Find out what you should know before tackling a DIY project.

DIY – what not to do


Kiwis are a nation of do-it-yourself (DIY) enthusiasts. For many of us there is nothing more satisfying than weekends spent tackling the latest home renovation project.

Not only do we pride ourselves on our ‘number 8 wire’ mentality, but our national enthusiasm for DIY has spawned a booming home renovation industry, encompassing everything from reality TV shows through to flatpack kitchens and hardware megastores.

But not every DIY project is a great idea. Sure, do them right and they can save you money, but tackling a project beyond your skillset can result in an expensive headache.

Or worse still, a serious injury. According to ACC, nearly 20,000 people were injured in DIY accidents in New Zealand last year; helping them recover from those injuries cost the country $30 million.

Painting the exterior of your home is a huge and potentially dangerous job.

Painting the exterior of your home is a huge and potentially dangerous job.

While it is often tempting to do it yourself, some projects can be more challenging, more time-consuming, more expensive – and far more dangerous – than we anticipate. Sometimes the greatest DIY skill is knowing when to call in the professionals.

What do you need to know about DIY?

If you are unsure whether or not to hire a pro keep in mind the three Ts: time, tools and talent. Do you have the time to research, shop and complete the project? Do you have the right tools (or will you need to buy them)? And are you confident you have the talent to complete the job satisfactorily and safely? 

Sprucing up your interiors with a lick of paint or wallpaper, installing some shelves, doing some landscaping, or swapping outdated handles on your cabinetry are all low-risk, high-reward projects that many of us are likely capable of. But when it comes to structural alterations, electrical work, plumbing, drainlaying, gasfitting or anything to do with heights, it truly pays to call in the experts.

Plumbing work is best left to the experts.

Plumbing work is best left to the experts.

What DIY jobs around the home should you not attempt? 

Unless you have experience, are competent with tools and confident you have the necessary skills, these projects are best left to those in the know:

  • Re-doing bathroom plumbing. Water and electricity can be a deadly combination, and when it comes to the bathroom, they are often in close proximity. Other than minor tasks like swapping out a leaky showerhead or fixing a running toilet, bathroom plumbing is best left to registered tradespeople.
  • Removing walls. Some walls are load bearing; knock those ones out and you could put the structural integrity of your home – and the safety of those who live in it – at risk. At the very least, check with an expert before you start wielding that sledgehammer.
  • Painting the exterior of a house. This is a massive job that can be extremely dangerous. Not only will you be working at a height, but if you’re repainting an older house, chances are there’ll be some carcinogenic lead-based paint lurking, too.
  • Drilling into walls without knowing what’s behind them. Hanging a wall cabinet might sound like a piece of cake, but if there are wires or pipes running along the back of your wall you could burst a pipe, cause a gas leak, or even electrocute yourself.
  • Replacing an old electric stove with a gas one. Sounds straightforward, but a large percentage of gas accidents occur as a direct result of incorrect assembly, connection or installation.
  • Removing insulation. Insulation in many older New Zealand homes contains asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that was widely used in building materials from the 1940s to 1980s. It is made up of tiny fibres which, if inhaled, can cause several nasty cancers.
  • Cleaning gutters and trimming trees. Anything up a ladder comes with big risks. While it can be tempting to tackle these seemingly manageable tasks, it just takes one slip to have you and your whānau wishing you had left it to the experts. 
  • Repairing a damaged roof. When you are working up high and on an angle, a dangerous and damaging fall is always possible.
It's best not to replace an electric oven with a gas one by yourself.

It's best not to replace an electric oven with a gas one by yourself.

How can you avoid injury during DIY work? 

It also pays to remember that lots of DIY projects involve heavy lifting, and if you don’t know how to lift correctly, you could end up in a tonne of pain. Last year in New Zealand back and spinal injuries were the most common of all DIY injuries, resulting in 3,557 ACC claims.

The top tips from ACC about DIY are:

  • Slow down and stop to assess the risks.
  • Use all the recommended safety gear, such as closed shoes, protective eyewear and earmuffs.
  • Make sure someone is supervising the kids; keep tools and sharp objects out of reach.
  • If you are getting up a ladder, ensure it is angled correctly and on a firm surface.
  • Keep paints, sprays, chemicals and solvents with the lids on when you are not using them.


Story by Vanessa Trethewey for the Spring 2023 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Vanessa Trethewey is an Auckland-based freelance writer who regularly contributes to AA Directions Magazine.

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