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Handyman Letter
November, 1998


1) Just add it to the list... 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

4) Q&A with our readers.

5) LINKMEISTER's Corner...

6) "Pass the hammer, would ya?"... NH's readers speak out!

7) This Month's Featured Book at the Natural Handyman Bookshop...


1) Just add it to the list ... A MESSAGE FROM THE NATURAL HANDYMAN

One of my readers, LW, recently wrote to me and asked if there was a "protocol" for scheduling home repairs. "For example," he wrote, "October is re-paint your house month, or November is repair your gutters month."

A protocol? Not really. There is, however, what could be called a "rule of thumb", based on a blend of human nature and climate.

The most volatile seasons for contractors and home repair in general tend to be spring and fall, especially in areas where there are large seasonal variations in the weather. When the winter winds begin to slow, and the temperature rises, people begin thinking about their yards, their gardens, and the exterior work their homes need. So the lists logically focus on these issues... in spring we are told to check the outside faucets, look at the roof for winter damage, check the exterior paint and the condition of the driveway, plant the dandelions, and on and on.

In fall, the emphasis begins to shift towards finishing the inside of our homes to prepare for the colder weather and, for those of us in less temperate zones, our mini-hibernation. Painting projects that could have been done earlier in the summer suddenly take on urgent priority. The pressures build in the garage and yard too, as we must test our snow blowers, embalm the lawnmower, drain the sprinkler systems, and clean the gutters of fall's leafy weight. The leaky windows from last winter are suddenly remembered with horror, and the contractor is expected to return the frantic phone call yesterday! Of course, he has gotten fifty such calls, and will probably not call back soon! So up goes the plastic shrink-wrap for yet another year!

Everyone is eager to help add to your list. There are seasonal calls from the fire departments to change your smoke alarm batteries, from the driveway sealing companies to protect your asphalt before it's too late, and from the electric company advising you to install that new whole house generator now... remember last winter when you were without power for five hours! Brrrrrr! As if we didn't have enough to think about with that hulking, cadaverous snowblower, silently resisting all efforts at ignition.

There are a gazillion lists published every year in all venues... from home repair oriented publications to newspapers to women's magazines. Even the radio and TV news folks waggle their fingers at you... "Get yourself moving before it's too late!" And though they may overdo it a little, their advice is of real value in a psychological sense. Beyond the raw information they provide, they also subtly alert us to two very basic human weaknesses... denial and procrastination! We prefer to deny a problem it's true level of importance, procrastinate and delay actually doing the work, and then become overwhelmed when it bites us in the butt!

New homeowners may need a list because they are babes in the woods. It takes a few years to really understand and bond with our homes... to know their quirks and hot spots. We develop a routine to protect and nurture them and ourselves so that we can keep each other humming along. After all, our homes are our havens, whether they are modest or grand.

Thank goodness for the lists! At least someone is nagging us about everything we haven't done, and, at the same time, letting us off the hook. After all, isn't it true that just the act of writing a list both purges the soul and lightens our load? Wow... I feel better already!

Protocols, projects, procrastination... oh well... there's always next spring!

Happy Thanksgiving!




Dear NH,

I have been fantasizing about the smell of freshly baked "farm" bread wafting over my back patio. I am looking for DIY plans for a small gas fired stone/masonry outdoor pizza/bread oven.

Any reader who can satisfy my dream will be rewarded with the first slice!

DM from Raanana, Israel


If anyone can help with plans or a useful Internet link, send a message to and we will forward your letter to DM!


Dear NH,

I have an automatic garage door opener that seems to have a mind of its own. We unplugged it about 6 months ago because it mysteriously kept coming open by itself, and I would have to disengage the opener to get the door closed because neither the remote nor the button on the wall would operate the door.

Last week, I plugged it in and it seemed to be working fine... the remote worked and the wall switch worked the few times I tried them. Then I went on an errand and when I came back, sure enough the door was open and I had to disengage the opener to close the door... Any clues as to what could be going on?

L in Texas


You either need an exorcist or a good garage door person... or both.

The occurrence of the door opening and then the remote not working could be caused by a short in either the wall switch or in the two wires leading to it. If these two wires were somehow to touch, the door would open but then would be disabled until the touching wires were separated. Check out the wires themselves, the screw terminal connections at the opener itself, and at the switch to be sure there are no bare wires touching. If the wire goes through a concealed location to which you have access (such as an attic over the garage), look there too. Mice have been known to chew the insulated covers off wires!

You can, of course, check the continuity of the wires using a multimeter. Disconnect the wires from the opener and the switch, be sure they are not touching, and touch the probes of the multimeter across either pair of wires. If there is a resistance reading, then there is indeed a concealed short.

If the wiring is OK, you might want to change the security codes on the opener and remote. Maybe a neighbor somehow is activating your door. I have heard that even some radio transmissions, such as from airplanes, can also activate garage door openers... or is that just another "urban myth"?

Otherwise, my next guess would be that one of the circuit boards within the opener is defective, and will need replacement.

Happy hunting!


Dear NH,

There must be some trick. It takes me about 30 minutes in order to line up the two screws that join the two halves (front and back of door) that comprise a simple exterior door knob. The screws go into tube-like extensions of the half that goes on the front of the door. Because both halves must be almost on the doors surface for the screws to reach it seems impossible to see the screws and extensions to line them up correctly. The knob is almost in the way and makes inserting the screws perfectly straight difficult.

Is there some special order to this? I'm a little klutzy but not this much.

AP from Connecticut


A trick? Honestly, I have struggled along with you and countless locksmiths with this problem. Today, it is common for a company to supply screws that just barely reach the threads! And the view ain't that good, either! So don't consider yourself "klutzy"... consider yourself against a formidable foe... the desk jockey hardware designer!!

I usually just keep on trying, and eventually they do engage. As with most things "handy", the more you do it, the better you get at it! However, if you don't have the patience, just go to the hardware store and buy screws that are a quarter of an inch longer... this should make it easier because you will have a little more screw to hold onto and a better view.

Be careful, though. If you get screws that are too long, they may bottom out and not pull the lock securely against the door.

Another off the cuff approach would be to get a screw that is quite a bit longer... an inch or so. Then you can insert it through the lockset and into the other side with lots of room to see the threaded shaft. Once you have the longer screw started, slide both halves of the lockset tight against the door and install the other normal length screw. It will be easier to engage. Once tight, remove the long screw and insert the second factory screw in the hole.

I must warn you of a potential problem with this approach... on some locksets the doorknob interferes with tightening the screws, forcing you to hold the Phillips screwdriver slightly off center. Too long a screw might not be removable once the second screw is in place. So just get the second screw started, and then immediately extract the long screw. Get the picture?


Dear NH,

This may sound like a silly question but that is why I feel comfortable asking it at this web site. I get a lot of newspaper plastic wraps and found a good way to 'melt' them together - overlap the ends, put aluminum foil on top and slowly run a solder iron on top. This effectively melts the plastic together.

Question - how will this hold up as a moisture barrier for the top of a basement? There is no insulation between the rafters and this will allow me to reuse discarded material and avoid having to buy plastic. Since there is no sunlight down there, what is this plastic's long term life

KP from Washington, D.C.


Glad you feel comfortable being silly here... you're right at home!

I'm sure this concoction of yours would be an excellent vapor barrier, and it would probably last a few lifetimes. I think you should investigate the price difference between insulation batts with and without an attached vapor barrier, though. You may not want to go through this additional effort after you determine your real savings. Remember that your time has value too!

By the way, if you weren't aware of it, the vapor barrier in an unheated basement is installed against the basement ceiling, towards the heated area.

Good luck,


Dear NH,

My wife and I decided to redo the kitchen. New door and drawer fronts have arrived and I am now trying to figure out the best way to hang the doors. I have to attach the hardware (hinges) and want to get the alignment from door to door to match around the room. Is there any tip, secret or method for getting the doors hung all on the same line?


The easiest way is to make a template to locate the screw holes for the hinges. A template is a guide to help you position the hinges. It can be as simple as a small block of wood that is placed on the inner hinge side of each door. Use this block to locate the "outside" hinge screw or just the outside edge of the hinge... outside meaning towards the upper or lower edge of the door. Now you will be able to install all the door hinges in precisely the same location for all doors.

Lower cabinets normally have the same door height. However, upper cabinets have varying door sizes. If you have smaller doors next to larger doors (such as with the mini-cabinet over a range hood or refrigerator) locate the upper hinges and the tops of the doors so that they are aligned horizontally. It gives a clean visual appearance.

This is a good reason not to locate the hinges too far down the side of the door... a few inches from top and bottom is sufficient. If the doors are more than 30" long, you should install a third, centered hinge. Don't even bother to install the third hinge until the door is hung... it just gets in the way!

You can use a template to locate the doors on the cabinets, too. Mount one door as a test. Be sure that the door is vertically centered over the cabinet opening and mark the location of the hinges. Test fit the door and if it is OK make a template to locate just the top hinge. Since the hinges are already mounted on the doors, the bottom hinges will automatically match up without measuring.

The only possible drawback to this is if the cabinets do not align perfectly. So you will have to make judgments as you proceed as to whether or not you want to "tweak" the door locations to match irregularities in the cabinets. The "aesthetic" rules in renovation!!

One "trick" is to only install one hinge screw in each hinge for the cabinet mounting. This way, if you want to make a slight change in the location, you will have a second chance by using the second hole. If all your errors are under the body of the hinge, no one will be the wiser (Hey, heh, heh!).





Our old friend, Roky Rhoads has gotten such a response from our readers on appliance repair questions that he has started his own web site. In fact, we just received his letter...

Dear NH,

Mailbox is full!!! I've gotta a taste of what you guys and gals go through!! Anyway, for this month's appliance tip:

Cloths dryer venting...

Most building codes for towns now require that the hoses for dryer venting be no more than 25' long, and have no more than two 90-degree bends in the vent hose. Also with a bend in the hose you have to subtract 2' from the total hose length! So with two 90-degree bends total hose length will be 21'. Towns also don't want the hose to be made from plastic materials, due to the lint build up that occurs in hoses, it is a bad fire hazard!!! Foil flex hose or metal tubing is required for venting in most areas.

The temperatures generated by a clothes dryer can reach 165 degrees and a hose filled with lint is an extreme fire hazard, so clean those hoses at least once every 2 years! Besides, a blocked hose will greatly increase clothes drying times and do the same to your electric bill!

So clean them hoses!


Dear NH,

About a year and a half ago I added a gate to our driveway. Bein's as I'm too cheap to shell out $750 - $1200 for a good "store-bought" gate opener I decided to jury-rig my own using a garage door opener. Someone on the newsgroup was interested so I made pictures, a sketch and a short write-up. I thought you might be interested and perhaps some of your
readers might be also, so I've attached them.


Thanks, KV! Rather than send your large files as an attachment to the newsletter and crash the entire web, we have put them on the NATURAL HANDYMAN web site at: .


One of our readers, RO, had some comments about NH's article on removing broken light bulbs... specifically concerning the potato method...

"That's funny, but it could depend on whether it's a Maine potato or an Idaho Spud. They are chocolate, and made exclusively in South Idaho, and might be sticky enough, to remove the light-bulb remains. They are however, impossible to get, past the state line. One must have friends
living out there willing to make the annual run to the store where they're really fresh, and buy a case, wrap, and mail to the exiled Idahoans.

If you were referring to an 'Idaho Baker', however, that'd be another matter. It would be much too large, and too moist as well (what with that obligatory pat of butter) to be an efficient tool. What
would happen... the moisture would connect the outlet with the repair person, knock him of the ladder, and could actually blow potato/butter shrapnel all over the room. Then you'd have all these folks wanting advice on cleaning it off walls, floors etc. "

(Cleaning what... the repair person or the potato?)

COPYRIGHT 1998 G. George Ventures, Inc., All rights reserved.