DIY Disasters: Why Some Things Are Best Left to the Pros

September 16, 2014 | Comments

You like to think of yourself as "handy" and pride yourself in handling projects around the house — changing an HVAC filter, fixing a leaky sink, replacing a bad electrical outlet, and so on. Sound familiar?

That's all well and good, but when it comes to technology, experts advise do-it-yourselfers to recognize their limitations and leave the nitty-gritty of home electronics to the pros. Doing so will almost always save time, aggravation, and money — potentially lots of money.

Fred Ampel, CEDIA Fellow and president of Overland Park, Kansas-based Technology Visions Analytics, singles out three areas where do-it-yourselfers tend to get in trouble: Mounting TVs, running wires through walls, and setting up a home network. Let's take a closer look at each of these areas.

Mounting a TV on the Wall

It seems so simple. You buy a bracket and use it to attach your new flat-panel TV to the wall. What could possibly go wrong? A lot, actually.

Novices tend to make three critical mistakes, according to Ampel. One, they buy a TV mount, attach the mount to the TV and then attempt to affix it to the wall. "You can't do it that way because the TV gets in the way and you don't have room to properly anchor the mount," he explains.

The second blunder is using molly bolts to "secure" the TV mount to the drywall. "The mount has to be anchored to a stud with sufficiently heavy bolts or screws, or it will slowly rip itself out of the wall and crash to the floor" - damaging the TV and creating a safety hazard.

The third mistake is failing to understand the importance of weight-bearing for a TV that can easily weigh more than 100 pounds. "The mount has to be anchored with sufficient strength to hold weight of the television plus 50%," Ampel explains. "You have to over-engineer." Compounding the problem is the fact that do-it-yourselfers often buy the wrong wall mount.

The bottom line: "Unless the homeowner is a competent carpenter or builder, they don't have the skill set to properly mount a TV."

Pulling Wire Through Walls

Wiring a whole-house music system or an AV setup with multiple speakers is the second area where DIYers get in trouble.

"Wiring a home theater system is a non-trivial task, especially if you're dealing with in-wall and in-ceiling speakers," Ampel observes.

Installing speakers and snaking cables through walls requires special tools and knowledge. "I cannot tell you how many times I've walked into a house and found in-wall speakers that are not anchored to the studs. You remove a grille cover and the speaker falls into your hands."

Knowing which cables to use and how to run them is another trouble spot. Running AV cabling along electrical lines is a common mistake that results in hums and buzzes, poor picture and sound quality, and a potential electrical disaster.

"All you need is one staple in the wrong place and you're in trouble," Ampel cautions. "A 110-volt electrical system is not tolerant of mistakes — you can burn your house down."

Setting Up a Home Network

The average homeowner can probably handle setting up a basic Wi-Fi network, but once you get into high-definition video streaming and music distribution, especially in a busy household, it's a whole new ballgame.

"Most people don't understand that video takes up a lot of bandwidth and that every connection you add slows down the whole system," Ampel points out.

Setting up a robust high-speed network usually requires upgrading to high-speed Internet service and replacing existing equipment with high-quality networking gear. A home technology professional will assess network speed, the capacity of the cable carrying the data, and Wi-Fi encryption.

Ampel tells the story of a doctor who decided to install a Wi-Fi network to facilitate movie streaming and a whole-house music system. He bought decent quality networking gear and set everything up without consulting anyone.

When he was finished he was stunned to find that the new network was agonizingly slow and barely worked at all. Not only had he spent $1,000 on the wrong hardware but he never upgraded to high-speed Internet service, which should have been the first step. Ultimately, the good doctor had to hire a professional and pay upwards of $5,000 to fix his mistakes.

"DIY is great within a narrow set of limits, but most people overestimate their skills and underestimate what it takes to do the job," Ampel says. "I use knee surgery as an analogy. Would you go to a properly trained surgeon or get out a pen knife and do it yourself? Once you put it that way, people stop and think about it."

To learn more about home entertainment and custom installation options, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.