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Handyman Letter
 June 1, 2002



1) Every shovelful a mystery... 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... win great home repair stuff!!

4) News from the Basement Annex!!

5) Q&A with our readers

6) LINKMEISTER's Corner...

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

8) Featured in the Natural Handyman Bookshop...
Air Conditioning the Cool and EZ Way



This past weekend, I had the pleasure of doing a little extracurricular work around my yard. A few holes needed to be dug, and on this handyman's salary "manual labor" is my middle name. So I took a few preemptive aspirins, pulled out my frighteningly orange wheelbarrow and, shovel in hand, went to work.

As anyone 'round these parts will tell you, digging in New England is rarely pleasant. Lucky us, being blessed with the fallout of some 90,000 years of glacial activity. In their haste to leave (if a few thousand years can be considered hasty), the receding glaciers dropped millions of tons of rock. Some gigantic stones stand like guardians in the fields while others hide just beneath the thin soil. I think I moved half of it this weekend.

One thing that amazes New England tourists is the number of stonewalls. The fact is plowing the virgin soil produced so many stones that a wall was the best way to get rid of them! Though historians tend to think of stonewalls as markers around fields, I see them as monuments to the tenacious zeal of New England farmers. Can you imagine the frustration of contending with a new crop of rock year after year as each winter's freeze squeezed them to the surface!

Though one might be lucky enough to share a growing, earthy hole with a friend (a strong one hopefully), much of the digging we do is solitary. In this ancient battle, we marvel at our power as the earth begrudgingly yields to our will. Or sink into resignation as she defeats us with a stone so massive that commonsense and futility drives us dig elsewhere!

In life as in digging, what is most important can be elusive. After all, sometimes it's the hole... and sometimes it's the digging. No matter what we think is going to happen, events rarely turn out as expected. Every shovelful is a mystery, and easy digging usually doesn't last long, for the earth does not easily give up its children. She laughs as rambling tree roots enwrap her rocks; our aching shoulders and sore hands make forward progress seem impossible. Yet, there is no greater joy again finding the open earth.

Perhaps the truth of digging is in the simplicity of the act, in the mindless physicality of sweat and swelling muscles. Or an epiphany that passes in our thoughts as we lean on our shovel and wish the digging were over, at least for today.





We received quite a few letters concerning our article on OVERFILL PROTECTION DEVICES (OPDs) in the May 15th newsletter. Apparently lots of our readers are dealing with this safety device.

BL wrote, "At WALMART you can exchange your old bottle for a new one with the OPD valve. I'm not sure of the exact price but I thought it seemed very reasonable at the time." This is a good tip, BL... though not all WALMART stores exchange propane tanks... check locally.

Other than this reader's suggestion, we were unable to find any store that will give credit on an old non-OPD tank. Some retailers, in fact, are refusing to take old tanks because they are having problems getting rid of them! One hardware store wrote that they had accumulated some fifty outdated tanks, their old recycler stopped handling them and they can't find a replacement company.

We also received some comments from small hardware stores. Though many stores are still refilling non-OPD propane tanks, not one we contacted would even consider installing an OPD valve in a used tank. Also, due to safety issues, most will not sell replacement valves to the public. Even empty propane tanks can contain enough gas to be dangerous!

One reader told us about a nationwide propane tank exchange service called BLUE RHINO. They will take your old cylinder and give you credit towards a new OPD cylinder. To find a location in your area, visit their website at: 

Another exchange service is RAPIDXCHANGE. They have a dealer locator at their website.



Dear NH,

About 5 years ago, my husband built an addition to our bungalow which I guess could be called a 3-season Florida room. We live in Quebec, Canada and therefore have cold & snowy winters. In the summer, the heat in this room can go up to 106F+ as it faces south.

Our problem is the roof: since I want the sun to come through year-round, it is not shingles: it is made of four panels "clear FF papermasked 6MM x 75" x 124" - whatever THAT is! These panels are screwed down onto the roof frame. We were told when we bought this from Johnson Industrial Plastics Limited that airplane windows are made with this material.

The problem is the JOINTS! We have tried all kinds of products including silicone & others that I forget what they are called. In winter the panels 'shrink' and in summer they expand. The joints have opened somewhat and when it rains it leaks through the joints. Any suggestions?

DF from Dorval, QC, Canada


My first instinct is to say you didn't choose the best material for your roof, though I appreciate your wanting the sun to come through. Acrylic sheeting (a.k.a. FF paper masked) is a wonderful and safe glass replacement in storm doors, garage windows and other places where breakage is a potential problem. However, it is not a good material for roofing unless installed with great care. Expansion and contraction are the main reasons. Since a roof must be watertight, it is difficult to make a joint that will remain leak-free for long... especially if the panels are laid edge to edge!

I imagine there are techniques for this sort of installation, but my guess is that most "do-it-yourself" installations will eventually leak. Hey... even manufactured skylights have a limited lifespan!

For a short-term solution the leaking, I would suggest using a polyurethane caulk, not silicone or acrylic latex. Polyurethane caulk is not only the best adhesive of the group but also the most flexible, allowing your acrylic to expand and contract with no impact on the joint! One well-known brand available in most hardware and home stores is GEOCEL PROFLEX sealant. It comes in a variety of colors and clear. It will stick to wood, asphalt, brick and pretty much anything else. Surfaces can be hot or cold and it even works well wet materials!

Before applying the caulk, it is important to thoroughly clean the joints of dirt and oils. I would suggest first washing the joints with any detergent and water. If you want to be really picky (or, should I say, meticulous) wipe them with kerosene to remove any residual oils. Other solvents may damage the acrylic. By the way, lighter fluid is kerosene. Needless to say, NO SMOKING while doing this project!

If replacement of the acrylic still looms ahead, you might want to consider using corrugated fiberglass panels (CFP) instead of standard roofing. These panels are translucent... meaning they let most of the light through but are not clear. CFP's last virtually forever and, when properly installed, will never leak! There is an article on installation methods here...


Dear NH,

We are having our roof replaced. They have the tarpaper down and have begun the replacing the shingles. We are threatened with rain tomorrow. Will the tarpaper be enough to protect our home? Will we have problems with mold later if it does not protect it?



If the tarpaper is securely stapled and overlapped properly, it should keep all but the most severe weather out. Tarpaper is totally waterproof and would be a good roofing material itself... except that it's not very sturdy. Over time it would become brittle, tear and break from exposure to the sun and elements. Tarpaper is intended as a "backup" for the finish roofing material. For example, if an asphalt shingle broke or blew off the tarpaper will offer some leak protection until you can get it repaired.

Mold needs significant and persistent moisture to grow. Unless your roofers decide to go on an extended vacation from your job, your concern is probably unwarranted. In my experience, mold caused by roof leaks is initially invisible, occurring over long periods of time from small, unnoticed leaks.

Good luck with your new roof. By the way, if you live in the "SNOW BELT" and are at risk for ice dams, be sure they have installed an "ice and water dam" along the lower edge of your roof. This topic is covered in our "ice dam" article at:

OK... it's spring now but the inevitable winter will be roaring back at us before you know it! Be ready.


Dear NH,

Can you give me an estimate of the operating cost of running a 3450 rpm pool filter pump per month? It is an 18x30' oval above ground. I will be running the pump 24/7 for the few months.



Ah... how time flies! It seems like only yesterday we had frost on the pumpkins... now we're discussing swimming pools! To compute the energy use of your pump, use the following formula:

(Wattage of the pump) x (Hours used per day) / 1000 = Daily Kilowatt-hour (kWh) consumption

Multiply the resulting figure by the "cost-per-kWh" on your electric bill and you will get a good estimate of your daily cost:

(Daily kWh consumption) x (cost per kWh) = Cost per day to run pump.

However, this figure alone is not good enough to judge the actual cost efficiency of a pump. You must go one step further and determine how much it costs you to pump each gallon of water. This is easily determined by looking at the gallons-per-minute (GPM) disclosure (hopefully) on the pump housing or in the owner's manual.

(Cost per day to run pump) / (GPM x 1440) = Cost to pump one gallon of water.

This last figure makes is very easy to compare different pumps. Since more efficient pumps usually come with heftier price tags, you can get a realistic sense of what your extra dollars are buying!

After all, money doesn't grow on trees... though with the "evolution" of genetic engineering who knows when we'll be picking bucks off our old magnolias!




CSG Network offers the finest online collection of "do-it-yourself" calculators to determine paint quantities, wallpaper rolls, metric conversions and lots more. They also offer a variety of other calculators for automobiles, health and fitness, and more! 

KEIDEL.COM BATH AND PLUMBING has almost 300 pages of plumbing related information. The articles cover design trends, choosing faucets and fixtures, water quality and conservation, and safety issues in the home. The also get into wellness topics such as aromatherapy, hydromassage, steam therapy, and the effect of color. Their glossary of plumbing terms is especially useful! 



Dear NH,

We have owned a McPherson Toilet for about 22 years and it just bit the dust. We need either a new Twin Flush Valve or the Grinding Jet. We have been unable to locate parts anywhere.

Up until now we have been most pleased with the unit. It is simple and worked well. The only thing we can find to replace it is larger, more complicated and much more expensive.

If you know of anywhere we can find the Twin Flush Valve, we will be willing to try and see if it solves the problem.

EG from Princeton, WV


Sorry about your McPherson. This topic comes up now and again, but the situation hasn't changed and is unlikely to. There is no parts availability from any major supplier and no one stepped forward to continue servicing McPherson toilets after they closed their doors.

Most people who are lucky enough to find parts do so locally by calling ALL the local plumbers. And calling and calling! We also from time to time find someone with an old McPherson or parts... but very infrequently.

Of course, there are some options available when you decide to replace your old "friend" with a newer basement toilet. For some suggestions, check out our article on upflushing toilets at .

I really do feel your pain. There's nothing worse than having a tried-and-true tool or appliance fail... only to find there is nowhere to turn for parts. Like an old pair of shoes, it can be difficult to get a new product to "fit" as well as the old one. But... sometimes, we just have to let go. Gulp!