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Handyman Letter
November, 1997

IN THIS ISSUE:

1) A  personal message from The Natural Handyman.

2) What's new at Naturalhandyman.com.

3) Q&A with our readers.

4) Special product report: CLEANSHOWER.

5) Subscriber survey:  Hiring small contractors... tell us how you do it!!

6) Seasonal checklist... don't wait until it's too late!!

7) Humorous Sign of the Month!!

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A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM THE NATURAL HANDYMAN...

First, I must thank all of you for your support over the last few months. I have been amazed... no, astounded, at the growth of Naturalhandyman.com's readership! We have received questions and comments from folks all across this great country, as well as from Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Israel, and England. And what we believed to be true is true... there are thousands of you out there looking for a central place to get a home repair info boost! We hope to become your first stop... and your second and third stops, too!!

As a home repair connoisseur for over 25 years, I have always been annoyed at the approach mainstream publications take towards home repair topics. In this regard, there are two types of publications. Each one gives home repair a different emphasis, all based on the publisher's goals.

The first is the "pabulum" publication... the publisher isn't interested in getting out in-depth content, but instead just spoon-feeding the readership with the same time-worn advice that most homeowners figure out on their own in their first year of repair "home schooling"! Many of these publications are considered "women's magazines", in that their focus is on homemaking and celebrity gossip for women working in or out of the home. And even some of the men's mags follow this superficial approach. These little home repair articles are no more than window dressing, with their usefulness and content being secondary to their ability to supplement the advertising of related products.

The second type of publication is the magazine that actually purports to give home repair instruction and information. These magazines do indeed have a place for the home repair enthusiast because they offer some basic instructional information, and act as a motivator and cheerleader for do-it-yourselfers. However, they all share the same deficiency: they almost always seem to stop short of the real meat of the repair. I don't think the reason is any intent to withhold information. Print publications are limited in physical size, and there are editorial decisions made that may force the authors to abridge their work. In some cases, the author is in fact a researcher... a person with real writing talent reissuing other's words, or paraphrasing manufacturer's instructional manuals, rather than relating real life experience... as a showcase for the advertising, of course!!

That's where we come to the third type of publication... Naturalhandyman.com!! Do we know everything? Absolutely not! Are we willing to learn and improve! You bet your bottom dollar! Real knowledge comes from a combination of research and verification of that research. Just to repeat what other's have said may be repeating a half-truth... acceptable elsewhere but unacceptable here! Our philosophy is simple... if we can put your problem into a real world context (in the real world, things do go wrong), you will grow and learn to improvise. We try to approach all our topics with a professional eye, but at the same time reaching out to help you find the handholds' that we in the trade take for granted!

What about advertisements on NATURALHANDYMAN.COM? Expect to see ads of various sorts pop up on our web site, as well as a developing small contractor directory. You can rely on this... content and quality will always rule here! To be blunt, if we decide a product is a piece of junk, or a contractor is not living up to his or her responsibilities to their clientele, you won't see them advertising here for long. Furthermore, advertising will never be the driving force behind our content. We are strictly content-oriented, so any advertising will be chasing the content, not the reverse. Guaranteed! End of story!!

NH

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What's New at Naturalhandyman.com...

In the last couple of months, a lot has been added to the web site.

First, we have a new section on links to manufacturers. These are very special web sites, because they (sit down for this!) really go beyond self-promotion! In their respective product specialties, they offer fine informational content, as well as the expected product information. We will add more quality sites to our listing as we discover them!! You can access them easily from our home page at http://www.naturalhandyman.com.

You will notice some topics well represented, and others not so. Unfortunately, most manufacturers' web sites are self-promotional rather than informational. However, if you know of one we have overlooked, we will be happy to review it! Drop us a line at .

In response to the many questions the Natural Handyman has received from you, many new topics have been added to our Home Repair Index, such as Garage Door Repair, Garage Door Opener Installation, Masonry Cleaning, and Countertop Repair. Come by anytime to visit, share your thoughts, and, if you have your own specific home repair question, click HERE!!

You may not always like the answer you get, but you can believe we will always try our best to steer you in the direction of, as NH likes to say, "home repair sanity"!! Then, it's up to you.

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ASK NH... ANSWERS TO OUR READER'S QUESTIONS!!

Dear NH,

I am a maintenance man for a property management company. One thing you missed in your section on repair of slow flushing toilets is the little holes under the toilet bowl rim. If these get plugged with calcite or "crud", you can clear the blockage by using a compass point, paper clip, or other solid, pointed object. Simply insert it into the holes, one by one, to open them up. Be aware that they are at a slight slant, but if you get them open, this simple fix may cure slow flushing problems.

JF

Thanks for your input. Yes, you're absolutely right! Blockage in the angled inlet holes around the underside of the toilet rim will indeed cause poor flushing. And for two reasons... 1) the speed at which the water enters the tank is reduced, decreasing the siphoning effect that pulls the waste down, and 2) there is a decrease in the swirling of the water, which gets everything floating and churning for a more thorough flush.

Your repair recommendation is also on the mark. Poking and prodding the holes will free up the crud and accumulated mineral deposits. I have one especially sad experience with this type of blockage. A woman had her toilet tank lined (by some other guy, I might add) with do-it-yourself Styrofoam panels. Apparently, she was also a big believer in the large chlorine-based tablets reputed to keep your bowl looking clean (but, of course, those of us in the business know what chlorine can do to rubber and plastics). The chlorine, however, had another agenda... it broke down the Styrofoam and little, ball bearing sized pieces filled up the inner rim of the toilet. Prognosis... dead toilet!

We appreciate the comments of people like you to keep us on track and to be as thorough as we can.

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Dear NH,

I need some information about painting a roof. A customer asked me to paint her asphalt shingle roof and I have never heard of doing that. Any info available? Thanks

WJP

WJP,

I have never had the pleasure of having a customer ask me to paint a roof! Up here in New England, the weathering on roofs is not really severe (aside from the occasional tree dropping on them), so most roofs live up to their warranties, 20 years or more useful life. However, in more tropical climates, the elements are more hostile, and the plant life more aggressive!

A company out of Miami known as Somay Products, Inc., http://www.somay.com/, has a very informative web site about painting in general. One product they market is a roof coating called Roof Mastic, which they claim will do everything for your roof except paint itself on! You can contact the company as to the availability of the product in your area, or maybe you can order direct. Let me know your experience with this product if you decide to try it.

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Dear NH,

Hi, I was wondering if you know of a freeware or shareware CAD package that's available for downloading. What I would like to do with it, is draw up plans for building a tool shed for my back yard. The program doesn't have to be fancy, just easy to run.

RJM

I have found that using a computer can add more frustration to a small project than help. I admit it... learning a new program can be fun! At the same time, it is not always necessary to reinvent the wheel!

There are many books that have plans available. Pick one close to the dream tool shed you want and modify it, rather than starting from scratch. Use your local library to search books and back issues of home improvement magazines. Some mags have annual indexes. Your library may even be able to search their archives by topic to help you locate the right articles.

One really good reason to use a pre-made plan is the designers have already done the hard work... designing a structure that won't blow over with the first good gust of wind! A CAD program will not do this for you.

Depending on the size of the structure you envision, you may need to contact your local building inspector Be sure your structure conforms to local codes... they are designed to establish a consistent level of structural safety for all buildings in your community. OK... we are not into promoting bureaucracy here, but most building codes are not tools of social engineering, just an aid to our survival and safety!

Hope this is helpful! Good luck... and email or fax us a photo of your shed when you're done. Love to see it!!

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Dear NH,

My situation is this: My electric water heater is not working. I get 240V at the heating element and also at the thermostat. What test can I perform on the heating element or the thermostat to determine which is faulty without removing them?

JG

If you are getting electricity at the heating elements, then the elements are most likely burnt out. To test them, first turn off the electricity. Now you must isolate them by disconnecting them from their thermostats. Set your voltmeter to continuity test, or if that's not an option, set it to test resistance. If you test zero resistance, or if the continuity test reads open circuit, then the element is bad. This is the same test you would use on a kitchen stove burner or oven element.

If they do prove to be inoperable, chances are you have been heating your water with one heating element for a while, since it would be unlikely that both would fail simultaneously. You should notice a dramatic increase in the speed and efficiency of your water heater after the repair.

NH

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NATURAL HANDYMAN PRODUCT REPORT: CLEANSHOWER... Kudos with an asterisk!!

CLEANSHOWER is a remarkable product that capitalizes on one of the basic features of human nature... we are lazy. No, don't jump on my back yet... read on! What I mean is, we tend to be lazy unless we are motivated! This is Basic Survival 101... conserve energy until the prey is within our grasp, then attack! And I think we all can agree that one of the least desirable jobs in the house is cleaning the tub and shower. So, in our darkest hour, enters the white knight, CLEANSHOWER!! Simply spray the enclosure after showering, while the walls are still wet. Do not wipe, rub, or anything! After a few applications, CLEANSHOWER begins its magic, causing the residue of soap and nastiness to rinse away during your next shower.

How does it work? The company, to their credit, is very forthcoming with information... amazing in this time of jealously guarded trade secrets!! I found the product to be a little irritating if inhaled, so keep the exhaust fan on and apply it after you are out of the shower.

There are a few cautions in using this product, relating to its compatibility with commonly used tub and shower materials. It should not be used on latex caulk, painted surfaces, certain types of tub surrounds, and natural marble or stone. The two exceptions that most concern me are latex caulk and tub surrounds. As far as the marble and natural stone warning, those of you who have these beautiful but finicky products know the drill... many products can stain them, and CLEANSHOWER is potentially one of them.

I contacted the CLEANSHOWER folks, and they informed me that isopropyl alcohol in their product has the damaging effect on latex caulk. And they agree with me that most of you haven't a clue about what type of caulk you have in your tub or shower. So the question is, if you want to use this product, what are your options?

Can you tell what type of caulk you have? Yes, you can. The major difference in the set quality of latex vs. silicone caulk is the flexibility or lack thereof. Silicone caulk is very rubbery, whereas latex caulk tends to be relatively stiff. There is no mistaking one for the other. Simply pressing on a thick area of caulk with a screwdriver should give you a good indication of its flexibility. If you think you have latex caulk, but still would like to give CLEANSHOWER a try, you can delay the damage by wiping the caulk only with a damp sponge after spraying the enclosure. When you need to recaulk (and you will, CLEANSHOWER or not), remember to use a pure silicone product.

As far as the potential damage to tub surrounds, you have to decide if you want to risk using this product. Now, keep in mind I am not talking about full enclosures... the fiberglass units often found in condominiums and many newer homes. I am talking about the retrofit kits that you glue on over existing tile walls cover up unsightly tiles or to lengthen the life of the enclosure. In other words, frequently installed as a prophylactic to delay the inevitable big-bucks tile repair!! If you are unsure what material your enclosure is made of, you may want to refrain from using this product.

So the question of the hour becomes, what does NH really think of CLEANSHOWER? Well, ponder this... ever notice how people become more nutrition and exercise conscious after the first heart attack? If your dentist tells you to floss every day, or next year you will begin to spit out teeth, is this a motivator? This is how I view CLEANSHOWER. It is a product that works in great part because it nags us into keeping up with the cleaning in our tub or shower, in a way that is simple and easy to do. Cleaning a tub or shower is difficult because we wait until the scum is so thick that only mechanical means will remove it!!

Besides the aesthetic value of a clean enclosure, there is also a practical one... a regularly cleaned enclosure will not develop mildew stains on grout and caulk as quickly as a neglected one.

So, given the caveats noted above, CLEANSHOWER is worth a try! And, if you have had experience with this product, email to We would like to know whether your experience with this product has been positive or negative.

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SEASONAL CHECKLIST: Get on track with NATURALHANDYMAN.COM!!

It seems impossible to remember all those little things we have to do at regular intervals during the year. Well, let's try to make it a little easier. Not all items will apply to everyone, but hopefully this list will give you one less thing to have to enter into long-term memory!!

� Change the batteries in all smoke alarms. There are long life batteries now available that can last up to five years!! Visit your local hardware store for details and prices on lithium batteries.

� Change or clean your furnace filter. Don't even think about trying to wash a fiberglass filter! It will just dissolve into a useless heap. Make sure you get the right size for your furnace. If the hardware store doesn't have the size, order a case... you know you are going to need them, and they are fairly inexpensive.

� Change the filter element in your water purification system. Be sure to clean and lubricate the seal before reassembling the filter. You should change these at least annually, more often if there is a noticeable drop in water pressure.

� Schedule annual heating/cooling system maintenance. Even NH has a service contract... just in case!

� Give the snowblower a test run. And make sure each of your children has their own snow shovel... just in case!

� Turn off outside water, drain sprinkler systems and bring in garden hoses.

� Winterize the lawnmower: Change the oil and either drain or put a preservative in the gas. Be sure to run the mower long enough for the treated gas to circulate through to the carburetor.

� Don't forget to put on the snow tires, oh you lucky snowbelters!!

� Are all the leaves down yet? Time to clean the gutters, before they freeze up. If you have installed gutter guards to keep debris out, don't think you are out of the woods'! After a couple of years, enough small stuff can accumulate in the gutter to clog the leader openings. So you should at least take a peek at the tops of the leaders to be sure they are free from blockages.

� Cover (at least) part of your seasoned firewood.

� Order plane tickets for your midwinter jaunt to Hawaii!!

 

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HUMOROUS SIGN OF THE MONTH...

In Maher's Paint and Decorating, Avon, CT:

LABOR RATES:

Regular.....$25
If you wait.....$30
If you watch....$35
If you help...$50
If you laugh...$75


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