It’s a common story in the home improvement industry: homeowner watches HGTV, homeowner attempts home improvement themselves, mayhem ensues.
Local licensed contractor Vinson Huff has over 20 years of experience in the home improvement industry and says he regularly receives phone calls from the partner, roommate or bystander of the do-it-yourselfer asking Huff to help them fix what has gone awry.
“Nobody ever says ‘I did it’ — it’s always someone else,” Huff joked.
Whatever the reason for the home improvement mistake though, Huff and his business HighMark Construction can get them out of it.
Huff estimates about 80% of his clients are looking for remodeling work in Maricopa, due to the homes often having set building plans with little room for deviation before the home is built. He does everything from flooring and carpet to full-room remodels and house flips using his team of licensed professionals.
However, he understands there are those in the community who are handy enough to attempt home improvement themselves. “I love homeowners that are willing and brave enough to challenge or to tackle a challenging project,” huff said. But before they go hacking at walls, Huff offered his expert advice on the common mistakes to avoid during improvements.
1. Details in the finished work/craftsmanship
According to Huff, home improvement is detail-oriented work. A wall won’t look complete if the drywall isn’t level, or the door hangs off its hinges at an angle. While these details might take more time and energy on the homeowner’s side, they are well worth the work in the end. “Most people know what a framed wall looks like, but the quality of the workmanship is usually subpar on a lot of the stuff I get called in on,” Huff said. Huff recommends that homeowners and handymen work in smaller increments to complete work, rather than demo-ing a whole room or attempting multiple projects at once. Otherwise, he says, clients are liable to become overwhelmed and forget those smaller craftsmanship details.
2. Hardware store advice
Huff recommends entering the hardware store with a firm idea of the parts needed to complete a project. Asking for help can be necessary sometimes, but the wrong advice could lead to disaster. “They’ll go in and they’ll ask, ‘Hey, I want to move some water from here to here’ and maybe they don’t tell them the full story, then what I see is they end up using outdoor PVC parts,” Huff said. “It’s not cheap material, it’s just the wrong material.” A wrong recommendation can lead a homeowner astray, so if unsure, it is best to call someone who is an expert in the project at hand for advice.
3. HGTV gives false impression
While home improvement shows are fun to watch, they are not exactly a how-to video. Huff says these shows paint a picture that is unrealistic for the average home improver and can lead to trouble down the road.
“HGTV gives a false impression,” Huff said. “These guys come in and for 10 minutes you see them holding a nail gun and putting something up. They give the impression like they’re doing it, but I really believe half the time these guys are hiring contractors to do it.”
TV shows can make a kitchen remodel look like a day’s worth of work, when in reality projects like the ones tackled on HGTV could take a homeowner weeks to accomplish alone. “The problem is, there’s so much knowledge behind how to do it to make sure it comes out right,” Huff said. Huff recommends enjoying these shows as a fun way to pass time but not to treat them as a how-to video for the next renovation.
4. Leave the electrical/plumbing to experts
This one is a vital warning to homeowners, according to Huff.
“If electrical is not done correctly, you literally will burn your house down,” Huff said.
Huff isn’t exaggerating — he has seen a number of serious issues with attempted home improvement fixes, including gerrymandered electrical wiring made with a lamp cord. If a lamp cord is used for wiring rooms, the voltage can overload the cable and begin to heat it up rapidly.
“It’s going to burn the wiring and then it’s going to start arcing to the nearest thing that it can, which could be a nail, could be you, could be whatever,” Huff explained. “Then you get sparks and pretty soon, you literally could start your house on fire.”
Homeowners might’ve seen similar examples of this happen when they plug too many Christmas lights into one socket and begin to see charring around the outlet.
“If you’ve ever seen an outlet and it looks like it’s been charred, that’s either an indication that the wiring is faulty or you’re overloading the circuit,” Huff said.
Huff recommends leaving electrical wiring to licensed experts and unplugging any outlets that show signs of heat damage or smoke. He says the same goes for major plumbing issues, as the wrong choice in piping could lead to serious trouble for the homeowner. For example, Huff has seen PVC pipe and garden hose used in place of regular household piping. While that might seem OK, garden hose will not sustain high pressures.
“You shouldn’t be putting certain fixtures in certain connections for your portable water in your house that are meant for outside irrigation type of fittings,” Huff said. “PVC fittings are only rated for certain psi. It could handle it fine in your yard, but you don’t want to put (it) in your house.”
5. In-depth research
Huff’s final and golden rule of home improvement is to do in-depth research into the person who is doing the home improvement. Huff regularly has clients call in after they have fallen victim to a handyman scam, where the person will show up for a few days before disappearing, leaving holes in the wall or flooring missing.
“We show up and we tell them ‘Well, we can finish this and correct it, but I have to take down half the work because it was done wrong,’” Huff said.
In Arizona, an unlicensed handyman cannot do more than $1,000 worth of work total for a home improvement project.
“That’s the total project, that’s labor and material,” Huff said. “They can’t say ‘Well, I’ve got to do your countertops, I’ll charge you $1,000 for that. For your cabinets, that’s $1,000 and I’ll do your flooring, that’s $1,000. No, the total can only be $1,000 or less.”
Unlicensed contractors or handymen also cannot do anything that requires a permit, including structural, electrical, plumbing or mechanical work. While a contractor is more expensive, Huff says it may save money to work with one in the long run.
“I’m licensed, insured and bonded. My price is going to reflect one, knowledge and doing it right the first time and two, peace of mind,” Huff said. “I can’t compete with somebody that’s just willing to come out and cut corners or do it for less. But inevitably, it ends up hurting the homeowner more than helping them.”
Huff says that if homeowners take away one thing from his advice, he hopes they will do research into the handyman’s work history and ask for references. He also recommends homeowners who are vetting a contractor to ask for their Arizona Registrar of Contractors, or ROC, number. If they cannot provide one, or provide one that is false or not up to date, this is a bad sign.
“If a guy is being legit and on the up and up, there’s no reason he wouldn’t register,” Huff said. “That to me is a huge red flag.”
HighMark Construction is a Maricopa-based contracting business owned by Huff that provides skilled craftsmanship on a variety of home improvement projects and renovations like custom homes, room remodeling, room additions, outdoor kitchens and patios and more.
“We have a deep love for Maricopa and it shows in everything we do,” Huff states on his website. “We have created strong and lasting relationships with the local residents and vendors of Maricopa. We are a licensed and insured general contractor. Whether we are working on a large or small job, safety is always our top priority.”