Major Home Repair Problems to Avoid

Handy people share hair-raising tales from the job with HGTV Magazine. Plus, they explain what you can do to avoid a frightening repair in the future.


Photo by: Dan Zettwoch

Dan Zettwoch

The Horror: Slashed-Up Walls
The Handyman:
Jody Wiseman, owner, Jody's Painting, Austin, TX
"I remember one job where the homeowners planned on painting the kitchen themselves-but first they had to remove the wallpaper. By the time I arrived, two walls in the kitchen were more or less destroyed. They had gone after that wallpaper for two days with scrapers and blades-it looked like a mountain lion had attacked the room! We had to refinish the drywall, which meant several days of labor. Only after that could we finally paint."

The not-so-scary solution: "You don't have to get every last speck of wallpaper off before you paint. If your paper is thin, you can often get away with just scraping off peeling parts and air bubbles. Then use a high-quality primer before you paint. If the paper is thick, scrape the parts that come off easily. But you might have to apply a skim coat of drywall mud before you paint."

The Horror: Suffocating Windows
The Handyman:
Jay Johnston, owner, A-Team, Bitterroot Valley, MT
"One client was having trouble putting in replacement windows. He measured the existing windows and had new ones made to fit the openings. After he installed four or five, he noticed they were really hard to open and shut. The problem? He had put in every one backward and upside down. I don't know how he missed that the latches were on the outside."

The not-so-scary solution: "The best advice I have for anyone who wants to install their own windows is to read the instructions that come with the product-they're usually very comprehensive-before they even think about starting the job."


Photo by: Dan Zettwoch

Dan Zettwoch

The Horror: Mauled Ceiling
The Handyman: Alfonso De Santiago, owner, AD Handyman and Remodeling, Salt Lake City, UT
"I once showed up to a job where a newly hung fan had eaten up the living room ceiling. When the homeowner turned the fan on high, it started wobbling and rocking, and then came loose and hung sideways-its blades chopping into the ceiling-before crashing to the ground. The homeowner had mounted the fan onto the existing electrical box in the ceiling, which was plastic and couldn't support its weight."

The not-so-scary solution:
"The electrical box is a small but crucial part of hanging a ceiling fan, since it gets screwed directly to the ceiling joist for the wires to run through. While plastic varieties are fine for lightweight fixtures, they can't support the weight and movement of a ceiling fan, which requires a metal one."

The Horror: Noxious Basement
The Handyman:
Bill Hunt, owner, HQ Construction, Charlottesville, VA
"I traced a basement's moldy smell to a patch of soggy carpet under a window. When I peeled back the carpet, I found quite a bit of mold underneath. Thanks to a broken-off sprinkler head, water had been shooting through the window instead of onto the nearby flower bed for who knows how long. We had to run fans in there for a week!"

The not-so-scary solution: "This is one of those things that can creep up on a homeowner-you probably wouldn't notice the problem unless you were looking for it, or until the damage is already done. That's why it's smart to periodically check for broken, clogged, or misplaced sprinkler heads. If you make those little repairs early, you can prevent bigger issues down the road."


Photo by: Dan Zettwoch

Dan Zettwoch

The Horror: Swampy Lawn
The Handyman: Pat Hoosline, owner, Hoosline Landscaping, Minneapolis, MN
"I had some homeowners call me because their lawn was a muddy mess from multiple leaks in their underground sprinkler system. It took my crew a day to track down and repair the damage. Turns out it was their first time living in a cold climate and they didn't know to drain the water from their sprinkler system before the temperatures dropped. The pipes froze, and because they still had some water in them, they cracked and burst."

The not-so-scary solution:
"Depending on the type of sprinkler system you have, sometimes you can drain the pipes yourself by following the manufacturer's instructions. But often, especially in colder climates, it's best to hire an irrigation and sprinkler pro to blow out water from the pipes using an air compressor."


Photo by: Dan Zettwoch

Dan Zettwoch

The Horror: Exploding Disposal
The Handyman: Jason Wagner, owner, Residential Plumbing, San Diego, CA
"My neighbor installed his own garbage disposal, and everything was fine until he ran his dishwasher. Many disposals have a hole where you're supposed to plug in the dishwasher drain. But that hole is blocked by a plug you have to remove first. This guy didn't do that, so all the dirty water from the dishwasher spurted out like a geyser."

The not-so-scary solution:
"Hooking up a garbage disposal is definitely something that a handy homeowner can do, but it's one of those jobs that's not intuitive. You need to remove the plug-easy to do with a screwdriver and a hammer-before hooking it up to the dishwasher."

The Horror: Plunging TV
The Handyman: Marc Zell, owner, Zell Audio Professionals, Milwaukee, WI
"I recall a couple who destroyed a new TV by mounting it in the wrong place. The house's old-fashioned walls were built with a combo of thin horizontal wood beams (called laths), vertical studs, and plaster. Thinking they were screwing it into the studs, they'd actually hung the TV on a lath, and the whole thing came crashing down."

The not-so-scary solution: "In old houses, it's easy to mistake wood behind plaster for studs. So when you're hanging heavy equipment, be extra careful: Use a stud finder, or drive a nail or long screw into the spot you think is a stud and make sure it feels solid. If there's any give or bounce, keep looking."

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