DIY renovations gone wrong: Nova Scotia woman found out the hard way it's better to leave it to the professionals

Alexander MacKay is lucky he’s left with a wall that is admired by everyone who visits his home.

“We are renovating and building a new wall but I forgot to allow for the half-inch for drywall, so we had to buy a wooden four by eight sheet,” says the P.E.I. resident.

MacKay’s experience is one of many that speaks for the bold people in Atlantic Canada who took it upon themselves to try their hands at renovating their own homes, minus the help of professionals.

Did things go as planned? Not always, but at least they’re left with funny stories to share and valuable lessons learned.

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In retrospect, MacKay thinks that it’s important to measure twice and to watch YouTube tutorials.

“When you do things incorrectly, look for positive solutions,” he says.

Not everyone was as fortunate as MacKay, where a disaster was quickly converted into a masterpiece, and may leave some people thinking home renovations should be left to the experts.

Do you know what you're doing?

Céline Dragaon of Dartmouth, N.S. says that years ago, when she was a child, her father decided he was going to build a pen for a couple of ponies they had after the family moved from the city to a farm.

“He got himself some fence posts and some fencing. He went out into the field and dug a hole for the pole and started banging it in with a sledgehammer," she recalls.

"He was working really hard and the pole wasn't going in very fast but he didn't want to give up."

Later in the afternoon, she says, a neighbour came by and asked how things were going.

"My dad told him he was working hard in the sun and enjoying nature, but that he wasn't getting very far with these poles; they just weren't going in very easily," she recalls.

"The neighbour turned around and looked at the poles that my dad had left to go in the ground and none of them had pointy ends! They were blunt ends! Our friendly neighbour showed my dad how to do it and they both finished the fence together. The story became a family legend.”

Renee Brown Munroe, of Halifax, N.S., shares a “not so funny” story.

“My husband's daughter was going to move into our basement apartment. She found a little mold in the vanity, so we tore the vanity out," Brown Munroe says.

"She then proceeded to tear out the entire bathroom, right down to the studs, 'just in case.' She was going to renovate it herself. Then, after cutting the tub in two, she decided she couldn't do it, so she asked a family member for help. Well, now that family member is not family anymore, and our bathroom is still destroyed. She also chose not to move in after all that. We cannot afford to fix it, so here we are.”

It seems the advice of owner, civil engineer, and red seal carpenter Dan Monk of Monk Renovations in Halifax is apt in this case. He thinks it’s good for people to know their limitations and hire a professional, “especially with structural changes, electrical, and plumbing. These are items that can cause severe damage to your home and cost a lot of money to repair.”

To the rescue

Mickie McDow from Nova Scotia bought her first house as a newly single lady about 25 years ago. One day, she and her sister-in-law were sipping glasses of wine and inspecting her floor.

DIY renovations gone wrong: Nova Scotia woman found out the hard way it's better to leave it to the professionals

“I said, 'Gee, this floor is ugly.' She said, 'I wonder what is underneath it?' So we lifted a bit of the cushioned floor in the corner. It looked to be a white smooth surface, much nicer than the brick-looking flooring. So we proceeded to tear up the floor and drink wine."

The next day, it became apparent that what they thought was flooring was actually the backing of the cushioned floor.

"So we were left with a white floor which proved to be much uglier than the original flooring as it was paper and showed everything," McDow said. "I was broke and my grandfather came to my rescue and bought me flooring and had it laid.”

Sometimes, it seems that even when you hire professionals, things could go wrong, and Dartmouth, NS resident Gail Bennett’s account is a testament to that.

“During our kitchen renovation, the contractors were pouring floor leveling compound in preparation for ceramic tiles," she says. "Luckily, the electrician was working in the basement below and noticed copious amounts of the compound (at $80 a bag) flowing down the mortar grooves where the brick fireplace met the floor, onto a rack of winter coats stored there and a shelf of pantry items."

There is still compound on the basement walls, Bennett adds.

"A few of the coats were salvaged once the compound dried and was able to be scraped off. Moral: caulk the edge where the floor meets the wall before doing this.”

Leave it to pros

Jessika Pike from Bedford, N.S. is currently in the process of renovating her home, and she’s started with the upstairs bathroom.

“Our bathroom was disgusting, and we've been living here for a month, unable to bathe and strictly showering because of the condition of the tub," she says. "Needless to say, we were excited to gut the bathroom and start fresh.”

Things, however, have been a nightmare.

“We bought a 38-year-old home. This house was built by the owner and it shows. There are so many 'good enough' shortcuts that were taken when building different parts of the house," Pike says.

"We ripped up the tub, not only were our brass pipes completely rotted, but the piping was unlike anything we've ever seen in our lives. The house came with a brand new tub in a box and we figured it was ready to be put in. After ripping everything out, we found out it wasn't even the right size for the drain. Three trips to Kent later and we finally had the correct tub.”

Their troubles didn’t end there, however.

“Because of the 'usual' installation of pipes, we knocked the pipe trying to cut out the wall to get the original metal bathtub out," Pike said.

"Don't expect it to be exactly how you envisioned it when you start ripping things up; be open-minded and adaptable.”

- Jessika Pike

"We had so many setbacks that we had to go without water for the remainder of the day until we could go to the store the next day. While soldering, we lit the wood and plastic on fire accidentally and that was pretty scary, but we can laugh about it now knowing it's under control.”

Pike advises anyone attempting their own renovations to triple-check supplies, measurements, and products.

“We had to drive 40 minutes each way each time we needed something that we forgot or didn't realise we needed.”

Pike also thinks it’s wise to not take on renovations on your own.

“It's always helpful to have someone handy to assist with doing these renovations," she says.

Plan for the unexpected and take a break when you become frustrated or stressed and come back to it with a clear mind to refocus and ensure it's properly or accurately done, she adds.

"Make sure you have the extra money just in case," she adds. "Don't expect it to be exactly how you envisioned it when you start ripping things up; be open-minded and adaptable.”

That's something Monk agrees with.

"Unless you are a professional in the construction trades, DIY should be limited to cosmetic improvement only, and ensure the critical and building code items are handled by a pro," he says.