Covid-19 lockdown: Professionals pick up pieces of DIY disasters

By Laura McDaid

  • Published
Hayley Mathieson
Image caption,
Hayley Mathieson is busier than ever because of DIY mishaps during lockdown

As the UK gradually eases out of lockdown, its tradespeople are now picking up the pieces of DIY jobs gone wrong.

While most builders downed tools in March, home-owners responded by picking them up, with varying degrees of success.

As a result, Coleraine-based plumber Hayley Mathieson is one of many who have never been busier.

One of her clients was due to have a new bathroom installed as lockdown began.

"When the builder pulled out, he decided to tackle it himself," she said.

"So he knocked down a wall, but took all the pipes down with it.

"The wall fell on the toilet and smashed it to pieces, and because the ballcock wasn't fully off, the water went everywhere and flooded the place."

At that point, Ms Mathieson got an emergency call.

Painter Colin McCann said he had come across more disasters in the past 10 weeks than he had in years working as a painter.

"People are buying matt paint for bathrooms and it's running down the walls the minute the shower goes on," he said.

"Or they're buying gloss for bedrooms and can't understand why their walls are so shiny.

"I heard of a man the other week who fell off his ladder papering his hall landing."

'DIY mayhem'

Mr McCann said members of the public have been queuing "up and down the street" to get into the local trade shop in recent weeks.

"I've never seen the like of it," he said.

"The queue is so slow because they need all this advice - how many undercoats does a door need? How many tins to paint 12 doors? Does a skirting board need a topcoat?

"I told the owner he should stick a list on the door of the shop to save time - it's mayhem."

Thankfully for the professionals, the shop recently introduced a traders' entrance, where they can access the warehouse without queuing.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Major DIY stores have been trading well during lockdown

Joiners are also seeing their fair share of mishaps, said Colin.

'A cat could fit through it'

"You really need to know the dimensions you're dealing with if you're going to attempt joinery. My brother's a joiner and he was called out after a man raised a door to fit a wooden floor underneath.

"He raised it so much a cat could have fitted through it."

Electrician Richard Mayne helped a number of clients over the phone in April and May, mostly about circuit trips.

"Others are saying 'I got this on eBay and watched a YouTube video, but it hasn't worked'.

"Or 'I fitted new lighting in one room, but now the lights in the other two rooms aren't working'. Normally, they haven't connected the wires correctly. Sometimes it takes two or three calls."

In other cases, homeowners have unwittingly hired workers with limited or no experience.

'They painted next door as well'

When Belfast painter Jim Lunn had to turn down a client last month because he was so busy, she asked if he would mind her responding to an advertisement in a local newspaper.

Image caption,
Painter Jim Lunn has been called to fix a number of mishaps in recent weeks

"I didn't mind at all, obviously, but unfortunately it turned out they weren't actually painters - they were furloughed fast food staff looking to make a bit of extra money," recalled Mr Lunn.

"So they painted the house alright, but they painted next door as well, thinking it was all the one property. I have to go back in July to fix it - nightmare for her."

On another occasion, Mr Lunn left a house in Dundonald when strong winds made painting too difficult.

He later returned to find that the owner, who was working from home, had decided to continue the job in his absence.

"The wind took the paint spray all over his windows, his driveway and his neighbours' cars - one of which was a new BMW M4!"

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'Leave it to the professionals'

But it's not just homeowners and their neighbours affected by a lack of knowledge - last month, NI Environment Agency inspectors were called out to 20 incidents of water pollution caused by lockdown DIY.

Staff investigated incidents caused by waste water linked to painting and decorating being disposed of incorrectly.

It is believed the bulk of the problems occurred when people used the wrong drain to get rid of material.

Hayley Mathieson's advice to those in doubt is to leave it to the professionals.

"It must be tempting when you've got all this time on your hands, but unless you really know what you're doing, it's only going to cost you more in the long run," she said.

Richard Mayne agreed: "Just call the people who've studied the trade and know what they're at. You don't get a second chance with electric."