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Handyman Letter
April, 2003


1) When listening is understanding... 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) Linkmaster's Corner

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

8) Featured in the Natural Handyman Bookshop...
"The Contractor's Guide To The Building Code" by Jack Hageman

1) WHEN LISTENING IS UNDERSTANDING... a message from the Natural Handyman

I suppose it would come as no surprise to anyone that... yes... I have an ongoing project, albeit small, at my abode. "Ongoing" is such a nice word. It implies progress without applying any pressure.

My little project became the topic of discussion at a dinner date with friends, where we were sharing a progress report. To make a too-long story short, I had installed a new Andersen double-casement window to replace a set of sliding patio doors leading to a second-story deck. Luckily, I finished closing in the outside wall just before our first ice storm in November... and haven't seen the ground till just last week!

Anyway, the remaining work involved installing pine trim around the window, along the floor and, of course, painting everything including the ceiling. This was not a typical trim installation, though, since the window frame needed to be custom-widened a few inches.

The couple we were dining with suggested we paint the walls before installing the moldings. I balked at the idea. I preferred to have the dusty carpentry work done before doing any painting so I wouldn't have to clean up multiple times. I also explained that there is sometimes "collateral damage" when installing trim that would force me to retouch the walls. Interestingly enough, my wife gently lent support to "their" side. Our discussion moved on to other less fatiguing topics, but I did not forget.

Days later I revisited the discussion as I walked by the still unfinished room. I knew that in the midst of winter I would not be doing the trim around the window, at least till things warmed up a little outside. I don't have a large workshop and the weather has been so damp and snowy (we've had one heck of a winter here in Connecticut) that I would make a royal mess tracking all sorts of interesting debris into the house!

Okay, you caught me! Winter is always a good excuse to procrastinate! But, as I still hesitated in the doorway, I realized that there was more going on here than just my excuses and my opinions. I realized that this unfinished "scar" in our house was affecting both our moods. Not only was the room in disarray, but also furniture and other odds-n-ends had bled into the hallway and even into another bedroom, making the entire second floor a psychic downer! Through my insistence that I was doing things "the right way" came a swell of feeling that told me there was more here than simply being right or wrong.

The next day I purchased the baseboards only and installed them. A few days later I bought the trim and wall paint. Within a week the room was done... except for the dreaded window trim!

Though it was a faux finale to this project, I was struck by the tremendous relief this simple act of moving the furniture back against the walls gave us. Most of all, though, I was pleased because I was able to overcome my own stubbornness and add a little personal peace to the difficult last months of winter.



It's not all that hard... really! So let NH help you get started before the flickering (or the darkness) makes you totally insane!

The latest installment of our "decorating with color" series from Gail McCauley of the Paint Quality Institute, featuring ideas for using both simple and daring colors to bring spring into your home!

According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, you can take simple steps to radically lower your energy bills. Focus on efficient use of hot water and see real savings every month!


Dear NH,

We had a builder finish our basement and he used pressure treated wood during the framing process anyplace where the frame hit the basement floor. On your site, you mentioned that PT wood should not be used indoors. Is this safe? Thanks

TR from Burlington, MA


Pressure-treated wood (PTW) using arsenic-based preservatives (CCA) is not supposed to be used in living spaces, so technically he shouldn't have used that product in your home. In some circumstances, it has been used atop foundations, but only if approved by the local building code.

Everything I have read leads me to believe that arsenic will not migrate into the air in your basement. It is also generally accepted that the most risk from PT wood is in the construction phase, where fine arsenic-laced saw dust is easily inhaled or comes in contact with the skin.

Actually, the logic of using PTW in a "finished" basement is flawed and I find it amazing that so many contractors use it. The only purpose of the preservative is to prevent rot and insect infestation. If there is enough moisture leaking into your basement to rot wood, it stands to reason that wallboard, paneling, furniture, carpeting and other items will become moldy and smelly over time, too!

Moisture abatement must be accomplished before any basement renovation. This includes elimination of active water leaks and a combination of wall coatings, floor coatings and heavy plastic sheeting to slow the migration of water from the outside to the inside. Sometimes, repairs outside the home are helpful, such as regrading, exterior foundation repair or even something as simple as cleaning the gutters or redirecting downspouts. Below-grade basements typically have a little extra moisture than the rest of the home, regardless of the amount of preparation. The trick is to control it as much as possible and use mechanical dehumidification as seasonally necessary.

Frankly, if a basement has severe moisture problems and the cost of proper repair is too high, renovating may lead to a smelly and unhealthy environment. I have been in enough mildewy basements over the years to have strong feelings on this issue. When I tell people that the only way to remove the odors is to completely tear out all existing framing, walls and carpets and throw away the furniture, I am met with stunned silence, anger or both. Anger not directed at me, of course, but at the former owner who didn't do his homework!

Perhaps you didn't know, but sale of arsenic-based PTW for residential use will be banned through voluntary agreement with the PT industry after Dec 31, 2003. Fortunately, there are alternative products that will be arriving at your lumberyard soon... if not already. Here is a link to the information on the EPA website:

Of course, the alternatives may or may not be banned years from now as they are more widely used. (It's happened before!) We'll have to wait and see.


Dear NH,

I just had my toilet tank insulated and was wondering can I still use toilet tank cleaner tablets with bleach?

KDB from Fort Wayne, IN


No, it would be unwise. The high concentration of bleach in tank-type chemical cleaners may wreak havoc with the insulating material. Over time it will become brittle and eventually begin to fall apart. The bleach may even cause the adhesive to loosen!

I am no fan of using any sort of bleach in the toilet tank since it will also degrade both the flapper and the seal between the tank and bowl. The flapper will begin to curl and stop sealing properly. Not a difficult repair but nevertheless annoying.

The seal, however, is another matter. First, it will become hard and brittle. The damage is silent... but one day you'll put some pressure on the tank, causing it to move slightly. Instead of the seal allowing this little movement, it will crack. And... oh boy... the next time you flush and you feel a chill around your ankles!

I can understand the fascination with blue water in the toilet. I think it's rather pretty... sort of like sailing the South Seas! But... really... it offers little in the way of improved hygiene. After all, when you clean the toilet, what part do you think matters most... the inside of the bowl that no one touches or the rim/seat? Case closed.


Dear NH,

I read your suggestion to replace a shower pan with a custom-made Fiberglas one. I have a shower pan that needs to be replaced, and I am interested in exploring this suggestion. If I look through the phone book, what types of businesses do you think would be able to sell me one of these? Can I install it myself?

LS from Portland, OR


You can order custom shower pans from most plumbing supply houses and home stores. You'll hopefully receive installation instructions with the new pan. Generally speaking, the pans do not need anything other than a sound plywood floor underneath them for support, so you will have to remove any special framing that was installed to form the masonry pan.

Is this a do-it-yourself project? Well, it depends on your tolerance for pain (Ha!Ha!) and your handyman skill level. You will need tile skills to install tileboard around the top of the pan and the new tiles, plumbing skills to relocate the drain to match the new pan, and possibly carpentry skills, too.

If you have no experience in these it doesn't mean you can't do it... it just means that you will have to be patient, take your time and get a few good books to help you get started! You can lighten your load by subcontracting part of the work, such as the relocation of the drainpipe.



Dear NH,

I was searching the web to solve a water heater problem and came across your site. I have a home repair/handyman business. Unfortunately, the high cost of liability insurance stopped me as an independent building contractor.

It's sad that most things new are not built to last. Build it quick and in 5,10, or 20 years replace it. Give me the old houses of the 19th century. I want quality, not quantity!

Thanks for being here, NH. Some new things do have value. There's hope after all.



Thanks for writing and for your kind words. We're not exactly new (we're rapidly approaching our 6th anniversary online), but I understand and appreciate your sentiments!

Being a builder/contractor is not the easiest business to run. As you know, there is much more to it than just being a great carpenter. You need to be a manager first, worker second if you want to succeed in the contracting business. It's a hard transition for some of us "doers" to make.

Being an independent handyman isn't a walk in the park either, but there are definite advantages. You do have more control over your day-to-day destiny and those "little jobs" are always... repeat ALWAYS... going to be there.

That is, as long as you are reliable, competent, and available!



Dear NH,

Just wanted to share this info that I learned about... too late for my kitchen, though! We decided to use a bright red paint on the walls and were NEVER told to use a dark gray colored primer at the home improvement store where the Behr paint was purchased. The coverage was horrible over the white primer, necessitating the purchase of more red paint to get a smooth color.

When I went to another branch of this home improvement store to make this additional purchase, the paint salesman told me to call Behr and lodge a complaint. I did so, and received a full refund from Behr. Nowhere on the can or at the store was the info posted about tinting the primer for better depth of color. Heads up for all the novice painters like me!



Your experience is common for novice painters. Gray is better than white as an undercoat for a rich color, but not as good as actually tinting the primer to a close color match.

Paint store clerks should ALWAYS suggest tinting the primer when selling rich colors to their customers. Alas, none of us are perfect!


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