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Handyman Letter - April, 1999


1)Reminiscence of a "honey-do man"... a message from the Natural Handyman.

2) Hello and thank you to Websites and publications that have recently linked with or featured The Natural Handyman

3) What's new at

4) Q&A with our readers


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



A few weeks ago I visited a friend and client who had the usual spring to-do list awaiting me. Nothing particularly notable... a broken full louver bifolding door hanging for dear life in her laundry room, three doors upstairs that would no longer latch because of settlement in the door frames, a few loose faux drawer fronts in the kitchen cabinets and a couple of towel racks that had been wiggled loose by her eager children. Typical handyman fare!

The repairs took a few hours including a quick trip to the hardware store for some materials. As I handed her my invoice, she offhandedly remarked, "I feel as if I just took a shower!" with the biggest grin she could muster. I was taken aback by the childlike innocence of her comment, filtered through my R-rated mind. But only until I realized what she meant. These discomforts and inconveniences that had been plaguing her for months had suddenly been washed away with a little handyman soap and some elbow grease. It made my day... and hers!
Over the years, many of my clients have said or done things to make me think about my place in their lives. One of my more rambunctious ladies calls me her "Honey-do Man". She explained that her husband keeps at arms length from anything with a sharp edge, so when she has the need to make the simple request, "Honey, do this..." or "Honey, do that..." I am the guy!

Another lovely client thoroughly embarrassed me one day in front of her spouse by calling me her "house husband". She went on to say that she was very appreciative of my work and was thankful she had someone she could trust enough to take on the non-marital "husbandly" chores her otherwise talented mate could not embrace. Took me a few minutes to regain my composure from that shocker!

A certain type of intimacy borne of trust grows between folks who have been in working relationships for years. Many of my clients know my children by name, and I theirs. I have seen the joy of new mommies (someone had to put the crib together), floppy eared pups (new gate in the back yard), and the open-eyed amazement of a young boy helping to assemble his first bicycle. More than one Mom has let their children call me "Uncle".

This intimacy may also breed sadness and, sometimes, the heart can be thoroughly chilled. I once stood silent and slack-jawed as a bruised and sobbing wife explained how the broken door to the bedroom was "just an accident". Entering a home where an elderly spouse has passed on is a moment of shared pain that happens all too often, yet is inevitable in the flow of life. And then there is the simple goodbye... moving away, job transfers, medical necessity... the endgame of a personal relationship that has somehow transcended the simple worker/client bond.

I have no illusions that I am irreplaceable as a handyman. Nor do I let myself forget my real place and purpose... that of a helper and facilitator to smooth my client's relationship with their home and the things in it. Instead I feel a sense of gratitude that I should be allowed into these private places of their lives and to share their joy and pain.

These "slices of life" are gifts that people give each other, freely, and should not be taken or given lightly. They are fleeting as is life, and should be appreciated as something special that invigorates us and makes each day more meaningful.




Dear NH,

My house is 2 years old. I did not install a bathroom in the cellar because the floor is lower than level of the sewer. I know about up-flushing toilets, but in the meantime, I wanted a sink in the basement for cleaning paint brushes, etc. The contractor installed one but simply let the drain go through the concrete slab, saying that for relatively low water volume, the waste water would just drain away, or be removed by the sump pump with any ground water.

The problem is, the more I use this sink, the more of an uneasy feeling I get about it, though I've not noticed any problems yet. Should I avoid using it altogether, or am I being overly paranoid? Thanks.

RP from Hazleton, PA.


Your contractor should seek psychiatric help. What sort of insane person would drain a sink beneath the slab of a home?
There are some plumbing applications that are approved for this sort of sub-slab drainage, such as the condensate from air conditioners or the overflow tube from a water heater. Both of these are legitimately "low volume"... though even these applications may not be approved if you live in an area that requires year round AC. I see from your address that you don't.

This is a "big time" violation of the plumbing code. Think about it... how can you or anyone else know how that sink will be used? That is what the plumbing code is for... to cover all ranges of normal use. The plumbing code was developed to protect us from the dangers inherent in the waste water leaving our sinks and toilets... both biological and chemical. This improper draining of large volumes of contaminated water will over time erode the soil under the foundation, increase the level of moisture in the basement and introduce water-borne bacteria or other chemical dangers into your basement's environment... the last thing you want to do!

Though I am not an attorney (nor do I play one on TV), I would bet that you would have a legitimate gripe to get back to install the sink properly. How this abomination passed a building inspection is beyond me!

If you have plans of installing a bathroom in the future, you can purchase a kit that is designed to drain a toilet and a sink, pumping the waste water up to your main septic drain. The toilet connects right to the base of the pump tank, giving new meaning to the nickname "throne"!! Read the "Toilet, up flushing" article at this website for more info.

Of course, if you know that a sink is the limit of your basement plumbing needs, you can purchase a smaller pump designed to handle the drainage from a single sink.

Good luck with your attorney!! I have to go lay down for a while.

(NOTE: RP sent a follow-up to inform us that he had some other problems with the contractor last year and tried to get some legal satisfaction. Unfortunately, the contractor had declared bankruptcy. Did this surprise anyone??)


Dear NH,
What is the difference between propane and natural gas? According to our state laws, I can use one type for gas fireplace logs and not the other. I was just wondering what the difference was.

S from Sherrills Ford, NC


Natural gas is a naturally occurring fuel extracted from deep within the earth. It is not one gas but a mix of various gases. The types of gasses vary from well to well. Natural gas is primarily methane (alias "cow" flatulence), but also contains other flammable gases such as propane, butane, carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The main uses for natural gas in homes are for heating, hot water, clothes drying and cooking.

Propane is extracted from natural gas, and is one of the so-called LP gases. 'LP' is an acronym for "liquefied petroleum". Many years ago, it was found that propane could be turned into a liquid, or "liquefied", under fairly low pressure. This quality allows shipping and storage of large volumes of propane gas in relatively small containers. Other gases can also be liquefied, but propane is by far the most common LP gas. Because of this the terms LP gas and propane are often used interchangeably.

Propane is the fuel commonly used for portable appliances such as gas grills, stoves, lanterns, soldering guns and heaters. However, homes without access to natural gas can install large LP tanks outside and pipe the gas in for use with stationary appliances. Because of the consistency of the product, LP gas appliances can be designed to be more efficient than natural gas appliances. The portability of the fuel makes LP gas accessible to a wider number of people.

Because all homes do not have access to natural gas, many manufacturers design their products to use LP gas instead. This makes them more widely useful and, of course, salable!! Depending on the product and its design, it may also be compatible with natural gas. This, of course, is something the company must determine so that their product is used safely. In the case of your fireplace logs, for example, if you cannot legally use the fuel gas they were designed for within your fireplace, contact the manufacturer. They may have a conversion kit available to allow the logs to use the other gas.

State safety departments have written laws concerning the use of gas appliances. These laws are not consistent across the country. The best source of information concerning your local regulations would be the state regulatory agency involved.

Dear NH,

I own a brick home built in 1906. In a few places, someone has drilled holes in the mortar. I would like to fill/repair these holes. Any suggestions on a quick and easy way to repair these holes without re-tuck pointing? I've seen a concrete repair substance available in caulk form. Something similar would be great. Thanks!

TJ from Denver, CO


Tuck pointing, restoring badly deteriorating mortar between the bricks, is somewhat overkill for this sort of repair. Instead, purchase a small container of cement patching compound at any hardware store. Mix a small quantity with water... minimum 2 cups for proper mixing... and push it into the holes, smoothing the patch with your finger. You can also use a sponge for final smoothing. There is no need to spread the patch much beyond the immediate area of these holes.

Don't use caulk... it will not even slightly resemble the mortar!


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

Our pal Roky Rhoads has returned to us with his usual helpful advice!!

Dear NH,

Anyway, I haven't written in a while and just received your newsletter (always informative!) and figured I'd pass on a couple tips for washers and dryers.

Shutoffs for the water supply on washers... please use them! It is a good habit to shut off the water after each use! I have heard one too many "nightmare" stories of basements turned into fish hatcheries. Plus if the washer is on the second floor, most town codes state that the washers be in a retaining tub and that this tub have a drain to catch any possible disaster. So while you are shutting off your water, take a quick peek at your hoses and check for bubbles on the hoses, if there is, CHANGE THEM, this could prevent some serious damage!

If it seems that your laundry is taking longer to complete than it used to, chances are you are the screens to the water inlet valve are clogged. You will have to disconnect the water hoses behind the washer to clean or replace them. I use a dental tool to remove the old screens and replace them. If you let the problem persist, you may end up damaging the valve, and it may stick in the open or closed position.

For the architects out there that deem it necessary to run dryer vent hoses in walls or through the floor joist... SHAME ON YOU! I have been going to more homes where the vent hose is buried in a wall or floor (condos are notorious for this!) some well over 25' in length, and more bends in it then a game of "Twister"! If your drying times are taking a lot longer, turn on your dyer and walk outside. Find where the dryer vents to the outside and check for a good draft coming out of the vent. You should be able to blow leaves with the exhaust! If you can't even blow out a match, then change the hose to a metal flex hose.


Dear NH,
I have to assume that the basement toilet you speak of was a " McPherson ", if so, I have one that functions perfectly, with no problems whatsoever. However, time is creeping up on it, and I thought I would contact the Manufacturer. No such luck. It would appear that McPhersons of Tampa FL are passe.

Through your many "toilet contacts " if you know of anyone with new or used components, (in particular the E Valve) I sure would appreciate hearing from you.



Sorry, P, but I don't have a source for McPherson parts. I will mention it in the April Newsletter and see if I get any response. But it is good to hear that someone had a more positive experience than I had with the product. Actually, I look fondly on the old throne... it was a real hoot!
Anyone who knows a parts source for McPherson toilets can send info to , and we will pass on the information!



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