Consumer Watchdog: Handy homes of horrors

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

Kiwis love taking things into their own hands and doing it themselves. But DIY disasters are blighting homes across the country.

Salvatore Rigisone-Pisone was burned extensively during a DIY disaster. Photo / Bruce Jenkins
Salvatore Rigisone-Pisone was burned extensively during a DIY disaster. Photo / Bruce Jenkins

It's Labour Weekend, why not dabble in some DIY? Clean the roof, knock down a wall, put in a patio door. It's easy - to mess up.

In his former life as a builder, Jim Wolger made a living from repairing bungled DIY jobs and reckons it's the seemingly sensible people who make the worst mistakes.

"I've seen upstairs floors sagging because people have knocked out load-bearing walls. I've seen people attempting to put in patio doors without any idea they might need a steel frame. These [remedial] jobs require thousands of dollars of work," he said.

Wolger has "retired to a less stressful job" and now works as the DIY guru at Bunnings Warehouse in Auckland suburb Glenfield. He hears all sorts of grand plans and says it's a balance between being supportive and cautionary.

"My advice is to always plan. It doesn't matter if it's a big project or something you think will be easy.

Think about it first, sit down with a piece of paper, identify the hazards and figure out what you're going to do.

"Think about the tools you need, the footwear and protective gear. Make sure you are going to be able to finish it in the time you've got."

He said common DIY disaster areas included people trying to move light switches, injuries while crawling in the ceiling or roof, and tiling that people didn't realise needed wet-proof certification - a mistake that could cost dearly. Cheap or old paintbrushes also made a mess of walls that needed a quality finish - he recommended buying the best.

There are still plenty of things for home handymen to get stuck into: cleaning the plumbing, laying compost, painting, clearing gutters and mending the roof - just be sure to hire or buy the right ladder, trestles and safety clips.

Labour Weekend is the most notorious ACC spike of the calendar. Last year, 1100 people were injured in falls at home, more than 60 seriously who needed a month off work.

It's a scenario St John Ambulance medical director Tony Smith is familiar with - he hires a professional to do any ladder work.

"Every weekend someone dies or is left severely disabled when they fall off a ladder. People continue to underestimate how dangerous it is. Most who fall aren't doing things that you'd look at and think 'you're crazy'. They're cleaning ... from not too much of a height."


It started as a bit of home renovation, but when Salvatore Rigione-Pisone's wife fell from a ladder and broke her leg in three places, it became a race to get everything perfect for her home-coming from hospital.

Then the project really took a turn for the worse.

Rigione-Pisone, 42, was in the attic and his hand brushed a live wire. He was jolted backwards and landed with another cable against his neck. He lost consciousness.

"I personally believe I had already passed over to the other side," he said.

His 14-year-old son, Rhys, turned off the power mains, saving his life. The father-of-two was airlifted to Lower Hutt Hospital and spent the summer recovering from the extensive burns.

But there was a silver lining. During recovery, the couple worked on their dream of starting an Italian cafe in Napier. Villa Candida opened on Emerson St this year - with tradesmen doing the tricky bits.

- Herald on Sunday

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