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30 Spectacular Fails Around the Home

Blazing wheelbarrows, exploding toilets and flaming couch cushions are among the spectacular fails.

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It's never where you left itFamily Handyman

It's never where you left it

We live on a busy road and our driveway's very steep. One snowy evening when I came home from work, the driveway was just too slick to climb with my pickup. No matter how many runs I took at it, I could only make it halfway up the driveway to the garage before I lost traction. Frustrated, I decided to just lock my pickup where it was and call it a night. After a blissfully ignorant night's sleep, I grabbed my morning joe, walked outside and mentally prepared to get back to the old grind. But my truck was gone! I looked around in a panic before spotting it - the truck had slid down the driveway, across the sidewalk and was blocking half the street. Miraculously, no one had broadsided it during the night. - Bill Parrish
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Safe, but sorryFamily Handyman

Safe, but sorry

I decided to buy a floor safe to protect my wife’s jewelry. The locksmith wanted $200 to install it in my concrete floor—which was more than the safe cost! To do the job myself, I rented the biggest jackhammer known to mankind and bought some concrete mix for the patchwork. I fired up the jackhammer and it broke through the basement slab just fine. Then it hammered through the main water line, sending water shooting up like a geyser. The project took some extra time and an emergency visit from my plumber, but you know what? That $200 locksmith would have caused the same disaster! — Patrick Findley
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Broken toy box

Broken toy box

The toys at my northern Michigan cabin were multiplying in the garage, so I decided it was time for an addition. I doubled the length of the garage, making it an end-to-end, two-car structure. To save money, I hand-framed the roof rather than use factory-built trusses. With all this extra garage space, I'd be able to buy even more toys! After several snow and ice storms up north, I received a call from my neighbor, who asked the dreadful question, 'Remember the garage you used to have?' The weight of the snow had caused the roof to cave in, crushing my speedboat, trailer, snowmobiles and dirt bike inside. After careful forensic study, I figured the overloaded rafters had pushed out the walls until the roof collapsed. Probably, I hadn't used enough crossties, leaving me with the lesson that a sturdy toy box is worth spending more for. — Robert A. Jones
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Can you hear me now?Family Handyman

Can you hear me now?

I was going to install a faucet in our upstairs bathroom and had brought home some slick new quarter-turn ball valves to replace the old shutoffs under the sink. My wife's task was to choose and bring home the new faucet while I got started on the valves. When it was time to turn the main water line back on, I had my 15-year-old son stand in the bathroom with his cell phone to watch for leaks. Out at the street I called him on my cell phone and said, "OK, here we go" as I turned on the water. Then my phone went dead. What a time for a dropped call! I quickly redialed but the call rolled to my son's voice mail. I hung up and my phone rang immediately. "Dad, shut the water off!!!" I did and raced inside and up the stairs to find the entire bathroom and hallway carpet completely soaked. Turns out I'd left my slick new ball valves in the open position when I installed them. — Vaughn Williams
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Fourth time's the charmFamily Handyman

Fourth time's the charm

Our washing machine was on the fritz. It's a heavy stacked unit (dryer on top) that's tucked into a tight wall recess, so it's tough to maneuver. After 45 minutes of pulling and straining, I got it out from the wall and spotted the problem right away—a broken clutch. But because it was too late in the day to get the part and the unit was blocking the hallway to the kitchen, I had to push the whole thing back against the wall. The next day I did the backbreaking 45-minute thing over again and replaced the clutch. Then I reattached the supply hoses, pushed the unit back into place and started it. Oh, man—water began coming out from underneath the washer! I'd forgotten to reattach the drain hose! Once again, I pulled the whole thing out from the wall. Then I reattached the drain hose, pushed the unit back yet again, started it and Hallelujah, it seemed to work fine—no leaks. The next day my wife discovered hot water coming out during the cold cycle. I'd switched the hot and cold hoses when I reattached them! Which meant I had to ... — Vaughn Williams
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Commode flambeau

Commode flambeau

A part from my young son's plastic potty had somehow gotten stuck in the toilet trap. I couldn't snake it out, nor could the plumber, who left saying, "Buy a new toilet." But I had a brilliant idea: I'd burn it out! I pulled the toilet and dragged it outside. There, I poured charcoal lighter fluid down the trap and lit it up. Standing back, I basked in the glory of the geyser flames and my phenomenal ingenuity... until the bang. The commode literally cracked from the heat. I bought a new toilet. - Gordy Gladman
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The ever-flowing water heaterFamily Handyman

The ever-flowing water heater

When the plumber replaced one of the heating elements in my electric water heater, I watched carefully, knowing that the other element would eventually need replacing too. Sure enough, a year later the other element went. I checked it with an ohmmeter, confirmed my diagnosis and headed  to the plumbing supply store. When I returned home, I killed the power  supply at the box and at the wall switch. Feeling proud and confident, I dragged the garden hose into the house, connected it to the heater and ran it into the floor drain to empty the heater—just like the plumber had done. Then I sat and waited for the water to stop flowing. After about an hour of a good, steady flow, it occurred to me to SHUT OFF THE WATER SUPPLY! Fifteen minutes later and hundreds of gallons of water poorer, I replaced the element. — Dianna Tucker
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Unplanned showerFamily Handyman

Unplanned shower

Last year my fiancée and I started our first home improvement project together, aptly, a shower. We installed a new control valve along with new tile. Although my fiancée was still grouting the tile, I decided it was safe to turn on the main water supply valve because we’d finished the plumbing. A second later, a scream echoed through the house. I ran to the bathroom and saw that the shower was blasting on my fiancée. We'd left the valve in the open position and she couldn’t turn it off because we hadn’t installed the handles. Anyway, a year after this first shower, we’re happily married! — Adam Halverson
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Plumber? What plumber?Family Handyman

Plumber? What plumber?

In the middle of trying to sell our house, my husband accidentally broke the hot water pipe to the washing machine while trying to unscrew the rusted connection from the wall. Hot water started gushing inside the wall, and I ran for buckets and towels as my husband raced to turn off the water main. Two hours later, as the emergency plumber was cutting into the drywall, the doorbell rang. Our real estate agent was standing outside with potential buyers! As my husband greeted them, I ran around the house and threw the towels, buckets and mops into the garage, pushed the washer back into place, and told the plumber to go wait in his truck, which was prominently sitting in our driveway. The couple toured the house while my husband and I suffered heart palpitations. They ended up buying our house. And luckily they never did ask what the plumber was doing in the driveway… — Kiersten Jarvis
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Great balls of fire

Great balls of fire

Last spring we found our house being invaded by mice. My husband went into the crawlspace below to see where the critters were getting in and found a hole under the pantry and near the water heater. Using an aerosol can of spray foam he got to work filling the hole. The pilot light on the water heater suddenly ignited the foam and flames shot across the kitchen floor. I grabbed my son and flew out the door yelling to my husband. Luckily he was able to put out the small fire and no one was hurt. I later noticed the warning label on the can. Now we’re a bit more careful about pilot lights and spraying foam just anywhere! — Jesse and Patricia Allen
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Turn down the heatFamily Handyman

Turn down the heat

After trimming an overgrown tree in my yard, I piled the limbs into the back yard about 20 ft. from my garage. On a calm day a couple of weeks later, I decided to burn the pile. To be safe, I had the garden hose ready. The fire started just fine but soon it was so hot that I had to step back a bit. This hot fire didn’t last long and when it was nearly out, I turned around toward the garage. Yikes! The vinyl siding on the whole side near the fire was curled and melted from the heat. I’m now doing a project that wasn’t on my list. — George DeLozier
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Insulation conflagrationFamily Handyman

Insulation conflagration

While paneling his basement, my neighbor drove a nail into a copper water pipe. No big deal. He just turned off the water, cut the pipe and slipped on a repair coupling. But while soldering, he set the insulation’s paper facing on fire. As the small fire grew, he ran for the garden hose and his wife called 911. Only after dragging the hose into the basement did he remember that the water supply was off. Luckily, there was a fire extinguisher handy and he finished off the flames just as a fire truck arrived. — George Impellizeri
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Hot pants!Family Handyman

Hot pants!

Working down a list of weekend chores, I found myself on a stepladder changing the 9-volt in a smoke detector. After I stuck the new battery into the unit, I slipped the old one into my pants pocket and headed off to the hardware store for my next task. On the drive, I felt a strange warmth on my thigh. It quickly escalated to dang hot and then there was a worrisome burning smell. I screeched to a stop on the side of the road and hopped out of my truck and my pants. Pocket change had shorted out the not-so-dead battery terminals, making the coins hot enough to char clear through the lining of my pants and singe a few leg hairs. Now I know where the Energizer Bunny gets the spring in its step. — Walt Parker
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Hotter pants!

Hotter pants!

As I was installing a basement water softener, my family started to complain about the water being shut off. Well, I tried to hurry. I was holding a propane torch with one hand while trying to join the pipes with the other. No go—I needed both hands, so I tucked the flaming torch between my knees to free up my other one. As I reached upward, the torch flipped downward and set my pants on fire! I swatted the fire out and did a fancy two-step to get my pants off. I spent the next hour in the tub soaking off the melted polyester that had stuck fast to my skin. Luckily, I didn’t have a serious burn. I have learned not to rush jobs—or at least to wear flame-retardant work duds when I do. — Richard Wirtz
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Flames of waterFamily Handyman

Flames of water

My 84-year-old mother decided to clear brush behind her house and burn it. She built a good, hot fire and was watching with satisfaction when a fountain of water sprang up in the middle of the flames. She thought she was seeing a miracle, a wonder of wonders—water and fire living together! Then she remembered the plastic water pipe running right under that spot to the garden spigot. No wonder. — Wanda Alston
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Those helpful neighborsFamily Handyman

Those helpful neighbors

We used to live in a friendly Ohio neighborhood where people socialized and were quick to lend a helping hand. For a winter celebration, we once all lined our driveways and sidewalks with candle-lit paper bag luminaries. The white bags were carefully packed with candles in baby food jars and ballasted with cat litter so they wouldn’t blow over. Overnight we had an 8-in. snowfall and awoke to a winter wonderland—and the growl of my neighbor’s snow blower accompanied by the tinkle of glass. He had forgotten all about the festivities as he kindly blew the snow from our drive—and spewed shredded bags, cat litter and broken jars all over our yard. We enjoy our new home in Florida, but the neighbors aren’t nearly as helpful. — Jeff Hawkins
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Tangled up in snowFamily Handyman

Tangled up in snow

Last fall I got a brand new snow blower and couldn’t wait for it to snow. When the white stuff finally arrived, I started up the snow blower and quickly finished my own driveway and walk. So I decided to be neighborly and do the driveway and walk for the nice, old lady next door. Everything was fine until I suddenly hit her garden hose and got it royally tangled in my snow blower. I spent an hour picking out stuck bits and pieces of the hose. Later that evening, the phone rang and the lady next door said her basement was all wet. I discovered that the jarring of the hose had caused a leak inside the house behind the hose bib. I now only snow-blow my own place! — Emil Gaverluk
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Quick on the thaw!

Quick on the thaw!

It was time to defrost the workshop refrigerator before winter set in. We had already received a dose of cold weather, so my kerosene “bullet” heater was up and running. In a moment of genius, I decided to speed up the thawing process. I was in a hurry to meet my father-in-law (who had purchased the refrigerator as a gift for me a few years ago), so I moved the heater closer to the refrigerator and continued to tidy up the garage. Well, the bullet heater sure did the job. When I returned just a few minutes later, it had not only thawed all the ice clinging to the fridge but also melted the plastic liner and shelving! I know my father-in-law won’t let me forget it for years to come. — Rob Weisbarth
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The copper studFamily Handyman

The copper stud

My wife wanted a slide-out tray in one of our kitchen cabinets and this required a cleat screwed to the studs. I got out my electronic stud finder and it showed a stud in exactly the right spot. I screwed on the cleat and the tray, but when I put my tools in the basement, I saw water dripping. The “stud” was actually the water pipe to our bathroom, now with two new drywall screws in it. — Mike Walrath
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Domestic situationFamily Handyman

Domestic situation

Nighttime is no time for exterior repairs, but I couldn’t sleep with that loose piece of trim slapping against the house. So despite the wind and rain, I grabbed a hammer and crawled out the window onto the roof—wearing only my tighty-whitey underwear. Before I could even begin the repair, my wife woke up and closed the window. As soon as I heard it shut, I scurried back to the window and tapped. No response, so I whispered, no response, louder, no response ... A light went on next door and I could hear our phone ringing. It was the neighbor calling and sheepishly asking if we were having marital problems. (Why else would I be on the roof in my underwear, begging to be let in?) Finally, the window opened and I slipped in, cold and soaked, still tormented by that slapping trim. — Jim Lyle
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Avalanche!!Family Handyman


Last winter we had such a huge snowfall that I became concerned about the weight of the snow on our fiberglass-paneled lean-to carport roof. To relieve the stress, I decided to thread my garage broom head to a telescoping painter’s extension handle to pull off some of the snow. Just as I started pulling, the whole mass slid off at once, burying me in about 3 ft. of snow. The task was completed—just a little faster than I expected! — Brian Westerhoff
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Blazing wheelbarrowsFamily Handyman

Blazing wheelbarrows

After burning some scrap wood in a steel barrel, I waited until the next morning to dispose of the ashes. I didn’t see any smoke, so I turned the barrel over, dumped the ashes into my wheelbarrow and went on with my day. A few hours later, I came back to find that the bottom of the plastic wheelbarrow had melted—there had been hot embers hidden in the ashes. — Robert Ritch
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Totally hosedFamily Handyman

Totally hosed

When we moved into our new house, we brought along a few things, including our water bed, but most of our stuff was being delivered the next day. We decided to set up the water bed. When it was ready to fill, I realized that we didn’t have our garden hoses. Luckily, the previous owner had left one behind, so I ran it out the window and went outside to hook it up to the outdoor faucet. I turned on the faucet and paused to meet my new neighbor. When I finally got up to the bedroom, I discovered the hose was actually a soaker hose. I had thoroughly watered my new bedroom! — Joshua Koch
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Belly gaffesFamily Handyman

Belly gaffes

In an attempt to be neat while taking down the backsplash in my kitchen, I covered the counters, stove and sink with newspaper. I was leaning over the stove to get at the backsplash behind it, and my belly (not me!) turned on a burner. The newspaper started burning while I was trying to figure out what that clicking noise was. I saved the house but learned a lesson: Keep combustibles away from sources of fire and always know where the faucet is, especially if it’s covered up! — Keith Hetrick
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Southern snow removalFamily Handyman

Southern snow removal

As a Southern girl, I didn’t have much experience with snow removal. So when I moved north and got married, I decided it was high time I learned. One snowy morning, I told my husband I wanted to learn how to snow-blow. We went outside and he showed me how to move the blower side-to-side and make turns. He made one pass to get me started and then went back to shoveling. I eagerly got behind the blower and started down the driveway. It was a lot harder than I expected, and it took everything in me to get down to the end of the driveway. On the way back, I was just about exhausted and sweating up a storm. I kept wondering why it looked easy when my husband did it. When I FINALLY reached the top, my husband was waiting for me. “What the heck am I doing wrong?” I asked him. “Old people can do this!” My husband just smiled, put it in gear and the thing took off on its own. I didn’t know I had to engage the self-propel lever. — Carrie Wilkinson
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Is it just me, or is it hot in here?Family Handyman

Is it just me, or is it hot in here?

A friend of mine was opening a coffee shop, and I offered to help him out by taping the drywall. Since it was late January in Michigan, with no heat in the building, I brought in a big commercial propane heater to keep things warm enough to tape. I noticed that it was getting pretty warm up near the ceiling at the front of the store, but I didn’t pay it much mind. I went on to mud the back of the store, thinking how nice and toasty the shop was getting. When I finished up the first coat in the back, I went up front to check how well the mud was drying in the heat, and it looked pretty good. But just as I was starting the second coat, I heard a loud SNAP and HISSSSSSSS as the overhead sprinklers came on. That very long day turned into a very long night. — John Klube
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Not so handy manFamily Handyman

Not so handy man

When my husband was just starting out in the handyman business, he took a job installing an over-the-range–type microwave. Holding up the unit while securing it to the cabinet was next to impossible. So being a resourceful guy, he grabbed the cushions from the couch and stacked them on the stove to support the microwave while he attached the unit to its bracket. This worked great—until he inadvertently twisted one of the stove burner knobs with his belt buckle. Of course, the cushions caught on fire. He was able to get the flaming cushions outside before they burned down the whole house. But he learned that there isn’t much money to be made in small jobs, once you buy your customer a new couch. — Deanna Wallace
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Duct-tape failureFamily Handyman

Duct-tape failure

I finally installed a programmable thermostat to cut energy costs. The job went well—or so I thought, until my wife started kicking me at 4 in the morning. The house was a nosenumbing 45 degrees. I removed the new thermostat and duct-taped the old one back in place; I’d figure out the problem after work. When I heard the heat turn on, I smiled and went back to bed. When I walked into the house that afternoon, a blast of hot air hit me. During the day, the weight of the old thermostat had pulled the duct tape from the wall, leaving the thermostat set in the “on” position. The gauge read a toasty 110 degrees! —John Lenham
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Exploding toilet trickFamily Handyman

Exploding toilet trick

Our toilet wouldn't stop running because the float wouldn’t turn the water completely off. I'd fixed the same problem in our old toilet by bending the float arm down a little to increase the pressure on the shutoff valve in the tank. But since our new toilet had a plastic arm, I decided to apply a little heat to soften it so I could bend it. First I sprayed silicone lube on everything in the tank to help things slide better. Then I leaned over the tank with my lighter, clicked it and...WHOOOOMPP! The aerosol silicone spray I had just shot into the tank exploded. Luckily, I escaped with only singed hair and eyelashes. But now my wife can't stop telling people about our exploding toilet. — Ron Woodward
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Tidal wave

Tidal wave

While folding laundry one rainy Saturday, I noticed water seeping from the bottom of a basement window. Figuring the window was unable to shut properly because the seal was dirty, I got a small rag and started to open the window to wipe it out. What I didn’t realize was that the entire window well was full of water. When I turned the latch, the whole laundry room was hit with a tidal wave that completely soaked me and everything in it. I went upstairs to change and told my wife the laundry was still a little damp. — Terry Jobke