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Handyman Letter
January, 2003


1) A handyman's resolution... 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!! We have two NEW CONTESTS!!

4) News from the Basement Annex!!

5) Q&A with our readers


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

1) A handyman's resolution... a message from the Natural Handyman

Here we go again. Seems like just yesterday we were heralding in 2002, now it's just a memory. It was quite a year; good in some ways and not so good in others. I wouldn't have wanted to be heavily invested in Enron... or be Martha Stewart's stockbroker. But there is something spiritual about ending a year, as if somehow life's burdens are made lighter with that chronological invention we call New Year's Day.

Lifting burdens and changing attitudes... I think that's why we invented New Year's resolutions (NYR's). They are a way to quantify and solidify this feeling of newness by making the New Year a personal event... like stretching your birthday for a few weeks by not tearing the sheets off your desk calendar!

But what is an effective NYR? Should it be a vast roadmap for self-improvement... or home improvement if you like? Naw... the secret to an effective New Year's resolution is to first choose your goal and then accept the "spirit" of your resolution!

Let's use the example of a popular NYR...losing weight, probably the most difficult NYR next to quitting smoking. Being both a former smoker and failed dieter I know of which I speak!

We all know what to do... eat less! Scientifically speaking, dropping the number of calories you eat should result in weight loss, regardless of the diet plan. Then why don't diets seem to work? Because a diet plan does not dictate your behavior unless you let it! In most cases, the plan devolves into a "suggestion" which falls victim to omnipresent culinary temptations, from food-good messages in the media to the Siren's call of the candy machine at work.

The facts speak for themselves... according to statistics less than 5 percent of all dieters actually lose weight and keep it off. The rest don't lose weight at all, regain their lost poundage or even gain more weight!

Then who are the successful dieters? Some are people who have other motivations besides just losing weight, such as strong social pressures (small dress... big wedding) or urgent health concerns, the so-called "grave-side" conversions to a healthier lifestyle.

But what about the rest of us... the average Joe or Jane? Successful dieters incorporate general attitude changes instead of strict behavioral changes. They try to lessen the importance and accessibility to unlimited quantities of food. They may avoid fast food as much as possible but not necessarily avoid eating. They keep most snacks out of the shopping cart. They set limits on when and where they eat... no eating in bed or in front of the television or in the car (gasp).

But, most of all, they have to "want to succeed". They need more of a reason than "it's healthy" or "you'll look better" to motivate them. Since these motivations come from within, no diet book or program can give this to you... but they can help get you started, inspire you and keep you moving in the right direction.

In this handyman's view, the trick to New Year's Resolutions is not to become a new and different person; it's to become a little different in lots of ways, to taste what it might be like to move towards impossible goals or to feel the power that comes from a little self-discipline.

In our lives it is the miles of footprints behind you that define your life... not the empty road ahead. Whether you choose to lose 20 pounds or vow to be a better parent, spouse or friend, don't be shaken by the distance you have to travel. Look no further than the next step... and take it.

Keep your New Year full of hope and courage!



UNBLOCKING A TOILET looks nastier than it is! Find out the easiest way to clear most blockages from your balky crapper. 


Dear NH,

I have purchased a recently renovated 72 year old home. The home has had everything redone, including all of the interior framing and walls.

Upon buying the home I went to install my new standard size Sears washer and dryer in the laundry room located at the end of the hallway.

The first piece went in fine but the second would not clear by roughly 2+/- inches in width. I was later able to "install" the dryer and have two friends help me drop the washer into the space from above and then hook it up. Unfortunately I have never had the vent hose hooked up correctly and it has fallen off. Moreover the door to the dryer (high capacity w/ wider door) will not clear the framing unless the dryer is shoved into an angle to the opening.

At this time I have one of the 24" bi-fold doors off of the dryer and the vent hose has completely fallen off the vent which was not cleanly installed to begin with as it is set at an angle from the interior wall and the outside. Left hand right hand thing.

My question is what is standard for a clear opening for a laundry room. Mine is only 48" and has trim covering the inside of the framing as well.

JW from Atlanta, GA


For what it's worth, you are not alone in your disgust over the size of your laundry closet! Many homes and condominiums face this space-disgrace every day! The 4-foot opening is definitely minimal, but was adequate years ago when washers and dryers were less "super-sized" than they are today! Building codes vary, requiring up to 6' doorway widths and 2 1/2' depths to allow plenty of room for installation and maintenance reducing the possibility of crushing the dryer's exhaust hose. (Of course, some codes also require drain pans under the washing machine, but that's another story.)

You have a few options, and none of them are especially bright. You could return or sell the washer/dryer and buy a set with smaller frames or even purchase "stacked" units. If you have some carpentry skills you could probably increase the doorway size. The next size up for a pair of standard folding doors would be 4'8", or 28" per pair. At the same time you might be able to increase the depth of the closet to allow a little more room for the dryer venting. You will have all sorts of issues to deal with, though, starting with whether the wall is load bearing and ending with lead paint!

One final option might be to rethink the laundry room altogether. Use it as a closet for storage and move your laundry area either to another more substantial closet, to a larger room such as a mud room (a popular location in some new homes) or to the basement where room is less a consideration. The nice thing about having the laundry room in the basement is less chance of a flood in your living area... plus lots of room to perfect your plumbing and electrical skills if you decide to do-it-yourself!


Dear NH,

Is it necessary to shut the power off from the circuit breaker before extracting the metal base of a broken light bulb, or can I simply turn the wall switch to its "OFF" position?

BS from Las Vegas, NV


It depends on how lucky you feel! Theoretically, if the lamp is wired correctly handling it with the switch off should present no significant danger. I have been told by many electricians that they often work with hot wires, either from necessity or for efficiency. The difference between you and them is (1) in their training and (2) in their respect for the danger involved in electrical work... something many novices have yet to learn.

However, if the "electrician" installed the switch on the "neutral" wire instead of the "hot" wire, the switch would still turn off the light but electricity would still be flowing into the fixture! As a rule, ALL light switches should interrupt the flow of electricity BEFORE it reaches the light fixture... not after!

If this is the case you may get a severe shock should you touch a charged part of the fixture with either your hand or an uninsulated set of pliers. As you may know, many shock-related injuries and fatalities are not by electrocution... they are from the falls that ensue when the body spasms from electric shock!

This is a mistake few electricians would make but more likely if a do-it-yourselfer has modified the wiring. Because you probably don't know the answer to this wiring question with any certainty, it is always wise to turn the power off first!



Dear NH,

I'm trying to replace a telephone jack. When I removed the old one the wires inside were only red, green and black. I can't get a dial tone. What do I do now?



I'll bet you do have a black wire, but it broke off inside the heavy insulation covering all 4 individual wires! Trim back the insulation and the wire should be in there! I hope you have enough extra wire in the wall to make it work! While you're at it, trim back all the other wires... just in case one of them might have a stress fracture (a break caused by bending) and to give you new, shiny copper for the connections!

Just an additional thought. The black and yellow wires are typically used for a second phone line... the red and green are used for a single line. All modern phone jacks are wired (and color-coded) this way. Thus, unless you are using a two-line phone or someone got "creative" with the wiring, the black wire wouldn't be used.

There is lots of information on phone connections and various problems in the article at our website:


Dear NH,

We just finished putting down self-adhesive vinyl tile on our concrete kitchen floor. We used self-stick tile but we also spread some all-purpose floor adhesive on the floor first before applying the tiles.

Now the tiles are very sticky on top and I can't get it off. What can I use to remove this sticky film. I have tried mineral spirits, vinegar and household cleaner. I'm assuming it is from the floor tile adhesive.

L from Barstow, CA


Perhaps you tried to outsmart the manufacturer and/or skimp on the floor preparation, since self-adhesive vinyl tiles are suitable for dry, smooth concrete surfaces.

In either event you may be in big trouble! Many flooring products are sensitive to solvents, so each has specific adhesives recommended by the manufacturer to prevent odd chemical reactions. I did a little research and found that self-adhesive floor tiles are not designed to use any adhesive at all except that applied by the manufacturer. Thus, the tile's reaction to an "all purpose" floor adhesive is unknown.

In my experience most solvent-based adhesives, especially freshly applied ones, will come off solid surfaces with mineral spirits, so you most likely have some sort of chemical reaction occurring.

Aside from pulling the tiles up, cleaning the floor and starting over your best bet may be to just wait a day or so and see if the tackiness disappears on its own as the adhesive dries.

Good luck, and hope you don't get stuck!!



PRIME-LINE PRODUCTS is a distributor of window and door replacement hardware to home and hardware stores. Their product line features over 18000 current and obsolete parts including parts for shower doors, storm and screen doors, pocket doors, plus screen and patio door rollers. Though all stores can't possibly carry all products, many can be special ordered... check with your local store! 

JACK RABBIT TOOL is the fastest drill/screwdriver combination tool for your electric drill. As you know, predrilling reduces wood splitting, especially near the edges of your boards... but what a hassle unless you are using two drills! A dream tool for both professionals and do-it-yourselfers! 


We received a number of interesting responses to a reader's letter regarding cracks in the inside of her furnace. Here are two with somewhat opposing views!

Dear NH,

Any crack repair will eventually break again next to the repair. Replace the firebox, or replace the whole furnace with a new, efficient one. People die every year by not doing these repairs correctly!

BB, retired gas serviceman


Thanks for writing. Brief and right to the point... no comments necessary! Whether anyone will heed your message is anyone's guess... for example just read the following comment...

Dear NH,

I have a crack in the same place on three of the five chambers that make up the heat exchanger. The heat exchanger is a house air to gas fumes exchanger with the house air on the outside surface of the heat exchanger. I have had a couple of heating and ventilation companies look at the cracks and each of them said I should replace the furnace. However, they could not explain why I was not getting any carbon monoxide in the house as detected by CO monitors. I know the monitors work, because I can light a match in the vicinity of the CO monitors and they alarm.

My explanation for the lack of CO in the house is one of the following:

1. The cracks are not through wall cracks, or the pressure of the house air exceeds that of the combustion gases in the flue in the area where the cracks are.

2. The cracks have been there at least for three years that I have been aware of, but my guess is that they have been there for a long time. We have had no problems with health and there are no detectable levels of CO in the house. My guess is that they are fatigue cracks and that they have relieved themselves because they have not grown in three years.


Dear DW,

I have reprinted your letter almost in its entirety because I wanted our readers to understand that you have thoroughly and logically analyzed your dilemma. Now I will make a few blunt comments, as a friendly stranger.

There is a lot of information "between the lines" in your letter, as you appear to be more willing to risk a disaster than spend a few dollars to prevent it. The crack(s) in your furnace's heat exchanger is a advance warning that you are fortunate to have. Yet you choose to ignore the recommendation from the trained eyes of more than one professional.

Be mindful that, regardless of the logic of your argument, your furnace will not give you warning when the cracks become critical. Yes, devices such as CO detectors are meant to give warning but are not replacements for common sense in these matters. There is also no guarantee that the detectors will work at the moment when they are needed. Read the warranty... I'll bet there is no statement that says, "Guaranteed to work or your life will be refunded".





Winter can be a great time for a kitchen makeover... and the most expensive part can be replacing the cabinets! Not only do you pay for new cabinets, but also for repairs to the walls and floors. Well, cheer up! If your old cabinets are structurally strong, don't replace them at all... reface them! "Refacing Cabinets" gives you the information and motivation... you provide the perspiration.

See this and other fine books in our BOOKSHOP.