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Handyman Letter
January, 2001


1) Gas generator for Sale... beans included!  ... a message from the Natural Handyman.

2) Hello and thank you to website and publications that have recently linked with or featured The Natural Handyman

3) What's new at

4) Q&A with our readers


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

7) Featured in the Natural Handyman Bookshop... Ceramic Tile Setting by John P. Bridge



Welcome to the year 2000!  I am frankly glad to be here with you... on THIS side of New Year's Eve!  Resisting the drumbeat of conspiracy and doom was difficult... even for an "upbeat carefree soul" such as myself!  Now we just have to patiently listen to a year of accusations, recriminations and second-guessing about whether that $200 or $300 or $400 billion was well spent.  I just read an article by Ralph Nader, the Connecticut activist who came to fame by burying one of the most fun cars of a generation... the Chevrolet Corvair.  He speculated that the massive cost of Y2K should rest on the shoulders of the corporations and software professionals who profited from the "false economy" of the two-digit date... the hallmark of the so-called Millenium bug.

Nader has a point.  My guess is probably about half the money was well spent and the rest was used to purchase pizza and donuts during those midnight brainstorming sessions.  And undoubtedly, a few billion more were spent on fortified bunkers, such as the one purportedly used by cowering Massachusetts politicians on New Year's eve.

So where were you when the clock struck midnight... during the dreaded Y2K catastrophe?  Or fizzle if you prefer?  Happily pandemic computer meltdowns were prevented with hearty thanks to the scores of money-hungry computer programmers... who may soon be standing in the unemployment lines or practicing their fast food repartee in front of a steamy bathroom mirror.  Computer chips with that burger??

I was an early convert to the hysteria, purchased a small electric generator and stockpiled enough canned beans to fill the Goodyear blimp twice.  (Where's the Mylanta?) But over the endless months of media droning I gradually moved into the more conservative camp... i.e. waking up only once or twice a night in a cold sweat instead of spending countless hours blanket-covered watching TV test patterns.  (They're here...)

Though I didn't need to use my Y2K generator... yet... my neighbors are ecstatic!  Since my purchase we have had no local power outages!  The norm by now would be at least three or four  with a time span ranging from a few hours to days.  Thank you Mr. Murphy, for your timely legal intervention, but I nonetheless don't regret the purchase.  After the asteroid that is surely and silently hurdling towards the earth hits Long Island Sound, I imagine it may come in handy.  After all, remember that the true millennium will not arrive until next year.  And don't worry if you forget... the media will keep reminding you.  Oh joy!

Back to reality, I just had the pleasure of installing a new low-volume toilet for one of my clients.  After watching its hapless struggle to move  water efficiently (let alone anything of substance), I recalled that tightly packed in the bowels of Congress, is legislation to remove the 1.6 gallon limit on flushes.  Maybe this year it will burp back into the public arena.

So what to make of all this?  It's simple...Y2K is in the toilet and it won't go down!

Yes, I think 2000 will be a fascinating first year of this new century... stay tuned!  Happy New Year!




Dear NH,

Your article on ice dams ( was very informative. We just built our home this summer and we have tons of ice in our gutters and icicles hanging way low. We have our attic insulated well and we placed those Styrofoam vents in every other truss. Our furnace is in our attic since we do not have a basement. Our contractor put a ridge vent the whole length of the roof. 28X 60. We have run out of ideas... any suggestions?



My intuition tells me that the furnace in the attic is at least partially responsible for your ice damming problems.  Though I don't touch on the topic specifically in the website article on ice damming, the fact is that ANY source of heat in the attic can cause ice damming.  Most people need to be concerned about (1) attic ventilation and (2) insulation on the attic floor.  In your special case, as I see it, you may also need to protect the roof deck directly from the heat generated by your furnace.

One possible solution would be to insulate the attic ceiling between the rafters.  This would slow down heat transfer to the roof and thus slow down (but not eliminate) the melt-off in the main area of your roof that refreezes along the edges of the roof... a.k.a. ice dam.  But don't just staple up fiberglass insulation... you must use attic rafter vents under the insulation to allow a flow of air from the eaves to the ridge vent.  These are shaped plastic foam spacers that keep the insulation away from the roof deck.  You can see one such product, called Raft-R-Mate at the Owens Corning website at  From your description, I think that you have this or a similar product where your attic floor insulation meets the roof deck.  This air flow keeps the roof decking from becoming damp, which can lead to rot.

Touch bases with your local building inspector to make sure that method of insulation is acceptable in your area, as each climate poses different problems.  In my opinion, the best choice by far would be professionally installed expanding foam insulation.  It has the greatest R-value per inch and also protects the roof deck from interior moisture.  However, for the do-it-yourselfer fiberglass rolls or batts are the logical choice.

Dear NH,

I have a small oval sink in my bathroom that I want to replace.  It appears to be ceramic.  It is sort of an odd color and I want to replace it with a basic white sink.  There are no mechanical fasteners of any kind holding it in, so I think it must be glued down somehow.  How can I remove it without damaging the formica top on the vanity?

DB of Milford, CT

Dear DB,

From your description, I would tend to agree that the sink is glued in.  This is a standard way of installing ceramic sinks.  The adhesive used... a latex or oil-based caulk... is not super strong but strong enough to hold the sink quite firmly.

Do some sink shopping first.  Try to find a sink that is a slightly larger oval.  This will give you a little room for error if the laminate cracks or gets scratched during removal.  There is a good chance that, even with the same size sink, you will have to enlarge the hole.  This can be done with a jig saw and a medium-fine metal-cutting blade.  Since the base of the saw may scratch the laminate, apply masking tape before cutting.

Because of the large surface area under the lip of the sink, you cannot simply pry the sink up.  If you do, you will most likely break the plastic laminate on the countertop.  So unless the sink has loosened of its own accord (i.e. the original gluing was not done properly or the glue has just released due to age), you will have to break the sink apart to get it out.  The smaller pieces are easier to pry off and the odds of successfully removing the sink are improved.

First things first.  All plumbing fixtures must be disconnected.  You may not have to remove the faucet (though it can't hurt), but you do have to turn off the water at the shutoffs and disconnect both the supply lines and the waste lines.

Put on eye protecting and work gloves.  Cover the inside of the cabinet with a tarp and/or towels to protect it from falling ceramic pieces and to make for an easier cleanup.  Cover the shutoffs with a towel to keep bits of ceramic from getting into them. Close the cabinet doors.  Put a towel over the top of the sink to keep sharp flying ceramic chips in control and, with your trusty framing hammer, give the sink a few whacks in the center near the drain.  This is the weakest part of the sink and should drop into the cabinet without too much effort.  Work around the sink basin until you have broken out the entire inside of the sink.

Be careful to control the force.  Hammering too hard can cause the countertop to shift, move or flex causing damage to walls, wall tiles... or who-knows-what!

Broken ceramic edges can be extremely sharp... as sharp as a razor... and you can get very nasty cuts and splinters from it!  Wear gloves when handling the broken pieces.

If you are lucky, the rim of the sink has also cracked and loosened during your merry whacking.  Now it gets a little trickier because you do not want to damage the plastic laminate.  Hammer around the top of the sink's rim to further break up the sink.  I can't predict how much of the sink rim will give way easily.  The older the sink, the weaker the glue generally is.  The laminate and countertop will flex but both can take quite a bit of abuse before breaking.

Once you have reached a point where no more of the glued sink will release, it is time to begin prying the remaining small pieces off.  Since the laminate is also glued, you don't want to pry up from the inside of the sink... this will exert too much force on the inner edge of the laminate and possibly cause it to lift or crack or both!  Instead, try this... first, if there is a wide bead of caulk around the edge of the sink, cut it off with a razor or utility knife.  Careful... don't scratch the laminate where it can be seen!

Next, use a stiff putty knife or a metal chisel and gently tap it underneath the ceramic piece.  Keep your tool angled so that it does not cut into the laminate.  Remember... minor mistakes will be covered by the new sink but major errors may force you to replace either the laminate or the entire countertop!

Shift the position of your tool as you meet resistance.  This will help to more evenly break the glue bond.  When you have all the solid material off, you will be left with caulk residue.  You can use a heat gun to soften the caulk for easier scraping.  The laminate does not have to be immaculately clean... just free of any oils, loose materials or significant lumps.  The new sink will cover minor imperfections.


Dear NH,

Do you know of any products that can be used to cover creosote-treated fence posts?  I have applied about ten layers of Kilz primer but the creosote still bleeds through.


Dear M,

Creosote by definition is not paintable by any product I am aware of except for more creosote.  Being an oily substance, it resists coating with most anything.  That is why it was and is so valued as a preservative, though it is now viewed askance as an environmentally hazardous substance.



6) "PASS THE HAMMER, WOULD YA?"... NH's readers speak out!


The second day that I requested to be a member I received a solicitation from a "Fellow Club Member" Jim McGrath.  He wanted me to buy a water filtration system and I could get a terrific discount if I became a distributor. I E-Mailed him back expressing my displeasure. I know that you have no control over someone coming on the site and getting names but if he is a member doing this and you continue to let him be a member I do not want to be part of the organization                        



I looked through our subscriber list, and this "spammer" is not a subscriber to our newsletter, but I have to, albeit very reluctantly, admire his style... he was able to weave a lie that made you believe that you had something in common with him.  Though this technique didn't work on you, it probably did on some others!

Spammers are getting more savvy all the time.  Many of them realize that, starting with the e-mail's subject line, they must at all costs keep your finger off the "delete" button.  They will promise anything, saying they got your address from your mother, a close friend or a "fellow member" of a "club".  In truth they are playing a numbers game, sending their message to huge numbers of people at a cost that snail-mail marketers can only dream of!

That's why "spam"... unsolicited email... is so bad... its cheapness makes it TOO easy to send.  NH receives more than 100 spam messages a day.  I consider it a minor annoyance but a time-waster none the less.

Back to your concerns... we do have control over who sees our mailing list.  Our mailing list is not available for public viewing.  For security and administration reasons, it is located on a secure server hosting by a company known as e-Groups, Inc.  Even our members cannot view the list, though I could allow it if I wanted to.

Here at THE NATURAL HANDYMAN we realize people want their privacy and though it is a fantasy to think that the privacy losses we suffer every day will cease because of our actions here, it is a start.



Hi NH,

I am a new subscriber to your newsletter and, with one issue only so far, it seems to have lots of good information.  I was very disturbed to find, however, an ad for pressure  treated lumber in a publication with "Natural" in its title.  There is quite a body of research available detailing the disadvantages of chemically laden wood, especially for children (such as for a playset or deck).  Also, on the question about stains--I would be interested in knowing which are the safest and least toxic.  Perhaps I have subscribed to the wrong e-zine.  I was hoping to find handyman info that respects the environment.        Thanks in advance for your response,



The "natural" in "Natural" Handyman refers to talents, abilities and aptitudes, not philosophy (like a "natural athlete").  I am a repairer/writer, not a writer/writer.  If I tried to run a home repair business that did not use toxic chemicals, I would not have a business... at least outside of the most affluent areas where folks can afford the luxury of "natural" products.   Lubricants, solvents, adhesives and paints virtually all have a dangerous component.  Without them, it would be impossible to do the repairs that people want done every day.  Most any product can be toxic when misused.  It is our self-education in the wise use of what we have that determines our true environmental nature.

Commonly used "green" pressure treated lumber indeed uses a toxic chemical preservative, CCA.  Countless studies have been done on this product, and none have convincingly shown that the lumber itself has any toxic effects.  This is because the chemical does not leach in any great quantity from the wood.  I have written about this in an article on pressure treated wood at the site, .  You will find links to other sites on this topic there, also.

In brief, most of the concerns and dangers surrounding PT wood arise in the process of cutting it, when sawdust is released into the air and onto the ground... not in its use while installed.  Also, the use of pressure treated wood is limited to outside applications with only a few exceptions.  It should never under any circumstances be ingested, made into toys, used for food preparation surfaces or burned in a stove or fireplace!  There are some limited uses allowed for interior construction, such as for permanent wood foundations, floor joists, subfloors and in the framing of high moisture areas.  Local building codes and requirements apply, of course.  There are guidelines on its use available at various websites in our Links Library as well as in the aforementioned article on pressure treated wood.

With the spread of the extremely desructive underground Formosan termite after WWII in the South, many states are requiring increased usage of treated woods in new construction.  Louisiana, for example, has suffered  millions of dollars in damage from this wood-hungry invader.  Unlike the subterranean termite, the Formosan termite can make nests above ground making control much more difficult.

Concerning stains, I am unaware of any commonly available consumer-applied EXTERIOR stains or preservatives that are truly non-toxic. There is, however, a second type of pressure-treated wood that uses a copper-based preservative, ACQ.  I am currently gathering information on this product and should have an article on the topic available before the summer.

There are a few INTERIOR stains available that are of low toxicity.  One downside to them is that they are much less durable than the more common solvent-based products.  Some paint stores do carry them, but if you can't find anything locally visit the Oikos website at  and use their search engine to find the products you want.

If you happen to discover a product that I should know about, please drop me a line... I'll will pass on the information!