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Handyman Letter
August 15, 2001


1) Sharpen Up Those No's...a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Our appreciation to sites and publications that have recently linked to, listed or featured NH!

3) Sweepstakes Central... What we're giving away today!!

4) What's new at

5) NH's Toolbox "Tool of the Month"... Leatherman PST II

6) Q&A with our readers


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

9) Featured in the Natural Handyman Bookshop... "How Your House Works"



Salesmen use it. They are the masters. It's all about the deal... the deal that is too good to pass up. You feel yourself moving closer to the edge of your seat as she describes this "once in a lifetime opportunity". Opportunity! "A deal you can't refuse!" You feel uneasy... why do these obvious cliches weaken you? Shouldn't you know better?

"Too good to pass up." Your body language, the subtle nodding of your head and the dilation of your pupils tell her it is time to bite... your wallet.

"I can make you this special offer... you will SAVE hundreds," she continues. "But... ONLY IF YOU ORDER TODAY!"

Gasp. You feel emptiness sweep across you as if a cool breeze was suddenly stilled. The moment of truth.

"Only if you order today," she repeats.

"No," you mutter as you try to regain your composure. "No, I will think about it and let you know." You rise from your seat over her only slightly muffled objections and calmly walk from the room. It's over. You have triumphed over yourself.

Saying "NO!" can be the toughest thing we do in the course of a typical day's gaudy ads and loud sales pitches. Skilled salespeople turn your human emotions against you...that is what puts the "pressure" in high-pressure sales. In a nutshell, your emotions are used to shut down your resistance to the salesman's suggestions. Your sense of trust, love and decency is used to subvert your sense of logic and common sense. It's difficult to say NO to such a nice person. It's difficult to believe that this nice person would ask us to do something against our own self-interest (Eat the donut!). It is difficult to believe that this product or service could be anything but what this nice person says... something I have to have (Guess you'll find out... after the check clears!)

Whether you are a parent, caretaker or an employer, responsibility often forces us to refuse an offer... to just say no. NO! And... sometimes to our dismay... this is also true of our children, our dependants and our employees. They, too, need at times to draw boundaries... that line in the sand... and say "NO!" to us!

Why is it so hard to say "NO!"... and mean it? It seems to be a natural contradiction, because saying no comes quite naturally to humans. Look how easily "NO!" rolls off the lips of a small child once she discovers its secret force. "NO!" is power... "No, Mommy... I won't change clothes"... "No, Daddy... I won't eat that broccoli!" Then why, oh, why is it difficult for some adults to invoke the ultimate power word?

Unlike the child, who is experimenting with an unfamiliar world and learning with each small step, most adults have for the most part stopped experimenting. Instead of finding adventure behind every stone, we have settled into patterns of familiarity. We have defined the parameters of "yes" and "no" for ourselves to cater to our own need for safety and control. But... aha... someone didn't let the rest of the world know that our "personal rules" are binding. So the world generally ignores your rules, instead fashioning them into a convenient noose. Open noose... insert head!

A friendly smile and confident manner is seductive and can stroke "yesses" out of most anyone. But most of these seductions should be met with a kind, sincere "NO!" "NO!" gives us time to think, to make sense of confusion, to make a well thought-out decision.

But use your "NO!" superpower with control... it's strength FOR YOU is in its liberating power, not as a firewall to separate us from life. Behind all but the firmest "NO!" should lie a "YES!" waiting for its freedom... or a change of heart.



OUR CONDOLENCES TO "ACCESS MAGAZINE". An Internet-related publication delivered with hundreds of newspapers each month, ACCESS ceased publication with their June 3, 2001 issue. If you looked forward to this great publication, I am sure this is as much a blow to you as it was to us.

ACCESS was always a friend to NH. Their review of our site back on Sept 12, 1999 introduced us to tens of thousands of readers... only surpassed by our FAMILY HANDYMAN MAGAZINE review.

Though we hope they get the funding they need to continue, taking into account the poor Internet advertising climate, we are sadly pessimistic... but crossing our fingers, anyway.



Dear NH,

We recently had some water damage on the ceiling of our bedroom. It appears
that some mold/mildew is on the surface. Here is what I think I should do.

1. Fix the roof to stop water from entering the home
2. Remove damaged (wet) insulation from the attic
3. Remove damaged drywall from the ceiling
4. Clean any exposed wood with bleach to kill the mould/mildew
5. Allow time to dry thoroughly
6. Install new drywall

Am I on the right track?



You are "on track" and your plan seems well thought out! You should pay special attention to steps (3) and (4).

IF the drywall turns out to be solid after it dries, you might not have to replace it. Killing the mildew with bleach and priming with Kilz or an equivalent oil-based stain killer should give you a good, paintable surface. If the drywall is solid... but a little "bumpy" or uneven because the facing paper is loose... score the paper with a utility knife (don't cut deeply... just the paper!) and peel it off. Then use drywall compound to level and smooth the surface prior to priming/painting. Or just use compound to smooth the area if the defect is really minor.

It isn't absolutely necessary to clean the wood, even if it has mildewed. Once the source of the moisture is gone and the wood dries out, the mildew will cease to grow. It is true that mildew spores can remain alive for long periods of time with no water, but if you fix the leak there should be no recurrence of mildew growth. Of course, if you have any "hygienic" or allergy-related reasons to clean it please do.

I like to use the pre-mixed mildew-killing sprays with chlorine bleach that are available for bathroom use. They are very strong and effective. Since you may be spraying upwards, be careful to protect your eyes and don't breathe the spray. You shouldn't need a respirator, but if you think you might inhale the mist use a dust mask, which will at least catch the droplets. Though the instructions call for rinsing the treated surface, you need only to wipe it with a damp sponge to get off any loose dust, especially since you are going to prime the drywall surface and repaint. I have not found the dried bleach residue to affect the adhesion of Kilz at all! Not much does!!

Also, don't worry about rinsing the bleach from the wood... the action of the bleach will be short-lived and will not cause any damage to the wood if you don't rinse it. You might want to sponge off any excessive amounts of mildew if you have grown a fungus-forest up there!!


Dear NH,

I have a question about heat loss. How much heat is lost if a roof is exposed (re-shingling w/total removal of old shingles) and the roof has lats (boards that are laid length wise with gaps of about 1/2 - 1") instead of being fully covered with plywood? Are shingles used to retain heat or are they more for protection from the elements?



In a typical home whose roof is over an unheated attic space, the roof structure is not part of the insulation system. And you don't want it to be. In principle if not in practice, you want the temperature of the attic space to be the same as the temperature outside or lower... in harmony with nature if you will! That's why there are minimum ventilation requirements for attics to keep the outside air flowing through to equalize temperatures and allow moisture to escape to the outside.

A roof deck made of gapped horizontal boards as you describe would add somewhat to the ventilation of the attic and could lead to lower temperatures, since asphalt shingles do not provide a solid barrier against air infiltration. An even greater ventilation effect would occur with cedar, slate or tile roofing.

A plywood roof deck, on the other hand, seals somewhat tightly and therefore offers less ventilation regardless of the roofing material.

In either case, though, if there is a venting system in place, the difference might be inconsequential.


Dear NH,

I have a 5-year-old home that I had constructed for my family. Unfortunately, we have started to see a fine gray like staining on the carpets on the interior walls especially near the cold air return and, oddly enough on the ceiling of the home where the trusses are located. We have been able to paint over the stains on the ceiling but have not been able to determine the source of what is possibly causing the problem.

We have been told that we may have poor ventilation in the attic, but that does not appear to be a problem. We do have all gas appliances and was wondering if that might be the problem.

M from Midland, Michigan


Usually these persistent recurring accumulations of dust and dirt are related to condensation and temperature variations. The stains often seem to follow the line of the ceiling joists and sometimes wall studs on outside walls. The joists create a direct path for the cold from the attic to enter your living space! This is because wood is less of an insulator than the rolled or loose insulation between the joists on the attic floor.

These cold spots cause normal home moisture to condense on the ceiling... not enough to drip but enough to act as a "dust magnet" and, over time, cause the telltale accumulations of dirt and subsequent staining.

Repainting will eliminate the stains for a while, but because you have not addressed the cause of the staining it will recur eventually. Using an eggshell (or glossier) finish paint instead of flat will help make the surface easier to clean.

One way to lessen this problem is to add insulation to the attic across the tops of the joists. This will equalize the temperature of the ceiling and (hopefully) eliminate the recurring stains.

You mentioned your natural gas appliances. One of the main byproducts of burning natural gas is water vapor. This additional moisture can be a problem in some homes, especially new homes that are built to be very weather-tight. You can lessen the moisture by increasing ventilation... use the exhaust fan over the stove whenever possible, use the exhaust fans in the bathrooms, etc... even open a window!

Hope this helps!



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

Dear NH,

A very good friend, a home handyman for most of his 70 years fell less than 20 feet from his ladder. His funeral was Sunday. Please keep reminding readers to be careful. It's the most important "trick" that you can teach. Thanks for perhaps saving some other reader's friend.



I am sorry for the loss of your friend. It is always a tragedy when those close to us pass on, but even more so when the accident may have been preventable. Sometimes those of us with abilities and skills think that we are invulnerable. Maybe we have to feel that way to do some of the crazy things we do... because sometimes our work IS us!

Ladders particularly are an accident nightmare. Nearly 200,000 people are injured in ladder accidents each year. Though the vast majority of them are non-fatal, many produce long-lasting disabilities and, at the least, lost work days. One sobering fact is that a fall from as little as 10 feet can result in up to 50% fatality. 10 feet seems such a short distance to fall, considering the "staged" falls we have seen in film from vastly greater heights.

I hope to feature some ladder safety information and some links in a future letter.


Dear NH,

Thanks for the insights and the newsletter! Referring to your July newsletter, wouldn't it be wonderful if, as a society, we could accept a bit more risk and the freedom that goes with it as well as the responsibility that goes with it?

Although I agree with you that, as a society, we are giving up freedom to be more secure, I think that we are giving up our freedom to be less responsible for our own actions. The myriad new laws on the books are there to insure that we do not have to be personally responsible for much of anything.



Thanks for your comments. If more people accepted the fact that dependence on law instead of personal responsibility is hurting all of us, the more secure all our freedoms will be.