By Talmage P. Ekanger, J.D.
It has recently been brought to my attention yet again that although DIY (do it yourself) projects are not complex and can be handled by most people, there are those among us who should not attempt to DIY under any circumstances. In fact, there are those who should not be allowed to purchase tools for DIY at all.
I’m not sure exactly how that would best be enforced, but I’m starting to believe that some sort of testing should be involved and a license (much like a driver’s license) should be issued before any tool purchase is allowed.
What would eliminate my normally “can-do” DIY attitude and replace it with this “don’t-even-think-about-it” approach? Well, perhaps it’s the gaping hole in my kitchen ceiling, staring at me and screaming, “I stole your last weekend! I will steal your next weekend! And I exist because the previous homeowner thought he could DIY plumbing.” It could be.
My wife had just finished giving our daughter a bath in the upstairs bathroom when I noticed the light fixture in the middle of the kitchen was steadily filling with water. After a bit of panic and investigation, I discovered some shoddy work behind the bathtub faucet wall. More details to come …
So, what would a DIY tool licensing test look like?
Besides a hands-on test (much like the driving test) the written test should consist of a number of fact patterns as follows:
1. You need an outlet for a 1500-watt microwave and your electric panel is in the basement. You should:
a. Purchase 12-gauge electrical wire, an outlet, and a 20-amp circuit breaker, or
b. Buy an outlet and yank a cord off an old vacuum, attaching the frayed wire end to the back of the outlet in the wall, and plug the other end into an existing outlet in the basement.
If your answer is “a,” go ahead with the DIY project. If your answer was “b,” there is a very good chance that your tools will be melted when your house burns down … so to every cloud of smoke, there is a silver lining.
2. You are finishing a newly built room in the attic. The walls are ready to be painted. No flooring has been installed. You purchased unpainted trim when you started the project and you haven’t put it in yet. You should:
a. Install the unfinished trim flush against the subfloor or
b. Paint and carpet the room, stain the trim outside, then install the trim.
If you answered “b,” you’ll be onto your next project very soon. If you answered “a,” you can still buy tools, but you’re in for a learning experience – first, when you try to keep the wall paint off the trim; second, when you try to keep the trim stain off the carpet and walls; third, when you realize that the carpet needs to go under the trim … which you installed right against the subfloor. Oh well. It’s not a dangerous DIY error.
3. You are DIY plumbing in a new bathtub in the second floor, and there’s not a lot of room to work. You put the pipes together incorrectly and now they don’t quite reach. There is a quarter-inch gap between the pipes that drain your bathtub. You should:
a. Undo your work and try again, measuring more carefully, or
b. Fill the gap with a couple beads of silicone, some plumber’s putty, then wrap the works with plastic tape and a hose-clamp.
If you answered “a,” you may obtain a DIY license to buy tools. If you answered “b,” I will assume that you are the nitwit from whom I bought my current house and are responsible for the hole in my kitchen ceiling.
4. You just built a new dividing wall and you’re going to frame in a doorway. You know you need it square, so you:
a. Eyeball it,
b. Measure the width at the top and bottom to assure that the door frame is parallel or
c. Measure the doorway from opposite corners to assure that the doorway is square.
If you answered “a,” you should not buy tools. It’s time to consider other recreational activities. If you answered “b,” go ahead and buy the tools, but you may be surprised to find out that your doorway requires a trapezoidal door rather than the standard rectangle. If you answered “c,” you’re in good shape. Finish hanging your door, grab a bag of popcorn, then go watch your neighbor try to mount his rectangular door in the trapezoidal hole.
My real message is not to give up trying to prevent a mistake.
In fact, many DIY mistakes (even expensive ones) are useful learning opportunities. Even fixing my plumbing last weekend took two attempts. However, if you’re not going to at least try to do the job right, you and the people who own your home next would be much better off if you would bequeath your tools to a nephew or neighbor kid.
And just in case you’re wondering, quiz questions #1, #2 and #4 were all inspired by the last home I owned.
Talmage Ekanger is a husband, father of three, writer, and attorney-turned-information-technology-supervisor. A native South Dakotan, he’s grateful for the chance to raise his family in the land of the free and the home of the brave.