MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – For many, the excitement of saving money and gaining confidence for home repairs and renovations can quickly become an exercise in frustration.
Yet there's a multi-billion dollar industry out there bent on convincing would-be renovators that any home project is a DIY job. The truth may have you rethinking your next project, but the question is, do you know when it's time to pick up a hammer, and when it's time to hang up the gloves?
Home improvement stores are raking it in: last year at Lowe's, Americans spent $50 billion cutting, painting, tiling and fixing their most valuable possession. At Home Depot, Americans spent another $75 billion. Other than the U.S. and China, that's more than any other country on the planet spends on its military each year, including Russia. It seems many of us would rather go to war than call a contractor to the house!
WMBF News caught up with Ewa Kalinowski as she was shopping at Lowe's for window treatments, something she would have hired someone else to do a decade ago, but "I'm saving so much money doing the labor by myself," she said.
Roger Poole does everything he can himself. For him, home improvement stores have just made it too easy. "Things are easier to put together nowadays," he told us. "Like, you got plastic conduit now that you didn't used to have. It was all steel, galvanized pipe."
New customers walk into these home improvement stores every day, excited and motivated by what they just saw in a magazine, on television, or online. The effort to convince you that your hands can do anything with the right tool and the right advice saturates the television and the web. Unfortunately for the do-it-yourself wanna-be, the road to home improvement bliss can be filled with plenty of bumps and bruises.
Store associates do a great job of helping folks out when the excitement of taking on a project outpaces knowledge and ability. In fact, in the most high-volume aisles, do-it-yourselfers rarely even show up until the project back home has taken a turn for the worse.
"Usually in these plumbing aisles, and there's a few other aisles in the store, it's already gone bad," said Home Depot associate Josh Weiner. "So we need to now alleviate the problem and then walk them through how to actually fix it right."
Weiner worked for a plumber to get him through college. Today, he's running his own department at Home Depot, and running interference for dozens of eager, homeowners looking to save a dime on DIY, but are perhaps less than qualified. He says the TV shows and web videos are great, when they're put into context.
"These are professionals. It may be a half-hour segment but that was a 2 hour job," Weiner said. "There's some great ideas out there but you need to talk with someone who's done it, that way we can get a feel for what your skill set is."
Dave Panning is a local pastor and "DIY extraordinaire."
"My daughter-in-law asked if I could build some bunk beds and she showed me some pictures on the internet," Panning began. The Web is the do-it-yourselfers blessing, and their curse. It's convinced Panning he's capable of just about anything.
"I had a guy do a little bit of welding for me and thought, well, I could probably do that, and looked on the internet, and figured out how to do it," Panning said.
Now he builds his own steel grills and smokers, yet, he too has a few limits.
"I don't do garage doors," Panning added. "I dropped the top panel on my head one time and said, 'that's enough of that.'"
At Lowe's, like Home Depot, the goal is to maintain trust with customers like Panning. Sometimes that means saying: STOP.
Ray Sardella from Lowe's says his associates are trained to turn a customer away if a potentially-dangerous project is obviously over their head. "We have to," he said. "We can't have people coming out here and thinking they can do something, and God forbid, something terrible were to happen."
Sardella said many electrical projects, and most that deal with natural gas, are those his associates are most likely to "strongly" warn a customer about.
Sardella at Lowe's, and Weiner at Home Depot, both say they spend the time to size up the customer before turning them loose on a project that could end up costing them more, or worse, sending them to the hospital.
Another important consideration before any DIY project is safety. This new push to fix it or build it yourself comes with a whole new set of potential hazards, and while local emergency rooms will tell you tool safety features have offset an increase in serious injuries, what they see day in and day out remains a constant among do-it-yourselfers.
Dr. John Molnar runs the ER at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center. He's worked there long enough to know where the greatest physical threats meet the weekend warrior.
"Power tools," Dr. Molnar said. "I would say. In particular, saws, circular saws, and things like that. It's more easy to get a bad injury quickly. People not wearing eye protection and coming in with a foreign body or piece of metallic, metal in their eye."
For the typical home improvement customer, there will be great satisfaction and great savings. For the over-enthusiastic and under-experienced, there is an increased likelihood that DIY will quickly turn into disaster in the making.
Another serious consideration when diving into a do-it-yourself project is the issue of codes. Every city and county has specific guidelines that must be followed on home projects. For example, in Myrtle Beach, an engineer's design is required before you can build a deck. If you're caught breaking a code you might have to tear it all out, turning do-it-yourself into doing-it-twice.