Like so many Philadelphians during the coronavirus pandemic, Charlie Tranen was spending an unprecedented amount of time at home. He had noticed that, over time, the laundry room ceiling in his house had sprouted a thatch of pipes and cables. He had the time. He could fix it.
With the way the ceiling was built, he realized he needed to do a little work on the walls, too. Then he thought he’d redo the floors, as well. And once the laundry room was done, why not get a new washer and dryer?
“I watched a couple of YouTube videos, and I went out and got some stuff," said Tranen, a husband and father of two who lives near Chestnut Hill.
He expected it to be a fairly quick weekend project.
It’s been five weeks.
“I don’t think that’ll be the last [weekend]," he said. “It’s not like I have anything better to do on the weekends with the pandemic."
Like Tranen, millions of people relegated inside for months during the pandemic have taken to various outlets to appease boredom or pursue enterprising activities previously cast aside in favor of more immediate responsibilities.
Others, such as Tranen, decided to remodel their house even though they have limited experience in construction. He could save money this way, he said, instead of hiring a professional.
Pete Rose, owner of the Home Hero, a repair service in Philadelphia, has heard this story many times.
“People ask for a quote, and then they’re saying, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that. I don’t need your help,’" Rose said. “It’s usually the husband. Not always the husband. But they say, 'It’s too much money. I’ve got the time.’”
Of 2,000 people in the United States who said in a poll that they had attempted a do-it-yourself project in 2019, the most common regret was trying to put down floor tiles, followed by replacing a ceiling, according to the survey from the online home repair guide ImproveNet. Twenty percent of respondents said they tried to install floor tiles, and 7% tried to fix a ceiling.
The majority of those polled — 56% — said they took on home improvement projects to save money.
The biggest obstacle that 55% of respondents said they faced was that the work took longer than expected — on average, 22 hours longer than projected — followed by 50% who believed that their undertaking was too physically taxing.
In the end, according to ImproveNet, 55% were disappointed with the results of their handiwork.
“Right now, I’m sure there’s a lot of people doing their own thing,” said Paul Cofield, the owner of South Philly Renovations & Handyman, who has seen residents try and fail to properly install steps to patios, perform plumbing work, and put up wallpaper.
Some projects, such as installing drywall, aren’t too difficult, “but unless you do it regularly" — a matter of practice, he said — "it’s hard to do it good.”
Just before the stay-at-home order, Cofield repaired three botched drywall jobs.
Then, in the first few weeks that the region’s residents were mostly confined to their homes, Stephen Mazzone, owner of the home repair and remodeling company A Guy With Tools, got roughly 20 calls for one specific repair: garbage disposals.
Some people had lost utensils in them. Some people were using their disposals more now.
“It was something different every time,” said Mazzone, whose company operates in Bucks, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties.
Now, months into the pandemic, Cofield has a theory about what his business will look like once operations resume: “I’m sure coming out of this, our volume is going to be up.”
So far, Tranen said, he has not messed up his project, unlike others who optimistically tried to repair a broken microwave or install a bidet.
He simply needs more time.
“It felt like every day I was going back to Lowe’s or Home Depot for more stuff," he said. “It’s been kind of like an ‘If you give a mouse a cookie’ kind of experience, where after everything I need to do, it turns out there’s a million other things I didn’t realize I also needed to do.”
He has no intention of calling a professional to finish the job.
“The good news is that I’m making progress, and I’m spending way less than having people come into the house," he said. “Hopefully, the end is in sight somewhere."