The Four Cardinal Rules of DIY
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The Four Cardinal Rules of DIY

The rule that “There is no exception to the rule that every rule has an exception,” does not apply where the DIY enthusiast is concerned. There are four cardinal rules of DIY that should be violated: (1) The DIY mantra of “Safety First, always safety first;” (2) Plan carefully before starting any project; (3) always work with a helper; and (4) use the money you save to buy quality tools, equipment, and supplies.

James Thurber (December 8, 1894 – November 2, 1961) American Author, noted cartoonist, and world renown wit, once said, There is no exception to the rule that every rule has an exception.” A very clever and witty saying to say the least. Nevertheless, there is an exception to that rule too because there are certain rules that should never be violated where the do-it-yourself person is concerned. There are four rules that should always be obeyed and I call those four rules the Four Cardinal Rules of DIY.

Cardinal Rule #1: Safety First

Safety First should be every DIY persons mantra. The safety rules that have to be observed will vary from one type of DIY project to another and there is no way that I could possibly cover them all in one article and do each of them justice. I just want to introduce a few areas of real concern here.

Ladders: Ladders are a common element in many areas of DIY and one of the causes of visits to the hospital ER. Every year falls from ladder send over 220,000 people to hospital emergency rooms. Most ladder accidents can be avoided by learning and observing some basics rules for working on ladders.

  • First, and most important, read all the warning printed on the labels affixed to ladders. Those labels tell the weight limitations of the ladder and the maximum safe working height for that ladder/

  • if you can only afford to buy one ladder buy a fiberglass ladder because fiberglass is non-conductive and safe for working on or around electrical wires. You may be wondering about wooden ladders, wood becomes a conductor of electricity when wet.

  • Always check the ladder for any physical damage before using it. Beside making sure that the ladder is free of damage, make sure that the ladder's rungs or steps are clean and dry.

  • Learn the correct way to set the ladder up. Learn and apply the 1 in 4 rules. For every 4 feet in height for an extension ladder, the bottom of the ladder shall be position at least 1 foot out from the wall.

  • Make sure that the ladder is set up on firm, even ground.

  • When setting up a stepladder, make sure that the spreaders are fully extended and locked in position.

  • Never over extend yourself when reaching to the side. If you cannot reach the area you need without leaning sideways, move the ladder. Always keep your body centered on the ladder.

  • Use both hands when ascending and descending a ladder. Do not carry tools or supplies in your hand when climbing a ladder. Use a tool belt for small tools or have a helper hand them up to you.

  • Always face the ladder when ascending or descending the ladder.

  • Never leave a ladder unattended, this especially important if there are children anywhere near where yo are working.

  • Never place a ladder in front of a door that may be opened by someone, knocking you off the ladder.

Falls from roofs: Next to falls from ladders, falling off roofs send more DIY enthusiasts to hospital emergency rooms every years then any other DIY activity. Coming into contact with live, overhead electrical wires while working on ladders and roofs is another hazard that send DIY people to the hospital emergency rooms. Every DIY enthusiast needs to learn and practice roof safety procedures. Purchase and learn the proper way to use a Personal Fall Arrest System. Remember, you are not being manly to work on roofs without using safety equipment, you are being stupid.

Cardinal Rule #2: It is all in the planning.

There should be no exceptions to this rule either. There is a direct relationship between proper planning and your safety. Before beginning any project you need to make sure that you have all the proper tools, equipment, and supplies on hand.

  • Ladders: Do you have ladder capable of reaching the height at which you will be working and are they rated for the weight they will have to hold safety. Remember that the load rating of a ladder includes your weight plus the weight of what you will be working with i.e. if a ladder has a load rating of 300 pounds and you weigh 190 pounds, the maximum weight of tools and materials that you can work with is 110 pounds.

  • Safety Equipment: Do you have the proper safety equipment on hand? Safety equipment may include safety goggles, steel-toed work boots, work gloves, safety harnesses, ladder jacks, roof jacks, etc.

  • Supplies and materials: Do you have all the materials that you will need to complete the job? Doing it yourself can be very rewarding and enjoyable. It can also turn into a real frustrating ordeal if you have to stop work and make trips to the home center because you discover that you do not have everything that you need.

  • Required Building Permits: Many DIY enthusiast bypass getting the required permits because they will be working indoors and the odds of getting caught by Code Enforcement is slim. If you are remodeling your basement, converting it into a recreation/family room, for example you should get an electrical wiring permit and arrange for the required inspections before beginning work. Permits and inspections cost money, so why get one? Besides facing stiff fines if caught working without a permit, there is a matter of safety and homeowners insurance. Having your work inspected by a professional will give you the assurance that you have done the work correctly and that you are not endangering your loved ones. If you do not work under a permit and do not have the work inspected and recorded, your homeowners insurance carrier does not have to pay for loss if there is a fire and that fire is traced back to the electrical wiring that you installed.

Cardinal rule #3: Recruit qualified helpers.

Many projects cannot, or should not, be undertaken without having a helper. Working on roofs, especially re-roofing your home, is heavy, dangerous work and you should never attempt it without having a helper on the roof with you. Personally, I never do roofing work without at least two helpers—one on the roof with me and the other on the ground to send up supplies as needed.

You should have a helper with you when doing electrical work that require you to work on or near energized wiring. You may not need a helper for the actual work but the helper is there for your safety. No matter how experienced you are; no matter how many safety precautions you practice; accidents can and do happen, even to the professionals. Having a helper who is trained in how to respond to such emergencies can mean the difference between life and death, your life or death.

Cardinal Rule #4: Use the money you save by doing-it-yourself wisely.

Many of us are DIY enthusiast simply because we enjoy doing it ourselves. We take pride in working with our hands and take pride in being able to say to people, “I did that myself.” You also save a great deal of money by doing-it-yourself. But what you do with that money is even more important than saving it. If you are serious about being a serious do-it-yourself guy or gal, you need to take the money you save and invest it in quality tools and supplies. A quality tool is not a joy to work with, it is a safer tool to work with. A quality tool, given the proper care, will last a lifetime. Cheap tools are not only dangerous to work with, they will actually cost you more in the long term because you will be constantly replacing. There is also the matter of frustration. There is nothing more frustrating, unless it is discovering that you do not have everything you for the job, then having a tool break in the middle of a job. Hand tools or power tools, do not buy cheap, always buy the highest quality tools that your budget will allow.

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Comments (7)
Ranked #14 in Home Repairs

This is the best DIY article I have read. I know there have been many times I have dug into a DIY project and then realized that I had to go find my goggles or ear protection in the middle of a project or had to make several trips to Home Depot.

Also, about the building permit, if you don't pull a permit when you are doing remodeling you can run into problems when you sell your house. Buyers almost always get an inspection and the inspector will nail you on that and you may have to make expensive alterations or repairs before you are able to sell your house. And... (sorry, one more point) If a contractor says they are not going to pull a permit, get someone else to do the job. Using local contractors who are familiar with your building codes and the code inspectors is always helpful.

Ranked #2 in Home Repairs

@Judith Barton Thank you for your valuable additions to my article. I should have mentioned that about running into problems when selling your home if you work without permits and inspections, but some how it slipped my  mind.

Hearty congrats to my dear brother Jerry as GUIDE and MODERATOR. Thanks for these 4 DIY tips. I hope your friendship and guidance will enable me to do better here.

All four of these rules should certainly be followed, not only by those interested in DIY but also professionals - I have seen many a professional use ladders wrongly (some of whom have 'paid the price').

Kudos also on the mention of buyiny quality tools, as that can be the difference between a shoddy job and a job well done. You certainly had the 'quality tools' when composing this article as it is a job well done. :)

Excellent piece, Jerry! You truly are the expert for this!

Ladder safety is so crucial. A friend died after falling from his ladder. It was so sad. He was working on his rough and was all alone when he fell. Excellent advice!

Men falling off roofs and dying is not uncommon. Good tips. I don't do much DIY myself.