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Handyman Letter
December 15, 2001


1) A need for celebration... 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... winners and new contests!!

4) What's new at

5) Q&A with our readers


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

8) Featured in the Natural Handyman Bookshop...

9) Recommend our newsletter to a friend... or rate our newsletter!!



Wow... what a year this has been! And if you feel a little uneasy or depressed going into this holiday season, I fully understand. Really... I do. We as Americans really took it on the chin this year. "Dot-coms" became "Dot-bombs" as the Nasdaq dragged the stock prices to a history-making bear market. Then, just as the indexes seemed poised to recover, another type of collapse pushed the markets down again... that of the once-glorious Twin Towers. Death, anger and fear became major themes as we lost so many of our countrymen in hideous acts of depravity and conscienceless violence. The economic impact stretched far and wide as entire industries suffered with lost jobs and uncertain futures. And then there was anthrax....

And here we are, smack dab in the middle of a holiday season. Many of us legitimately wonder what we are to do. Do we have that annual holiday party? Is it appropriate to smile and laugh when so many thousands are still grieving their personal losses at Ground Zero, in Washington and in Pennsylvania? Or while our soldiers are in harms way? When midnight rolls around on New Years Eve, do we toast the hope of the future or to the losses of the past?

I wish there was an easy answer, but there is no communal chant or mystical spell that can bring all our hearts to the same place. The issue has come close to home for me. I have hosted a Christmas party in my home for the members of our church choir for the past few years. I quietly discussed the party's propriety with family and friends in light of this year's events. The overwhelming sentiment was to NOT have the party was admitting that life could no longer "go on"... that the need for social grief had now and forever surpassed the need for light social interaction. Indeed, many thought it would be quite tragic to hold such a life-stilting attitude too closely for too long!

Yes... life does go on. Take the parable about the old geezer who walked into a hardware store to purchase some nails. After cashing him out, the clerk looked up and smiled, "Have a good day, Mr. Robbins!" The oldster replied, "For me, any day I wake up is a good day!"

The moral of this joke is NOT that old people are funny (though they certainly can be!) It's NOT that wisdom comes with age (thought this too sometimes happens). No... the truth of this tale can be found in this man's humility and humanity. He has learned to savor the good parts of his life no matter how few and fleeting they may be. By showing humor, he has realized his personal pain can be lessened by simply having a good laugh at himself, and that just BEING alive is simply super. If anyone else picks up on his humor, all the better!

Life goes on and will roll right by unless we dust ourselves off and hop aboard... however difficult it may be just now. So by all means have that party. Share the joy of breathing air, of inane chatter and singing of joyful songs. Surround yourself with strong, supportive people who know how to live life.

Who knows... they may be secretly hurting, too. Your thoughtfulness may help them to escape their pain, if only for a little while. While we all heal.

Peace and holiday cheer.




Dear NH,

I have a flapper that seems to have formed a vacuum seal. I have to put all my weight on the handle to get it to flush or lift the tank lid and pull the chain manually. Do you know the cause and a fast, inexpensive way to correct? I now have a metal flush arm in the tank because I kept breaking the plastic ones and got tired of replacing them.

VF from Katy,TX


Though rare, I have seen this problem on a couple of occasions... usually after the customer has replaced the flapper with a new one. In my experience, toilets can be unbelievably finicky when it comes to the flappers they will consort with! So changing the style of the flapper may help. If your current flapper is made totally from flexible rubber, try replacing it with a Fluidmaster plastic-framed flapper. Or visa-versa. Even changing to another brand of the same general style can make a difference!

Also, try cleaning the flapper seat with alcohol. I often do this myself when replacing an old, deteriorating flapper. You will have to turn off the water and drain the toilet tank first, of course. Sometimes the rubbery residue from a deteriorated previous flapper can be slightly tacky. As an added benefit you will get an improved seal.



Dear NH,

I am a new homeowner and an aspiring DIY home repairman. I've got a problem I've never seen before. My upstairs bathroom fan is draining water into the room. I traced this into the attic and found that the water is coming from the fan duct which is routed to the attic window. The inside of the duct pipe is wet. I don't think this is rainwater since nothing else is wet. Could this be condensation? If so, how do I correct it?

BB from Fort Wayne, IN


If you are sure there is no external water source, then you problem is definitely condensation. Whenever moist air moves through a duct, the moisture will condense IF the surface of the duct is significantly colder than the air. When dryer vent hoses or bathroom fan hoses vent into the attic, the amount of moisture that condenses can be great enough to cause water damage should it leak back into the house.

The best approach is to minimize the condensation by insulating the duct as best you can. If it runs across the attic floor, cover it with Fiberglas insulation. The duct does not have to be tightly wrapped... just protected from the attic cold. Ducting that goes through the roof should also be wrapped, though if the distance traveled through the cold attic is only a few feet it may be unnecessary.

Don't forget to put insulation over the body of the exhaust fan, too. Be aware that some fans require a little air space around them, so don't pack insulation tightly around it... just gently lay some over the top!

Another fact is the longer the duct, the greater the condensation. Examine whether you can shorten the length of ducting by relocating the vent. I know this may not be possible, but it is worth a look anyway. You might install a standard through-the-wall dryer vent kit or even a through-the-roof kit. In all honesty, I am not big on venting through attic windows or soffits. Not only do the window-soffit screens restrict air flow but they are likely to get clogged with dust very quickly. Besides, much of the moisture will be blown back inside the attic since the flow through these vents is often inward, not outward!

Replace flexible ducting with solid ducting wherever possible. A solid duct's smooth walls produce less restriction to air flow than a flexible duct. The damp air moves more quickly through the ducting, cooling less and thus taking more moisture with it. Your fans will also be more effective and efficient.

If the condensation is excessive, you must build drainage into the ducting. The first step is to slope the ducting so that any runoff exits your home via the exterior vent. This will require a little planning because you don't want the runoff to damage or stain your home. Select and install a vent that will keep the drips from running down your siding. Also, make sure the sections of duct are overlapped correctly with the male end above-slope of the female end... this prevents dribbling and makes sealing the joints unnecessary.

Finally, you should plan on reexamining the ducting in the spring to be sure there has been no accumulation of water over the winter.


Dear NH,

I live in a mobile home and I have to replace some flooring. I mean total replacement right down to the sub-flooring. Is there any kind of tool that I can use to cut out the flooring under the walls? The reason I ask is that the seams for each of the floor panels meet directly under the bottom support for the walls. Would I have to remove each section of wall (for each room that I'm working in) in order to be able to replace the flooring?

GS from W. Palm Beach, FL


There is no tool that can completely remove flooring under a wall. Many wood-framed homes are built similarly, with the interior walls raised over the subflooring as each floor is constructed. Removing flooring under walls destabilizes them and is unwise.

Instead, use a reciprocal saw or jig saw to cut the flooring out as close to the existing walls as you can. Be careful not to cut any supporting members! Then, install cross supports as necessary to reinforce the flooring along the edge of the room between the floor beams. You may be able to use metal joist hangers such as those used for deck construction to make your cross supports extra sturdy. They are available for lumber as small as a 2x4.

It is not necessary to position the cross braces right next to the walls since there is typically little weight stress there. Allow yourself a few inches to work your hammer or screw gun.... the job will be much easier with less knuckle banging and fewer expletives!


Dear NH,

Silly as this question may seem, which direction should I have the ceiling fan set to turn to circulate warm air throughout the room? Why don't manufacturers mark it with the letter's "C" or "W" to help those of us that didn't install the fans ourselves?

K from Louisville, KY


If I had all day I'd list my pet peeves about the lack of instructions and common sense in product design today. But I don't, so here's a simple answer...

Ceiling fan blades have an obvious tilt. To push the air downwards, the top of the blade should be leading when it turns. To pull the air upwards, the bottom of the blade should be leading the way!

Generally, most people like to have the air pushing downwards in the winter to bring the hotter ceiling air to the floor. In the summer, there are differing opinions. Some folks like to feel the cool breeze, so set the fan to blow downwards. Other people set the fan to blow upwards, equalizing the room temperature without as much of a "breeze".

As always, personal preference rules. I'll take mine strong with milk and sugar, please!

Happy holidays,



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

Dear NH,

You're the guy I've been looking for! I was looking for information on caulking my tub so I asked various people in my local hardware stores. Most of them had little or no experience, so I decided to check the Internet and I clicked on a genuine, honest-to-goodness handyman... you! In your articles you addressed all my concerns about recaulking my tub... which I have done 6 times over the years!

Widows are patronized and taken advantage of. That's been my experience, anyway. "Competent" contractors and handyman have taught me that many of them are all "talk" and give inferior work quality. If the results of their poor service don't show up for a week, just wait a few more days and "Bingo"... another slip-shod job shows through!

This is why I prefer to do the work myself if it's within my aging physical ability. Needless to say, I will stay tuned to your website. Thanks a lot!



I am thrilled that I was able to offer you help in your time of need. It is a shame that all repair people don't have a sense of pride in their work. Unfortunately, this is partially caused by the lack of "new blood" entering the small home repair trade. Without significant competition, prices soar out of control and quality goes south.

I can only hope that more intelligent, responsible young people will realize the joys of working with one's hands and learn a trade. If not, the situation is bound to only get worse!



Dear NH,

I read your article on removing linoleum from regular floors... ...but how do I remove it from a concrete floor? The flooring is fully bonded. I've tried scraping but make little progress.

MD from Peoria, Il


I have to ask the obvious question (at least to me) ... do you really need to remove the old floor? Most flooring materials can be installed right over well-bonded linoleum, including vinyl flooring, ceramic tile, carpet and laminated flooring. If

You can open a hornet's nest IF your old linoleum contains asbestos. I suggest finding a local testing company and having a sample of the floor tested. If it does contain asbestos, covering it might be the only sensible option!

If removal of the old floor is absolutely necessary, the use of a heat gun along with a putty knife can speed things along. The heat will soften both the linoleum and the adhesive. As mentioned in the article, slicing the flooring into manageably-wide strips first will make the going easier.

How clean you ultimately need the floor depends on the flooring you are going to install. For example, you don't need as clean a floor for carpet... the padding will keep the old glue away from the carpet. "Floating" laminate flooring uses a paper-like floor cover that will separate the flooring from the glue.

But if the new flooring requires gluing, you will have to scrupulously remove all old adhesive. Though hot soapy water and lots of scraping will sometimes get the glue off, you might have to resort to a solvent adhesive remover. These products work very well BUT are toxic to inhale and very explosive. Be sure to follow all instructions, have adequate ventilation and be sure all sources of flame (such as pilot lights) are extinguished before starting.

Removing a glued floor is rarely fun and rarely easy. Just keep your eye on the big picture... such as the one on the wide-screen TV that will rest on your beautiful new floor!