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Here’s where bathroom DIY goes wrong

In the worst case scenario, DIY can actually take longer, cost more, and look worse. Here are the mistakes that pros always end up fixing.

Your latest HGTV binge left you feeling inspired. Of course you can remodel your bathroom all on your own! First is demo day. Then… wait, what comes after demo day?

“Most DIY projects can be completed successfully, and at the end of the project, provide a wonderful feeling of accomplishment,” says Michael Big of Big Brothers Development. “Where we see problems is when [projects] start without proper planning.”

Bathroom remodels involve specialized tools, knowledge, and skills that tradespeople train for years to perfect. For insight on what not to DIY, we turned to top-rated bathroom remodel contractors on Thumbtack.

Mistake #1: Not planning ahead

You’ll feel better about your DIY project if you plan every single step before you start work. Map out the idea out on paper, including measurements and materials.

You’ll also have to account for all the tools you’ll need, says Big. “We’ve helped multiple clients replace glass backsplash tiles after they cut tiles with the wrong wet saw blade, resulting in chipped edges and little nooks that look horrible after being grouted,” he says.

Research before starting so that you’re prepared, have the right tools on hand, and can prevent a rescue call to a tiling pro down the line.

Mistake #2: Installing your own tile

Every bathroom remodeling pro we interviewed has rescued a homeowner from a DIY tile installation gone wrong. Common problems can include cutting with the wrong tools, measuring incorrectly, or laying crooked tile.

The trickiest thing about tile is picking the right size for your space, says Big. “HGTV doesn’t show how much thought goes into picking the shape of the tile. How tile will sit on your floor or wall depends entirely on its size and shape. Sometimes clients will order tile expecting it to be laid one way, and we have to tell them it just isn’t possible.”

“A quarter of an inch makes a big difference if you’ve measured or cut incorrectly,” agrees James Tapia of Global Housing Contractors. “Even tiling pros with over 10 years of experience run into challenges if the wall is not plumb.”

Related: Everything you need to know about bathroom tile

Mistake #3: Attempting your own plumbing

In some cases, like swapping out a faucet or a toilet, you can research the process on YouTube or follow instructions that come with your fixtures before hiring a local plumber. But Big points out that “where we see bigger mistakes is with shower mixer valves or soldering and setting up copper supply/drain pipes. We always recommend using a licensed professional for plumbing-related tasks.”

Even the smallest plumbing issues may be more of a headache than you think, adds Tapia. Many homeowners call him when changing out a vanity. “When the water begins leaking out, they think they’re going to flood the house,” Tapia says. “First, don’t panic. Then turn the water off at the main. Next, check the rubber gaskets inside the shut off valves.”

DIY-ers usually know to close the shut-off valves that prevent water from flowing out before removing the P-trap (waste line), but sometimes those shut off valves haven’t been used in years, with worn-out rubber gaskets that can leak. The gaskets may need to be replaced before a homeowner can proceed with the remodel (or turn the water back on), leaving them without water indefinitely.

Mistake #4: Working on lighting and wiring

Any electrical project that requires more than simply swapping out a fixture or bulb should be left to a licensed electrician. The worst case scenario is as bad as it gets, says Brian Ernest with Ready to Sell Renovations. “You burn your house down or die.”

This is risky because doing electrical work yourself may threaten your ability to collect homeowner’s insurance for any problems that may arise. To be safe and cover all your bases, verify your electrician's licenses and figure out which insurance would be best for your project.

Mistake #5: Wasting time

“One client called us after ‘remodeling’ their bathroom for over three years,” says Ernest. They didn’t have the time, expertise or manpower to finish the job due to their busy lives. In five days, a professional team was able to finish the job — which included installing a shower pan and tub, laying floor-to-ceiling tiles, adding lights, swapping out the vanity, and painting everything.

If you rely on the bathroom you plan to remodel, make sure only to take on projects that you can handle within a reasonable time frame — and do your research about how long something will take. Assume that it’ll take you at least twice as long to do something as an expert. Otherwise, you may end up living with an unusable bathroom for years.

A better way to remodel your bathroom

If you’re committed to a DIY bathroom remodel project, make sure to plan ahead and be precise with your measurement, material selection, and installation. But keep in mind that many bathroom remodel professionals are also open to an initial consultation. The right pro will work with you to find places where you can be safely involved in the project — and you may even learn a thing or two.

This article is part of the Thumbtack bathroom remodel guide. For more advice from top-rated pros, see the full guide here.