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Handyman Letter
June, 1998


1) OK, I realllllllllllllllllllly thought I'd get something done ... a message from the Natural Handyman.

2) Hello and thank you to web sites and publications that have recognized the Natural Handyman in the past month!

3) What's new at The "Ins and Outs" of Insulated Glass

4) Q&A with our readers.

5) LINKMEISTER's Corner... We have expanded our "Site of the Month" feature to include a number of new selections. Our LINKMEISTER, Paula, has been a busy lady this month, bringing you some great destinations to visit, including a painting cost estimator and a cute screensaver!

6) Natural Handyman Bookshop... more than home repair!



Being a working stiff, I try to stretch the weekend for all it's worth. Though I don't have the stamina to do it every day, Saturday is the day for daunting goals. I knew that if I got even half the stuff on "The List" done, I would be both ecstatic and satisfied.

Actually, "The List" is a family effort. Everyone writes down their own pet peeve (A.K.A. "I need this done NOW!) on the dreaded erasable marker board, under the name of the designated handyman... DAD. Maybe if I added my own masochistically self-directed tasks first, the marker would run out of ink or perhaps someone would feel pity and toss me... via a scrawled directive... an hour of sunbathing or a trip to the ice cream shop!

Anyway, the hinge pin the day swings on is the "early rise". I popped out of bed at 4 A.M., staggered to the kitchen, and tried to fill the Mr Coffee without tripping over the hungry cats. Of course, that was until I saw the ants... oh yes, the ants.

Not that it was a real surprise. One thing about carpenter ants is they never like to be wiped out on the first attempt. I think they may be in collusion with the Professional Exterminators Union. And not like I didn't try to take them out with the first strike. Earlier in the week, I had sprayed around the cabinets, and the perimeter of the house. The hope was they were coming from the woods... foraging within my abode... and not...gasp... living within the sacred walls of my sane asylum. I was wrong. Very wrong.

Of course, the first strike had taken its toll. For every ant marching confidently towards his goal, another would be staggering in semicircles, nerve poison coursing through his tiny body. And here I was, toothpicks holding up my eyelids, wondering what I was going to do next? Dare I ignore them and turn to the keyboard to close out this newsletter? Was crying a viable option?

One ant was carrying the body of a fallen brother. I sat on the floor, the sound of the water from the Mr. Coffee dripping into the Pyrex pot. The soft splash comforted me with the anticipation of caffeine wakefulness, and I watched the pathetic scene. Apparently, the ant had gotten too close to the Raid residual killing action, and his little internal compass was spinning wildly. He travelled the same oval path twice... then three times. I thought in my reverie that he would lead me to the nest... an exterminator's dream. But it was not to be. Not just yet.

So I sat, and listened, and waited, and finally as the last drool of steamy water dripped into the pot, I rose from the floor and prepared my legal version of Daddy's Little Helper... light and sweet. That familiar morning aroma alone made my achy knees straighten and my eyes tingle with easy warmth. And then I saw them.

The ants of spring, the ants that go marching one by one. I had missed them, because they were walking concealed under the gently curved edge of an oak base molding along a living room wall, turning back at the threshold where the scent of insect euthanasia was acrid and dark. I walked towards them, and noticed the path they took. And where they came from. The front entry... the dreaded cement stairs abutting the front of the house... the picture became clear as my mind too became focused.

The drilling into ant-softened fir, the finding of the nest, the liquid death... it was grand! And I had reallllly thought I would get something done THIS Saturday, the day for daunting goals.




Dear NH,

Do you know the operating frequency of garage door openers?


Dear P,

I tried to search the FCC database myself. I can tell you the proper frequency for a freighter sending a distress call in the Mediterannean Sea, but garage door openers... forget it!

However, a knight on a white horse has come to the rescue. After sending out a distress call, I received this response from Karl Seidel of Aleator Garage Door Transmitters (they no longer have a website).

"The range of different types of frequencies depends on a variety of factors: geographic location, manufacturer preference, etc. We stock and sell radio sets with the following frequencies (in MHz): 288, 300, 310, 312, 318, 340, 390, 434, and more; we commonly get inquiries from Canada & other countries that use other frequencies." ...................................................................................................

Dear NH,

How do I fix my pocket door? There are two rollers on the top that affix to a track. One of the rollers is off of the track.


Dear S

Since there are different hardware styles for the rollers on pocket doors, it is hard to say how you would repair it. The problem could be loosened or stripped screws holding the roller(s) to the door. Some types of rollers are made of two parts... a base attached to the door and the roller itself... which have either separated from each other or gone out of adjustment. You should compare the functioning and malfunctioning rollers to decide which problem you have.

Either repair requires you to be able to get your fingers or a tool to the affected parts to make the proper repair or adjustment. You may be able to remove some of the molding around the frame to increase your access. The difficulty of getting the molding off properly and without damage increases if the frame is painted, because the order of assembly is not as obvious as if it was a stained finish.

If your attempts at repair through the frame are stymied by limited access, your only recourse is to cut a hole into the wall to allow adjustment to the hardware within the wall. I usually drill a 4" hole at the proper height on the side of the door that allows me the best view of the track. However, if one side is wallpapered, I would cut the other side of the wall to save the paper... but only if I am confident the repair can be done that way. Again, I can't tell you this... you have to examine the hardware and make this determination yourself.

There is no magic bullet in pocket door repair. Pocket doors are meant to last a lifetime without repair, but poorly designed hardware and installation errors sometimes cause them to fail, leaving us to do the best repair we can. ....................................................................................

Dear NH,

My daughter just bought and older house with storm windows that are supposed to slide up in the spring so air can go through the screens. The storm window doesn't slide easily, some are out of track and some seem to stick. They are aluminum. Is there a lubricant that can be applied. Is there some maintenance she should do? Is this type of window that needs to be replaced. Things are going be getting hot here soon, so any help is appreciated.


Dear D,

You can use silicone spray or WD-40 to improve the sliding of the windows. Just keep it off the glass and the latches so they don't become greasy-feeling. This works 99% of the time. I wouldn't think of having the storm windows replaced unless lubrication doesn't work.

Even then, there may be binding on the windows from the frames due to settlement in the house. You can remove the entire storm window frame and reposition it slightly to relieve the tension. I can't really tell you specifics on this, because each situation is different. If the frames have been painted, you may have to use a utility knife to break the paint seal. If the screws have been painted heavily, use the knife to clean the slots or drill them off.

You might have to relocate the screws, drill new screw holes, or even shave a little off the outside of the frame to allow for repositioning. However, once this is done (assuming the frames or windows are not severely bent or damaged) the storms should function just fine! ................................................................................

Dear NH,

I have an Automatic Doorman (Model 455) garage door opener (which was in our garage when we bought the house). Lately, it has not been working correctly. Sometimes when it raises the door up, it will not pull up quite 100%. It almost gets to the end and then sits there humming until you push the door up an inch or so. This is aggravating but manageable. The main problem is that it does it on the other end too. That is, when it is putting the door down, it will get the door all of the way to the bottom and then sit there humming trying to force the door further. If you pull the plug, it shuts off. You can plug it back in immediately and it will be OK. It is an intermittent failure. It does seem to operate correctly more often when the temperature is colder, but once it warms up, it fails almost every time.

I tried to look for the company on the web, but didn't find them, so I'm guessing they may be out of business. Do you know anything about this problem. Is there a bad limit switch in the unit, or is there something else wrong? I appreciate your help if you can provide me with any relief for this problem.


Dear BB,

Unplug the opener, open the unit up and look inside. I am not familiar with your specific opener model, but from your description, I wager that this opener uses drive belts instead of gears or chains. This would explain why it continues to run rather than stopping or auto-reversing. The belts are slipping.

Remove the belt(s), take them to a hardware store and get replacements. Clean all the pulleys with lacquer thinner or alcohol to remove any grease or oils before replacing them.

The fact that you are having problems at the limits makes me wonder if you may have some restriction in the door itself. Troubleshoot the door for resistance, check pulleys, etc. There are some good tips in the garage door article at the web site. .................................................................................................

Dear NH,

We live in a second floor condo where the condo association, in it's infinite wisdom, has prohibited us from screening the dryer vent!! We discovered a resourceful bird who ,with his beak, opened the cover and proceeded to enter and build a nest. It's a pain to snake a wire with rags tied to it to clean this vent. Is there anything we can do to prevent this bird from using our vent as a home? Thanks in advance for any and all help.

BF, Chalfont, PA


The easiest way is to install some light-weight chicken wire, with small holes or doubled-up, over the vent cover opening. Creative bending and attaching it to the house and/or vent with screws or roofing nails can make it an effective and not too unattractive solution. This wire could also be pushed inside of the vent cover, just behind the flap, to discourage the bird's enthusiasm. This may or may not work with the vent type you have.

There are, of course, alternative vent designs. I have also seen some dryer vents that use small moveable louvers rather than a large flap as you have. These can't be entered by birds because openings are too small. There is also another type that exits the house and turns vertically. It employs a moveable valve that rises under the pressure of the dryer exhaust, thus being sealed by gravity. I have seen this type in some home product mail order catalogs, though I can't find it among the ones I have right now.

Before you make any alterations, make sure the hose is thoroughly clean of bird's nest debris. Even a small blockage will collect lint and eventually seal the hose tight!

Of course, you would need condo association approval. Which leads us back to the underlying question... the seeming irrationality of their decision.

Write them a letter informing them that unless they allow you to cover or replace the vent, you will in future send them a bill for the cost of cleaning the vent. This should wake them up. You can even mention that you will have your lawyer cut them a letter informing them of the responsibility they have accepted by not letting you repair the problem.

To my understanding, if the condo association controls the outside of the building and disapproves of changes that will prevent danger or damage... a blocked vent can cause a clothes dryer to overheat and is a definite fire hazard... then they must accept financial responsibility for their decision.

If the bird making a nest is not an act of God... what is?

NH ...............................................................................................

Dear NH,

I am looking for tips on how to deal with nail heads popping out of drywall. The wall is in good shape and really doesn't need to be replaced, but I don't want go through the time expense of painting the wall only to see the bumps created by the nail heads pushing out under the dry wall tape. This is a 25 year old colonial that seems to have been constructed pretty well but some of the drywall work is not so good.


Dear R,

Pound in the offending nail. Then, put a nail or, preferably, a drywall screw above it and below it into the stud, spaced a few inches away. Patch and paint. If your problem is under the tape, work right through it! It is unnecessary to cut the tape away unless it has loosened from the wall. Then, you should bend the tape up, slather a little wallboard compound underneath it, and press it back into place.

NH .................................................................................

Dear NH,

I own a condo that is about 11 years old and my water heater is located upstairs and I'm worried that it may burst and do some serious damage to my place. I have had a few neighbors have their water heaters burst and had to replace them. Would it be wise to replace mine?


Dear JH,

The average life expectancy of a water heater is 8 to 12 years, though some units last significantly longer. If I were you, I would begin shopping for a new one before you pay for it twice!

I must also stress the importance of having a drainage pan installed under the new hot water heater. The pan functions as a catch basin for any leakage. Many contractors install water heaters in attic spaces in condos, especially in smaller units where living space is minimal and basements are nonexistent. Unfortunately, they often do not install the pan, so any leakage can be damaging or even catastrophic for the homeowner.

The pan has a drain built into it, which can be run into your plumbing drain system or even to the outside of your home. This would be determined by the code requirements for your area.