable paint and staining projects—and sanding is the most important aspect. Sanding is the action of smoothing or polishing a material, such as wood or metal, through the use of sandpaper or a mechanical sander. This prep step removes sealed layers as well as scratches, cuts, and other minor flaws. If, for example, you were tp apply stain on top of stain, you’d get puddles of excess that couldn’t be absorbed. Though sanding is time consuming, dig in and do the work if you want professional results.

Not Pulling Permits

It’s easy to get excited about a renovation, but don’t let your enthusiasm get you in trouble with your municipality. A building permit is written permission issued by the local government to allow work to proceed, ensuring safety and compliance with building, construction, and zoning codes.. Neglect the necessary permits in your neighborhood and city, and you could face serious repercussions, including fines, stop-work orders, and having to remove what you put up. Before embarking on any large DIY project, go to the local government’s webpage or your town hall to check the local codes and apply for permits.

Surface Makeovers

Sure, it’s tempting to take shortcuts when you’re pressed for time, but you’re likely to pay for them in the long run. Laying new flooring over an old one is perhaps the worst example of what’s known in the trades as “surface makeovers.” A stacked floor is bound to crack and peel quickly, absorbing moisture and attracting mold. Commit to putting in the work to prep surfaces rather than cover them up—you’ll be happier living with results you’re proud of and contribute to your home’s resale value.

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