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Common sense for dummies


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000

If you do not already know how, do not do plumbing repairs yourself.

Attempting your own plumbing does not work. It does not work even if you know what you are supposed to be doing. It does not work even if the thing you have bought is exactly the right size. It does not work even though the man at the hardware store said, "Don't worry, plumbing is all standard these days." Doing plumbing yourself results in a leak, even if you used the putty, and the tape, and the glue. There is a 1-in-2 chance you will break something else, resulting in an emergency call to a real plumber who, as you were attempting this repair on the weekend, will charge you the highest possible rate while sneering at you.

If you do not already know how, do not paint your own house.

Painting your own house is a miserable waste of time. You cannot scrape and prepare as well as a professional. You cannot hold a line with a brush as well as a professional. You cannot make it look as good as a professional. While imagining yourself saving tons of money, you are instead spending lavishly on paint, sacrificing many hours of precious time, and ending up with something that does not look good, no matter how much you try to cover up the mistakes.

If you can possibly avoid it and are older than, say, to be arbitrary, 33, do not move yourself.

Pay large, burly men to move your possessions. They even will box them up for you, although that costs more. They will deliver each item to the room that you want it to go in. They know more than you do about how to get stuff through skinny doorways and up the stairs. You will not limp around for weeks afterward with an aching back. Tip them and supply them with beer.

Do not mess around with natural gas appliances or septic systems.

Unless you know what you are doing, do not kill rats in your home yourself. Do not, under any circumstance, as a friend advises ruefully, assign the killing of rats in your home to a zealous spouse, who will ignore all accepted pest control guidelines, poison them, and allow them to die in the walls and smell, therefore drawing hordes of flies. Do not do this.

Do not build a backyard deck unless you have built one before. If you have built one before, do not build another one without a plan written by somebody smarter about it than you. If you have such a plan, do not attempt to cut corners by cheating on the required number of footers, supports, joists, beams and other load-bearing features.

Pay someone to cut your 2-year-old's hair.

If you attempt a repair on the roof of your house, having not been there for more than five years, or not having spent at least one full summer of your youth working on roofs for a living, even money says you will fall off.

Avoid cutting holes in your house.

Unless you also gain a moral satisfaction from the task, in the way that baking bread is rewarding, there is little be gained any more by changing your own motor oil. It can be done cheaply and quickly most anyplace, besides which they also will check your wiper fluid and tire pressure, and they will get rid of the old oil, which you cannot easily do anymore, unless you just go dump it in the dirt illegally.

Do not do your own wiring. In the first place, your house is not grounded properly. In messing with one stretch of wiring you will disturb, rip, rupture or otherwise break another stretch. You thought you could use an existing junction box but you will have to put in another one. The man at the hardware store will tell you there is nothing to it. This will not be true. The wall switch that you thought was off will be on. The circuit breaker you thought was off also will be on. The odds are 50-50 that, crawling around in the attic, you will poke a hole in the ceiling.

Do not call here to explain what a good job you can do of any of the above. Consider yourself pre-congratulated.

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