Homeowners say YouTube tutorials are a boon for DIY projects; experts recommend exercising caution

Homeowners say YouTube tutorials are a boon for DIY projects; experts recommend exercising caution

September 4th, 2015 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Renovation tools

Illustration by goir

“I think people [on YouTube] just want other people to know they can do something that maybe could be helpful. … In the old days, people learned to do things by sharing their knowhow and their knowledge. Maybe thats more of what YouTube is trying to do, to make people more of a community.”
Debra Fisher, Ooltewah

Need a hand?

If a video tutorial just isn’t cutting it — or you get stumped in the middle of a project — it might be time to call in a pro. The Better Business Bureau offers a list of accredited handyman and home improvement services. Visit bbb.org/chattanooga/accredited-business-directory/handyman-services or bbb.org/chattanooga/accredited-business-directory/home-improvements.

Top tipsters

Here are some of the most popular home improvement and interior design channels on YouTube:

1 Steve Ramsey (StevinMarin): 464,000 subscribers; 70 million views; 342 videos

2 eHow Home (eHowHome): 182,000 subscribers; 18 million views; 1,575 videos

3 Lowe’s Home Improvement (Lowes): 169,000 subscribers; 67 million views; 1,147 videos

4 House Improvements (HouseImprovements): 140,000 subscribers; 26 million views; 136 videos

5 This Old House (This OldHouse): 139,000 subscribers; 35 million views; 1,260 videos

6 Home Depot (HomeDepot): 96,000 subscribers; 45 million views; 1,300 videos

7 DIY Network (DIYNetwork): 82,000 subscribers; 19 million views; 2,101 videos

8 HGTV (HGTV): 69,000 subscribers; 11 million views; 2,804 videos

9 Build.com (BuildDotCom): 59,000 subscribers; 49 million views; 414 videos

10 Ask the Builder (AskTheBuilder): 53,000 subscribers; 40 million views; 481 videos

Over their heads

According to a poll by Towergate Insurance, young would-be home improvers often must call a handyman to fix projects they started using YouTube tutorials as a guide. Here are the most common projects that went off the rails:

1. Flooring (31 percent)

2. Bathroom refitting (17 percent)

3. House extensions (11 percent)

4. Roofing (10 percent)

5. Electrical/plumbing (9 percent)

When Debra Fisher moved into a newly constructed home in Ooltewah five years ago, she assumed she would be spared the headache and expense of repairs, at least for a little while.

Almost immediately, however, things started falling apart.

The pipes leaked.

The water heater failed.

There was mold behind the shower surround.

"I bought a house that was really a defective product," the 61-year-old says. "I did sue the builder and barely won anything. In the meantime, I'm stuck with the house that I'm constantly having to fix."

A retired mechanical engineer, Fisher's career was in industrial construction but even so, she says she felt out of her element when tackling anything more complicated than "common sense" residential problems. Rather than looking up numbers for handymen to help patch her drywall or to install a sump pump to dry out her flooded basement, however, she turned to YouTube.

"I am an engineer, so I'll go out on a limb a little more than most people, but since YouTube came along, you have a lot more resources [for home improvement]," she says. "It's my go-to. I use YouTube all the time for little things that go on around here.

"Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do, and that means you have to do it yourself."

In the decade since it was launched, YouTube has become a valuable resource for the DIY crowd, offering up thousands of detailed, step-by-step tutorials for everything from installing a toilet to hanging vinyl siding to refinishing hardwood floors.

According to a poll released in April by U.K.-based Towergate Insurance, 28 percent of adults turn to YouTube when tackling do-it-yourself endeavors. Online videos were the predominant home improvement resource respondents said they used, outpacing qualified friends and family (25 percent) or DIY stores and TV shows (12 percent).

Chattanoogan Jerome Savin, 48, has used the site to help him resolve a range of problems that crop up at his East Ridge rancher, including rebuilding a Vitamix blender, disassembling a leaf blower and reinstalling the door seal in a washing machine. His most-recent use of YouTube was looking for tips to repair a leak in his shower. After watching several videos, he says, he plans to try a waterproof epoxy grout recommended by one channel.

"I'm surprised that more and more people in [repair] services aren't mad about YouTube," Savin says. "Some people don't want to mess with none of that — they'll pay to have it done — but for me, if I can do it myself, I feel pretty good about it. I'm all about saving money."

In addition to the satisfaction of being self-sufficient, those who rely on YouTube say they appreciate the fact that, despite being free to watch, YouTube videos often are equally as instructive and well-produced as respected home improvement TV shows.

"One time, I watched almost an hour of a guy disassembling and reassembling a transmission on a vehicle," Savin says. "You could tell it was what he did for a living. It was like, 'Wow, if I had to do something, I'd want to watch one of his videos.'"

Some of the most well-known names in home improvement have a long-standing presence on YouTube. Lowe's Home Improvement and Home Depot as well as TV shows and networks such as DIY, HGTV and "This Old House" have maintained YouTube channels since 2006, one year after the service launched.

"YouTube is a critical component of our content marketing mix and a valuable resource for our customers. The content we produce and place on YouTube educates and empowers our customers with the confidence to start, progress and complete their home improvement journeys," says Brad Walters, the director of social media at Lowe's, whose channel covers everything from DIY basics and design ideas to lawn-care tips.

That's not to say, however, that YouTube and its legions of would-be home repair experts are infallible. Sometimes, viewers say, you run across a Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor when you need an Al Borland.

Even though many DIY videos were created by professionals — respected builders such as Bob Vila and Gary Sullivan have official YouTube channels, for example — some viewers say they have been lead astray by tutorials that skip steps or offer questionable instructions.

Before she kicks off on any home improvement project, Fisher says she makes sure to watch as many different tutorials as possible to see where builders' advice overlaps.

"You have to learn to assess how good that video is or if that person is knowledgeable," she says. "Over time, I kind of learned which ones are hokey."

Sometimes, would-be DIY experts end up paying the price for seeking out an online guru instead of calling in flesh-and-blood support. According to the TowerGate poll, 22 percent of would-be home improvers under age 24 eventually call an expert — and pay more than $7,500 — to fix a derailed project they started using an online video tutorial as a guide.

"With the emergence of YouTube as a key educational resource, it's understandable that people are naturally turning to video tutorials for guidance on DIY work," writes Towergate representative Drew Wothersoon in a news release. "However, as our research shows, undertaking ambitious projects with little to no formal training can have serious repercussions financially."

Barry Frizzell is the general manager of the Main Street-based repair service Andy On Call, which since 1993 has assisted customers with basic home improvement projects such as window replacement, drywall repairs and tiling.

Frizzell says his business has been unaffected by people's increasing reliance on YouTube for home improvement. Even though he doubts the videos are being made with nefarious intent, he says they still can be misleading by assuming a high level of expertise on the part of the viewer.

Confronted with steps that outpace their skill level, viewers may find themselves in over their heads. And in the end, he says, they may end up calling him anyway.

"The majority of [the how-to walkthroughs] make it look a whole lot easier than it is," Frizzell laughs. "They're out building a deck, and they make it look like they built it in an hour, but in reality, it took them a week to do it.

"You can almost say that, in a way, [YouTube is] helping our business because many of the people following those videos get halfway in it and realize, 'Ooooh, this is more than I can handle.'"

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.