10 home renovation projects you should not do yourself

Avoid DIY dramas, save these jobs for the pros:

Do you have a renovation story you could add to the list?


I have done 7 1/2 of those (I fitted the cooktop but let the plumber do the gas pipe) so perhaps I should say no more about what not to do.


Septic Tanks - pumping out or demolishing / relocating. One - the concrete lid is very heavy, the tank is usually very deep. Two - the tank can generate noxious gases, getting a lung full could be fatal. It is also a ‘confined space’ with attendant problems (ours is deeper than I am tall). Three - it needs a vacuum pump (not a shovel) to remove the sludge, which should be taken to a Waste Water (sewerage treatment) Plant for proper disposal. If you dispose on your land it should be quarantined, allowed to dry and not used for at least 12 months, then not used on any food crops. Check with your local Council on this first.

You should inspect inlets from time to time for blockages.

To test if it needs a pump out - tie clear tubing to a long stick or rod. Drop string through the tube and tie a ball to the end. Push the tube/rod to the bottom with the ball beside it. Lift enough for the ball to seal the end (pull the string tight), tie off, lift the tube/rod and examine the contents. It should be sludge, water, floaters. If the sludge is more than one third, you need a pump-out. People also swear by a stinky smell means time to pump.


I have done a number of these including 3, 6, 7 and 10. Also did 8, but at the time had a brother in-law that worked for Telstra.

None of these were difficult to do. …but may be difficult to make them look good. Just a little patience, doing homework (such as finding wall studs for hanging things on) and being well prepared (such as destapling and nail punching floors, sanding floors with the correct grit papers, coloured putty, right sheen two pack polyurethane etc).

The internet is also a great source of information…especially videos which an show how to do such things the ‘professional’ way.

Also taking the cheapest option may also not provide the best outcome. It is better to buy more expensive/quality materials or buy the right tools for the job, rather than thinking one can cut corners and save more money by doing a bodge job or a job that is hear enough. When one does a bodge job, one when looking at the completed work is always reminded of one’s own failings.


Too late for me… I’ve done 8/10 of those things.

It’s amazing how times have changed. It used to be ‘if it needs fixing, just get on and fix it…’ If you didn’t know how, there were books like the Reader’s Digest fix it yourself or do it yourself manuals. :man_mechanic: :man_factory_worker:

None of this ‘do not attempt this at home’ stuff I hear now days. Licenced shmicenced. HUH!


I haven’t done 2 or 5 - I can attest to number 7 being ‘exciting’ when you aren’t sure what you are doing, but you only have to look at the size of that spring to know some clearance is wise.

I ‘saved a hundred bucks’ once by just finding and uncovering the lid so the septic guy could empty it. Never again - when it came off, all the demons from hell were let loose. I’ll never forget the sight of the poor fellow wielding the vacuum pump nozzle like an old school whaler, stabbing a 44 gallon drum size coagulated mega-poo that was bobbing on the surface …

… aren’t we lucky to be protected by people with the right bits of paper? :wink: (yes, I have little faith in ‘the system’ … that said, there are good people out there who do good work. Finding them is the trick).


That’s like a sphinx riddle:
Q.> how do you find good tradies, get them to you on time, and be able to afford them?


It’s interesting that it’s the even numbers 2,4,6,8 and 10 that I have little experience of. But all the ‘odd’ numbers that I do?

I did once set out to erect a bespoke design car port. The design had been professionally prepared and all the council approvals were in place.

It went no further by my hands. Circumstances may vary.

The lessons I hold suggest that for many projects the cost of paying for a professional to do the work is not that much different to DIY.

For any job that requires large quantities of trade materials, you need to have some luck or inside help to get them at the right price. Trade discounts can be as little as 10% and as much as 50% depending on product and volumes purchased.

The second hidden cost is all those special tools, ladders etc that you might need. Or the ‘bugger’ factor when you try to work around not having all you might like to have. It is true you can hire many items to close the gap. This all takes time and costs mileage. You also need a big shed to store all those special tools for the next time.

Self confidence aided by U-tube hardly comes into consideration. It may just be a core skill you already have? We are all multi-talented.

From assembling flat packs to erecting sheds, however long the DIY guide says it will take it is not ever reliable. Most of us take longer because we are particular, careful, perhaps a little stiff in the joints, and importantly can stop as often as we like for a cuppas or cold refreshment as we go. It is still worthwhile doing some DIY for that reason alone.

Should there be extra time allowed to read the instructions, understanding optional? I try to multi task that one with the refreshment breaks.

The carport!
I managed to obtain quotes to supply and erect for not much more than the quotes to me for the materials alone.


Having the tools does make a difference. I come from a line of tradies and practical people who all had tools and knew how to use them. If you didn’t know how to do something somebody would show you. My collection is from my grandfather, father and mother, as well as those I have bought. I now have the luxury of a large shed but for decades all I had was a couple of tool boxes and I could do 90% of jobs from those. I have attempted to pass on the tradition to my children. They were expected to be able to cook a simple meal, change a washer, fix a fuse, hang a painting and a dozen other things by the time they were 16. My girls have a small tool kit each. [And of course borrow mine!]

Beginning small under supervision is the key to starting any skill-set but more importantly to building confidence and the capacity to accurately assess your own capability. Without those skills many adult responsibilities become difficult or impossible. This is what this list of things not to do is all about: can you accurately say if you can do the job properly without risking the dryer falling off the wall and killing the baby?

As for cost I suggest the best savings are for the small jobs that are not too technically difficult. They can usually be done with a small set of tools that anybody can own and learn to use, they have maximum chance of success and maximum payoff compared to the time taken. The professional still charges $100 ph plus call out plus materials for little jobs that do not tax them. You can do it on a rainy Saturday afternoon and enjoy your beer more when it is accomplished. You don’t need a lot of special tools (although I now have such) or to build your own house (I have) to make it work.


Interesting you should mention that, as this is a job I had to do because the tradesman installed wall mounted dryer was coming loose. They had used ordinary screws to attach the brackets to gyprock. With the movement of the dryer, the screws were working their way out and ripping holes in the gyprock.

I put up a wooden backplate using hollow wall fastners, and then screwed the dryer brackets onto that. Dryer rock solid.

Things I have learnt about tradies: -

  • Don’t expect that they will answer your calls
  • Don’t be surprised if they are too busy (or some other excuse) to come when they promised
  • When they do come, they will often use the easiest and not necessarily the best method to get the job done.
  • Generally don’t work outside their field, so if your task, no matter how minor, requires multiple skill sets you will have to employ multiple people.
  • There will be often be additional work discovered that needs doing which of course was not in the original quote. (Would you like chips with that?)

A not uncommon problem, or lack of good laundry layout and design in the build.

I’ve had to do this job four times in four different properties. The option I now prefer is to secure the timber rail/batten to which the drier mounting bracket attaches to two wall studs. I now use roofing batten screws to secure the timber rail and a stud finder, knuckle tap or measured guess to find the studs.

For the newer and heavier condensing driers it might also be necessary to install a second timber rail/batten lower for the bottom of the drier to bear against. I have needed to do this for several of the older tech driers depending on whether there is any simple way to adjust their lower brackets/wall spacers.

It is one of the jobs that could fall into @syncretic criteria for success, or not?

P.s. What can go wrong? :roll_eyes:. Hidden power cabling and plumbing in the wall? This assumes you aren’t on the way to emergency in the back of an ambulance. :cry:

1 Like

I haven’t got any tales of woe with failed home repairs.

I replaced the mixer tap in the kitchen. It was fiddly because the sink obstructed my view of the base fitting so I had to work with a torch and mirror - but got the job done.

Last year, I had a tiger snake in the compost bin (which is quite a large bin) so I completely cleared and cleaned the compost bin and fixed galvanised snake-mesh all the way around the sides and base of the bin. I used stainless-steel angle-brackets to keep the structure rigid and self-tappers to keep the wire fixed to the bin. It still produces excellent compost and there were no snakes this past summer (well, not in the compost bin anyway - that thing is now a regular Fort Knox, which only admits worms and insects!)

The backyard fishpond liner (which must have been around 25 years old) perished and leaked. I cleaned out the fishpond - which was a MASSIVE job because it was chock-full of papyrus roots which took me a whole day of hacking and cutting to inch my way through it all, let alone the sheer weight of the chunks of the stuff that I heaved out of that pond, then lugged through the garden. I was soaked and covered in mud by the time I eventually hauled myself out of the pond that evening - including having mud over my face. I ended up having to discard my shoes as there was no de-funking them!

After that - in the intervening fortnight when there was some water still sitting in the base of the pond and I hadn’t yet replaced the liner - some banjo frogs took up residence and produced hundreds of tadpoles. I carefully captured and relocated the frogs and every last tadpole to another pond - a frog pond - before I could progress to the next step of clearing out the last of the water and sediment from the fish pond.

It transpired that the fish pond - which I thought was around 30cm deep (due to the tangled matt of papyrus roots) - is much deeper. The replacement liner was unbelievably heavy so it took me a while to install it and get the folds neatly positioned. I partially filled the pond with water to get the liner to settle. I had made up new hardwood fascia boards and heavy planks of hardwood capping, stained the timber and sealed it with marine-grade varnish. I fitted the timber to the pond whilst standing in the pond, sloshing around in the chilly mid-thigh-high water.

The water lilies pushed their leaves to the surface of the refurbished pond within 6 weeks. The pond holds its water level very well; the lilies are gorgeous and the timber is lovely.

I made some rookie mistakes along the way and learned a lot. It was a marathon job.

I can’t imagine what it would have cost if I had to pay for the labour!

The only thing that worries me is that I have a dash cam sitting on my desk ready for me to install it in my vehicle. So while the Choice list of 10 no-go projects does not include snake-proofing a compost bin or reconstructing a fish pond, it DOES INCLUDE DASH CAM INSTALLATION! Oh no!!


So many tradies, getting payed so much for rubbish work, for so long. Will it ever change? Why don’t more people demand they perform, by which I mean only that they make a reasonable job of what they’re asked to do and payment is not forthcoming until it’s right. Imagine that!

I thought it was just me being constantly disappointed and maybe a recalibration of my expectations was in order, but then I even heard builders increasingly complaining about tradies. Maybe there’s still an industry out there making good money via bluff and obfuscation despite people generally being better informed than ever.

Not sure why a good one is ridiculously hard to find. Ironically the ‘good ones’ that people hold on to and share with friends are seen as absolute saints. However, usually what makes them thus is that they just do what they’re asked to in a professional manner.


It would certainly appear to be still hold true!

There are a number of valuable lessons out of this example. Note that each state does things slightly differently.

  • Each state provides for licensing trades, (ask for a copy of their license/contractors registration).
  • Ensure any trades or contractor has insurances in place, (defective work, personal/business liability and work over/occupational safety).
  • Before paying a deposit ensure the quote is complete, properly describes the work and shows all costs and allowances. Any warranties and the time periods should also be stated.
  • For Qld there are limits on the value of the deposits required to be paid. Refer to the ABC article.

yet each state does not diligently care about the licensed tradesperson after they get their license, so long as they pay their annual fee. I have seen some appalling work in Victoria by licensed tradies. Complain to the ‘oversight agency’ and they take the side of the licensed tradie because they are the experts and you need evidence (time consuming and expensive) from better experts, that becomes a he said they said. The customer can prevail, but why should they have to go through it?

Locally the tradie is usually called in to inspect his own work and reports ‘all to standards, no worries’.

Beyond the most trivial jobs and especially when a tradie is sourced from an ‘unknown’ (eg google, postbox flyer, etc) rather than a personal referral also

and contact recent references.


The seven month limit to claim is tight - to say the least. It must be fairly simple to do a painting job that lasts seven months that is much cheaper than one that lasts 10 years, after that time is up no worries.


“The top five riskiest …” is of course nonsense. The ranking is of the number of complaints made in each category and takes no account of how many such jobs were attempted. By the same logic you could say jobs involve painting your house white are riskier than any other colour (assuming white is the most popular colour). Note that Daniel Baker’s house is white, so forget all that stuff about checking credentials etc - have your house painted lavender.


Sounds reasonable and should be a normal part of accepting a quote. If you turn up to a job interview and the employer requires you to hold an xyz licence it’s produced without question, the number quoted on the job app isn’t blindly accepted. But when people come to work on our homes it’s somehow considered not necessary or rude to ask. Fair Trading NSW (who have been faultless in handling a recent claim and breaching the contractor for omissions including the use of unskilled unsupervised labour) advised me that a customer can’t demand that a tradesperson show their licence; if they refuse and you tell them to leave the property that’s fine but there’s nothing compelling them to show you their licence as the info is available online and info on their breaches is also available.

Fair Trading’s customer charter was 30 days from lodgement to first contact. It quickly had to be adjusted to 50, then 90, and is now at 120. The reason? The flurry of activity generated by folks withdrawing their super during Covid lockdown and using it to commission building work. Sad but true, the only way these clowns can get away with the rubbish they deliver is by us continuing to accept it.


mustang, you are ringing every bell in my head… I cannot reiterate better what you have just articulated…