Money: If DIY means 'damage it yourself' ...

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The Independent Online
DO IT YOURSELF is the hallmark of the middle classes both actual and aspiring. My father's generation would not have dreamed of painting the doors or pasting up new wallpaper, let alone rewiring the house or installing double-glazing and central heating.

Repairs were strictly the preserve of the tradesman. In the immortal words of Hilaire Belloc,

"Lord Finchley tried to mend the electric light.

Himself. It struck him dead. And serve him right.

It is the duty of the wealthy man.

To give employment to the artisan."

In the egalitarian post-war years, however, income tax impoverished the wealthy professional classes and skilled craftsmen became both scarce and dear. But thanks to a combination of rent controls and mortgage tax relief, private home-ownership escalated from a quarter to three quarters of the population in a few years

The rise of DIY was as inevitable as it was spectacular. But the industry has been built at great cost, and not just in paint and paper, wood and wire, glass and bricks, sanders and drills. According to a recent survey by General Accident, 40 per cent of all claims on household insurance policies and 15 per cent of the costs are for accidental loss or damage, and bungled DIY projects are a major contribution.

The most common claims are for damage to carpets, caused mainly by spilled paint and even heat guns used for paint-stripping. They are closely followed by damage to water pipes and water damage to ceilings, furniture and wallpaper. Mishaps with hammers and nails and falls from ladders come in third.

Two recent case histories from GA's claims reports could almost make it as household sitcoms. Victor Podbransky was moving a sideboard which tore the carpet and cannoned into a corner unit. This fell over and broke the window, causing pounds 1,700 worth of damage.

Noel Chatwin took a screw-driver to tighten down a squeaky floorboard before putting down a new carpet, and went through the hot-water pipe, causing a cascade which brought down part of the ceiling. The quote for repairs sounds cheap at pounds 350.

Another unnamed policy-holder took a drill to make new holes to replace a broken bathroom mirror, punctured a water pipe, flooded the kitchen and had to dismantle a kitchen unit to get to the stopcock, only to find he did not have the proper tool to turn the water off.

Arthur Philp, GA's home technical manager, judiciously puts the blame on busy lifestyles which mean ambitious projects have to be squeezed into an evening or weekend, rather than on an increasing readiness to claim on policies or a widening gap between the abilities and ambitions of contemporary DIYers.

Not everyone has a household contents policy, however, and not all policies give full cover for accidental damage. Water damage is a notorious grey area. Tony McMahon, household claims manager at Royal & Sun Alliance, says: "All our standard contents policies automatically cover accidental damage to mirrors, glass in furniture, TVs, videos and audio equipment. All buildings policies include accidental damage to drains, pipes, cables, glass and sanitary ware." But copper-bottomed insurance policies which will cover the costs of DIY disasters cost an extra pounds 51 a year for pounds 18,000 worth of cover.

Most insurers will offer discounts ranging up to 25 per cent on premiums if there have been no claims for three years. However, even the most long- suffering insurer will raise the premiums if claims become too numerous and costly.

Meanwhile, GA has produced a checklist of basic precautions:

q Lift carpets or at least cover them before painting the room.

q Buy a hand-held pipe detector or trace the pipes before hammering the floorboards or drilling the walls.

q Buy a tool belt to hold tools securely before climbing ladders.

q Put down boards when working in the loft to avoid falling through the ceiling.

q Leave electrical work to experts or at least switch off the mains and protect bare wiring.

q Use power tools with a circuit breaker to avoid shocks if cables are cut.

q Make sure you use enough screws and Rawlplugs to supports shelves and mirrors safely.

q Cover sinks and WCs to prevent possible breakages.