Screwdriver or Screwed? Legal Tools for the Do-It-Yourselfer Tool Box

Deborah Maree Gray, Nancy Jean White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The do-it-yourself (DIY) industry is a $318 billion product marketplace. By comparison that’s about the same size as the entire wedding industry, or the total revenues generated by e-tailing in the United States. Nearly 3 in 4 Americans participate in a DIY project each year and the average spending of a DIY remodel project is $4,000. However, there is no research that helps the DIY consumer understand potential legal risks in this marketplace. DIY continues to gain popularity because of widely broadcast television shows like Property Brothers, Rehab Addict, and Bathroom Crashers and social media sites like Pinterest. This marketplace is lucrative for both big box stores and the consumer; with consumers gaining intrinsic gratification and ‘sweat equity’ in their home. While the popular media and retailers focus on eye appealing outcomes and sales revenues, neither fails to address the legal obligations that affect the do-it-yourselfer. This paper is written for the complete do-it-yourselfer, which is one who does not hire any outside subcontractors to do part of the work. The purpose of this research is to provide a synopsis of the most common areas of law that apply to common household do-it-yourself projects. There is no existing research to date that suggests that the average do-it-yourselfer investigates or considers the legal implications of completing a DIY project and in fact, by definition “do-it-yourself “ is “the activity of doing or making something (as in woodworking or home repair) without professional training or assistance; broadly an activity in which one does something oneself or on one's own initiative.” Conventional wisdom suggests the average do-it-yourselfer is concerned with the project at hand and is likely unaware of the legal implications and/or risks associated with the project. This paper will seek to close this gap by addressing key areas of law that apply to DIY projects including permits & licensing, tax issues, negligence, selling a home after a project, environmental issues, and dispute resolution. We conclude by providing a DIY legal checklist to assist in mitigating and preventing these legal issues. The principles summarized here are simplified and are presented to give a basic understanding of the law. Certainly in any specific claim or legal matter a more detailed understanding of the law in the specific jurisdiction where the claim arose or whose law applies would be needed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-17
JournalReal Estate Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2016


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