Doing home improvements yourself? Here’s how to make sure you don’t get hurt

Some 25-odd years ago, I sent the family to the beach for the summer while I, all by my lonesome, refurbished the home manse. I removed outdated wallpaper. I patched drywall in some places and replaced entire walls in others. I painted practically every room, and replaced every doorknob, lock and hinge in the joint.

I had never done this kind of work before, but I managed to do it all without hurting myself. Turns out, I was lucky. Many do-it-yourselfers, especially rookies like me, aren’t as fortunate.

In 2020, according to research, more than 290,000 people were treated in emergency rooms for injuries resulting from home improvement projects. And some 24,500 ended up being admitted.

In other words, while doing the work yourself can save money and stimulate your creative juices, it can also be dangerous. You can quickly lose a finger if your circular saw runs amok, get a traumatic brain injury if you fall off a ladder, or end up on crutches for a while if you drop a gallon of paint on your big toe.

The study — published by insurance comparison company Clearsurance and based on data collected from the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System — found that 3% of all ER visits were the unintended result of working around the house.

Lacerations were by far the most common injury, followed by fractures, then contusions and abrasions. Fingers, hands and eyes were the most commonly wounded body parts. More than 9,000 injuries chronicled in 2020 resulted in amputations, while nearly 7,500 were injuries to internal organs. Poisonings numbered more than 2,500.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with tackling projects at home. But you should know what you are getting yourself into. If you have no experience, then look online for how-to videos that offer basic instructions. As an alternative, purchase a book or manual that you can refer to as your work progresses, or take one of the many classes offered by hardware stores and home improvement chains.

Before you start, you should have a rudimentary knowledge of the tools you’ll be using — especially if power tools are involved. Make sure you have the appropriate safety gear on hand, including gloves, eye protection and a face shield. Hard-toed safety shoes are a must, while flip-flops and fabric sneakers are verboten. And wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt to help protect your skin from flying debris, even if it’s too hot for them under ordinary circumstances.

Remember Ben Franklin’s advice: an ounce of prevention ... Speaking of prevention, if you are going to use a ladder, even a relatively short six-footer, check it first for loose or broken joints and steps. Use it only on level surfaces, and be aware of your surroundings in case you fall off or have to jump.

If at any point you realize you’re in over your head, step back and reconsider. More than a few hapless homeowners have spent more to have a professional come straighten out their mistakes than they would have spent had they gone the pro route in the first place. For example, if your replacement door or window isn’t hung properly, water intrusion could result in costly damage to your walls, floors and insulation. Ditto for roof shingles.

If you wind up hiring someone, make sure they are licensed, bonded and insured. Even the pros are not immune to accidents. Finally, make sure you have insurance and that your coverage is up to date. In the Clearsurance report, insurance attorney Anastasia Allmon advises do-it-yourselfers to make sure their insurance will cover them if they get hurt.

“There are a lot of insurance companies (that) will consider making your own home improvements as a kind of reckless endangerment, and you could possibly find yourself uncovered in the event of an emergency,” says Allmon.

Check to make sure you are covered before you start. If you’re not, it may be worthwhile to pay a premium to add coverage. “That’s definitely going to be your best option, no matter how safe you try to be,” the attorney says. Even the perils that are covered could come with limits. So be aware that the concept of willful endangerment could put you over that limit.

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com.