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Improving Your Home: Sorting through confusing DIY advice

By Paul Bianchina Published: March 22, 2014

Q: I visited a home center recently to buy a light fixture for a specific application. The first person who waited on me in the electrical department seemed very confused about my request, and admitted she usually worked in the garden department. She called their lighting expert, who got me what he thought I needed.

Before I left the store, I studied what he'd given me in more detail. It just didn't seem right, so I ended up putting it back on the shelf and went elsewhere. I found out later that what he'd given me was completely the wrong item, and would in fact have been quite dangerous if I'd used it as and where this "expert" recommended. As a do-it-yourselfer, how do I protect myself against bad home center advice in situations like this?

A: I'll begin by saying that I typically enjoy shopping at home centers because of the wide variety of products and their one-stop convenience, but you raise a valid point. It's not unusual for home centers to shift personnel around between departments, and you're sure to find varying levels of experience and expertise. Also, while many home center employees in the various departments can be knowledgeable, with a solid background in the construction trades, as you discovered that's unfortunately not always the case.

My best advice is to take advantage of the wealth of information available on the Internet and do your homework before heading off on a shopping trip. The more knowledge you have about exactly what you're looking for, how it works, where it can and can't be used, what options, accessories, and even colors are available, what precautions to be aware of, the better off you'll be. Then at least you'll have a better understanding of what questions to ask, and also have a better sense of when to walk away if things don't feel right.

I also feel strongly that there's a time not to use home centers. For complex lighting, plumbing, electrical, painting, and other home improvement situations, there are definite advantages to seeking out an experienced specialty store.

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