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Don’t Be a Home Improvement Disaster

Before you take on a home improvement project, make sure you know how to do it safely.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

You walk into Home Depot or Lowe's to pick up a lightbulb. Instead, you leave with some new flooring, a circular saw, a framing square, and big ideas about re-tiling your kitchen.

The problem? You've never done anything more than change a lightbulb by yourself.

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Growing numbers of Americans are tackling do-it-yourself home improvement projects that once might have been left to professionals. One reason for the shift: Stores like Home Depot, along with TV shows on networks like HGTV or the DIY Network, make it look so easy.

And while it can be rewarding to re-tile your kitchen or even create your own home movie theater, novice do-it-yourselfers may also be putting themselves in harm's way. The CDC recently reported that the number of consumers seeking emergency treatment at hospitals for nail gun injuries rose 200% from 1991 to 2005. The trend is likely due to the increased availability of nail guns at home hardware stores, but no sales data are available to confirm that, according to the CDC.

"I am pretty confident that the number of injuries sustained by do-it-yourselfers is going up," says Nick Zenarosa, MD, the chief of emergency medicine at Baylor Medical Center at Garland in Garland, Texas.

And as an ER doctor, Zenarosa has pretty much seen it all: eye injuries from errant dust and debris, amputated fingers from sawing, facial injuries from nail guns, and broken bones from falling through a not-so-sturdy ceiling while laying insulation.

"What I would do before I embark on a do-it-yourself renovation project is to find someone and have them physically show me what to do," he tells WebMD. "It's tough sometimes to go to a class at a home improvement center because there is really no personalized attention." Many chain stores such as Home Depot do offer group classes focusing on specific renovation projects.

While some people go the DIY route because it is more affordable, "it's a lot more expensive to come to a trauma center because you cut corners and did not use safety equipment," he says.

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