Archive for Sunday, November 23, 2003

Prepare for repairs

To save hard lessons learned, choose wisely when deciding between doing it yourself or hiring professionals

November 23, 2003


We've all heard of do-it-yourself projects that went south, and maybe we've even participated in a few. John and Angie Friedrich, however, have outdone most folks in this department.

The Rancho Murieta, Calif., couple wanted to spend "no more than a couple of hundred dollars" to revamp their children's bathroom but wound up spending more than $1,000 after a series of disasters.

We recently asked readers to tell us about their home-repair disasters. The stories we heard proved once again that fact can be stranger -- and often funnier -- than fiction.

Three years ago, when the Friedrichs elected to spend a long weekend doing this minor project, Angie bought paint, towels and some new fixtures.

Half a day into the project, all was going well. She had finished painting except for a small area behind the toilet that her brush could not reach.

"My husband quickly came to the rescue and told me he could loosen the toilet tank and move it a bit so I could brush behind it. This went off without a hitch until he started to retighten the tank."

The tank cracked.

John went to Home Depot to buy a replacement.

"But you know, you never buy just one thing at Home Depot," says John. He also got a ladder and a chain saw. When he put the ladder in his hatchback car, he cracked the windshield. Then, back at home, he discovered that the new tank did not fit and soon learned that there were no replacement tanks available that would. They would have to purchase and install a complete new toilet.

After John left to return the tank and buy the new toilet, Angie cracked the metal connection between the toilet and the wall while trying to remove the old bowl.

Next, they decided to put up a mirror that had been taken down for the painting. John's grip slipped, and his edge of the mirror cracked. Not wanting to buy a new mirror, the Friedrichs decided to cut off the cracked part with a glass cutter.

"I carefully etched the place where I wanted to cut it," relates Angie. "Then you are supposed to tap it and that will be the new cut line. I had evenly knocked off all but about one piece when the phone rang, and John decided to finish the job.

"When I came back, another two inches of the corner was broken off," she says in an incredulous tone.

"My wonderful husband was banished to another room laughing, because, well, what else can you do at this point? I finished the job myself," says Angie.

Mary and Bill McFadden had barely moved into their 40-year-old dream house in Elk Grove, Calif., when Mary noticed a small leak in the garage at the washing machine-hookup."Because my husband was so busy on a project inside the house, I thought I'd be a helpful wife and surprise him by fixing the little plumbing problem myself."She worked hard "using all my strength" to turn a pipe. Turn it did, until all of a sudden "it shot off with incredible force from the water behind it."Fortunately, she was off to one side. She could have been injured by the pipe or scalded by the hot water. But she still had a problem: The garage was filling up with hot water, soaking many still-unpacked boxes.After a futile attempt to stop the flow, she screamed for help. Bill came, but being new to the home, couldn't find the main water shutoff. (They later learned it was hidden behind foliage in the front yard.) Bill finally found a valve on the water heater that stopped the flow.Lesson learned: "I no longer tackle things alone if I know nothing about them," Mary says, "and we will immediately locate the basic services if we ever move again."

Sometimes even a minor project can result in a loud cry of "oops!" Eugene Evert of Davis, Calif., experienced one recently just trying to change a light bulb in the ceiling fan fixture over the kitchen table.

As Eugene's wife, Lynn, tells it, Eugene screwed the new bulb in wrong and it got stuck. Trying to remove it, something popped inside the fixture.

"He proceeded to take the wiring housing apart to check out the problem," says Lynn. "He had one foot on the ladder and the other on the table. Shifting his weight, the table slid out from under him and fell sideways."

There was a tremendous crash. Lynn, who had been in another room, came to see what had happened. She found Eugene on the floor in a pile of broken glass, the table broken with one leg through the wall and the fan's electrical parts dangling from the ceiling.

Fortunately, he was not injured, but the couple had to spend the next two days and about $50 for parts to repair the damage -- "all for just for the sake of a light bulb," adds Lynn.

Frank Guilelmino of Stockton, Calif., recalls when he tested a power saw his wife had given him as a present.

"I'm not the handiest guy," he admits. "But I thought I could solve a problem that came up when we had new rugs put in. Because they were a lot thicker than the previous rugs, our doors couldn't be reinstalled. So, I thought, why not just cut off a little from the bottoms with my new saw?"

He proceeded to cut. And cut. It wasn't until he tried to hang the first of three doors that he realized something was wrong. He had cut off the tops, not the bottoms.

"I had to replace all three, at about $50 a door," says Guilelmino. "Now I stay away from power tools as much as possible."

According to Candace Bonney, co-owner of Bonney Plumbing in Sacramento, Calif., with her husband, Mark, says that about 15 percent of their business comes from do-it-yourselfers who screw up their projects.

"Usually what happens is the husband tries to fix something, gets it started but can't finish. Finally, the wife gets sick of looking at it and calls us to fix it when the husband is not home."

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