Some seemingly simple do-it-yourself projects can do substantial damage to a home. And placing certain possessions in the wrong spot in a house can lead to expensive problems, too. Eight common and potentially costly home owner mistakes…
Overloading upper kitchen cabinets. The upper cabinets in a kitchen are hung from the walls by a relatively modest number of screws—or sometimes only by nails in older homes. If you fill every shelf of one of these cabinets with stacks of heavy dinnerware or cookware, the cabinet could sag or even come crashing down from the wall.
Better: If you have lots of heavy kitchen items, store some or all of them in lower cabinets, which are supported by the floor. Or at least divide heavy kitchen items among several different upper cabinets. Each cabinet might contain some heavy dinnerware and some light glassware, for example. Peek behind upper kitchen cabinets every few years to see if they have begun to pull away from the wall behind. If so, reduce the load they’re carrying immediately, then add more or longer screws for greater support. Make sure that these screws enter wood framing, not just drywall.
Hanging a ceiling fan from a light mounting box. When home owners replace an overhead light with a ceiling fan, they often just attach the new fan to the existing mounting box. But ceiling fans typically need more support than can be provided by a mounting box designed for a light. Fans not only weigh more than the average light fixture, they also vibrate when in use, adding greatly to the strain on the mounting. A mounting box that isn’t up to the challenge could rip free from the ceiling.
Better: If you’re not certain that the existing mounting box is designed to support a ceiling fan, buy and install a new mounting box that is. Make sure that it’s rated to handle your fan’s weight. Mounting boxes generally cost about $10 at hardware stores or home centers. Professional installation of a fan box could range from $40 to $150, depending on your area of the country.
Improperly attaching a trellis or similar structure. Some home owners bolt or nail these structures to their home’s siding. But siding often isn’t strong enough to support the added weight, so the structure comes crashing down, damaging the siding and anyone or anything that is under it when it falls. Some home owners also fail to adequately prevent rainwater from getting into the bolt or nail holes.
Better: When attaching anything heavy to your home’s exterior, bolt holes should be drilled into the home’s framing, not just into the siding. To keep out rainwater, after you drill bolt holes, fill them with caulk before inserting the bolts. If you attach something made of wood to the exterior of your home, such as a trellis, insert metal flashing between the house and this wood to prevent termites from using it as a path into the house. Check whether local building codes require you to obtain a permit before attaching a trellis or other structure to the outside of your home.
Overloading upper floors. Heavy items such as pool tables, waterbeds, large aquariums, pianos and weight-lifting equipment can overload floor systems—even when those floor systems are built to code. That’s especially true when these heavy items are on a home’s second floor. Even when there’s a basement underneath, a home’s first floor tends to be much better supported than upper floors, particularly near first-floor walls.
Better: If you have something very heavy in your home, keep it downstairs, ideally next to a wall. Watch for signs of excessive floor deflection, or movement, such as cracking in nearby walls.
Tinting the inside of multipane windows. Home owners in the southern and western US often attach adhesive tinted films to their windows to limit the amount of sunlight and UV rays that get through. This can reduce both air-conditioning bills and sun damage to furniture and carpeting. But if you tint the inside of a multiple-pane window—most modern windows incorporate more than one pane of glass—the tinting will reflect the sun’s rays back into the area between the panes, raising the temperature of the air or other gases sealed inside until the window’s seals rupture. Ruptured seals greatly diminish a window’s insulating value. Window warranties typically do not cover multipane windows that have been tinted on their interior.
Better: Apply tinting film on the outside of multipane windows, not the inside. Use a high-quality product, such as 3M’s Sun Control Window Films. A low-quality tinting film won’t last long exposed to the elements on a window’s exterior. This generally does not void window warranties—but read your windows’ warranty literature to confirm this before proceeding. Alternately, you could purchase and install pretinted windows.
Connecting fences to the exterior of a home. Nailing or screwing the final post of a fence to the side of your home could cause rainwater to become trapped between the post and the wall, leading to rot or mold. It also could create a path for termites to enter the home.
Better: Leave a gap of perhaps one inch between the final fence post and the home.
Installing a patio or sidewalk that blocks the slope of the land near a home. The ground immediately surrounding most homes is sloped away from the structure to discourage water from pooling against the foundation. But when home owners put in patios or sidewalks adjacent to their homes, the concrete often juts up above the “finished grade,” creating a barrier that prevents water from flowing away. Over time, the resulting pool of water can lead to curled slabs, foundation cracks or moisture or mold problems in basements or crawl spaces.
Better: Dig a few inches down into the ground before putting in a sidewalk or patio near your home. The top surface should not extend above the original soil level.
Walking on tile roofs. Roofing tiles made of concrete, clay, slate or another relatively brittle material can crack under the weight of a single person and should be walked on only by a professional roofer. (Composition asphalt shingles can be walked on, but it is not recommended, since walking will loosen the protective mineral granules.) Cracked tiles are likely to shift out of place, allowing water to enter the home where it can cause damage or encourage mold. Damage to a roof caused by walking on it usually is not covered by roof warranties. Walking on roofs also is quite dangerous for home owners.
Better: If you have a tile roof, use a ladder and telescoping pole to clear any debris from it, rather than walk on the tiles.