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Handyman Letter - July, 1999


1) It just takes practice and patience ... 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!



1) IT JUST TAKES PRACTICE AND PATIENCE... a message from The Natural Handyman

The other night I awoke in a start, sweating and trembling... a nervous trepidation I hadn't experienced in quite a few years. I stumbled into the bathroom and flipped on the light (on low of course... this delicate handyman has a dimmer in his bathroom). I glanced in the mirror and through crusty eyes I saw... a father who today will begin to teach his youngest daughter the fine art of driving... an old standard shift Toyota.

No, I'm not looking for pity, though I bet a number of you who have been through this ordeal are willing to toss me a few crumbs. At that moment, I remembered the times in the past when I bonded with my other girls across the shiny black stick shift of our old '89 Toyota sedan. I am glad that old beast can't speak or I am sure I would have had to put it out of its misery ages ago... especially if it uttered anything more risqu than PG-13 dialogue in my daughter's presence.

I admit to having a tiny bit more apprehension with my youngest than I had with her sisters. She is a fine, sturdy girl with a no-nonsense attitude and a temper to match; a temperament not best suited to training that offers little reinforcement compared with the brainless-but-simple operation of an automatic shift auto. I knew her resistance to correction was strong (feel the force, Luke) and that it would take all my patience to maintain a cool demeanor.

Practice and patience. She was not ecstatic with her driving performance the first few times in the high school parking lot. This was not her first time behind the wheel. She had a few miles under her belt with an automatic shift car but it hardly prepared her for this new challenge. Her anger, bordering on rage, collided head on with the bucking and stalling car, as if the car in its spastic lurching was sneering and hooting toasts to her ineptitude.

"More practice," I would say, "Be patient and don't let your anger control your driving." Headstrong, she would not submit to the limits of the car... of inertia and gravity and springs and levers. Instead she felt that the car should submit to her... that her awkward clutch pressing and under or over throttling should somehow be interpreted by the Toyota and instantly made right. Not a snowflake's chance of that!

As the weeks have gone by and the miles passed behind us, she has gotten calmer and more confident. Slowly and surely she is learning the car... its peculiarities and its virtues, its eccentricities and its strengths. And as she practices, she is becoming more appreciative of herself. No more self deprecating language. No more of the " I can't do it!" attitude. Instead, she is beginning to awaken to her own abilities to conquer difficulties. She is learning that the old saw "practice makes perfect" is not just a father's pipe dream but a fully functioning law of the universe.

In the home repair venue, every year I meet men and women who lack the confidence in themselves to do anything outside of their most familiar endeavors. Folks who are totally confident and assured in their life work are brought to their knees by the vision of a screw needing to be attached to a wall or a gurgling toilet. And yet, when those people throw off the shackles of uncertainty and just try... the results are everywhere! New businesses, new homes... and screws in walls that are rock solid.

Practice and patience open the door to new experiences and the joys of personal fulfillment and true self esteem. Don't be too quick to say "I can't do it!" Instead believe that you can... say nothing... and prove yourself right. (And even enjoy the vagaries of an '89 standard shift Toyota!)




Dear NH,

What do you know about tubular skylights? Have you seen any in action?


Dear JM,

Tubular skylights are special skylights that require minimal carpentry skills to install. Instead of cutting a large hole in the roof and the room's ceiling, with the associated framing needed to make a drywall box between the two, a tubular skylight requires smaller holes and no framing. Instead the roof lite and the ceiling lite are connected with a reflecting flexible shaft.

I have seen these "in action" and my impression is that they are a great way to add "free" natural light to an otherwise dark area of the house, such as an interior bathroom, hallway or closet. They can also be used in rooms but depending on the room size... more than one might be called for to get the correct lighting effect.

When making your decision, keep in mind that a regular skylight will supply more light because it is physically larger.

Good luck,


Dear NH,

I'm a new subscriber, so this may not be the right forum for this question.....but like the rodent question in last month's newsletter. I have an unwelcome visitor. It's a gray squirrel, who had evidently built a home in one of the soffits of my four dormer 2 and a half story house when the roof was damaged. After replacing the roof, the squirrel clearly did not have the easy access he'd had previously, so he/she chewed a softball sized hole in the facing board right beneath the roof. After waiting to be sure there are no babes in the nest, I want to clean out the area and reseal it. Do you have any suggestions for making it more squirrel resistant, other than cutting back the lilac bushes he uses as the path to the bay window roof that has clearly been the staging area to the site, which I clearly will do?


Dear T.

Squirrels present a difficult problem because they are very persistent once they find a nesting location. From what I have seen, the only two ways to eliminate a problem squirrel are to either make the attic area totally inaccessible or to trap it and move it far enough away that it will not come back.

As far as sealing the attic, using a metal flashing outside the wood repair will keep those sharp teeth and those of its relatives from getting back into your attic. The flashing can be painted to match the siding or trim so that it is hardly noticeable.

Of course, moving the offending squirrel may still be necessary. A nesting squirrel becomes territorial and will do whatever it has to in order to return to its nest, even as far as eating through your attic in another spot! New squirrels, on the other hand, will not be motivated enough to eat through the patched area.

Good luck,


Dear NH,

Is a quiet whole house exhaust fan an oxymoron? I am looking for the most quiet whole house fan I can find. Can you please recommend one?

EH from Vernon, NJ

Dear EH,

Sorry, but unfortunately I don't have that information. Whole house exhaust fans are all somewhat noisy and are not rated for noise levels like bathroom exhaust fans and many other appliances. Comparisons are impossible without data!

About the only advice I can give you is... if you are willing to do (or pay for) the extra installation carpentry involved... to purchase an exhaust fan that mounts on an outside wall instead of the floor. This will eliminate much of the vibration and noise that is typical of the attic floor mounted fans.

If you haven't done so as yet, read the article on whole house exhaust fans at the website!

Good luck,


Dear NH,

I am very interested in installing some sort of whole house ventilation, particularly a floor mounted attic fan but have run into a possible snag. Some people that I have talked to say there is a requirement for minimum headroom above the fan in order to prevent backwash and slowing the fan down. I read your article about installing these fans, but saw nothing about this problem. Our attic, in the any area that would afford a good location for a fan, is only about 30" high. There is no setting where a gable mounted fan would be suitable. Our house is 2 stories, about 2800 SF with 8' ceilings throughout. Can you give any advice?


Dear CB,

I have heard of this problem, but the fan will still work... just with less efficiency. There is a reasonable carpentry fix for this problem. You can install plywood (1/4" is plenty thick) across the roof rafters directly above the fan and extending at least a rafter space (16"or more) beyond it on either wide. The flat surface of the plywood will allow the air to move more smoothly instead of getting trapped in the spaces between the rafters and causing the backwash. Don't put any insulation behind the plywood and leave a slight gap where the plywood meets at the peak. This will allow for air circulation behind the plywood.

This is not a perfect solution but it beats raising the roof! Assuming you have enough venting at the gable ends, you should get a reasonable amount of venting... just don't buy too large a fan for the available venting.

As an afterthought, you could go whole hog and install a cupola above the fan! By opening up the roof beneath the cupola (many modern cupolas are decorative and rest on top of the shingles rather than providing attic ventilation) normal attic ventilation will be improved and your exhaust fan will get a breath of fresh air, too! One good resource with plenty of links to online manufacturers is CUPOLA at .


Dear NH,

I have chemical and mold sensitivities and was wondering if there was a way I could make or install a fresh air intake and or toxic air exhaust vent from my mobile home. An air exchanger would cost thousands so I need something simpler. Any ideas?

SK from Bartlett, Illinois

Dear SK,

I would have suggested a heat exchanger as was your first thought, but I agree with you... they can be expensive. Since a heat exchanger is more for energy conservation than air quality and thus removing the energy aspect from the equation, simply opening a window to keep some fresh air circulating is a cheaper alternative.

Since mold and mildew need moisture to grow, decreasing the airborne moisture in your mobile home is a more direct way to lessen the problem. A properly sized dehumidifier is one effective way to do this.

If you use gas for cooking, you may not be aware that one of the major byproducts of the combustion of natural gas is water vapor. Installing a vented hood over the stove can help remove some of this vapor as well as the moisture from boiling water and general cooking. Also, installing a ventilation fan in the bathroom will remove the moisture there.

Paintable surfaces can be growth mediums for mildew, so it is imperative that you use only mildew resistant paints in any high moisture area. Benjamin Moore and Zinsser both manufacture special paints for this purpose.



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

Dear NH,

Just a quick comment. I have been laying hardwood flooring for 15 years, my father longer and grandpa... well, he won't tell!

To the point; you are the only place I have ever seen that tells exactly what and what not when it comes to hardwood flooring. We have been trying to tell the maids and cleaning crews that they are destroying our wood floors with the over-spray from whatever cleaning chemicals they use. Normally we two-coat the floors with a protective finish, and then apply a final coat when the house is done . We are forever getting chemical reactions when applying the final coat because of chemicals that end up on the floors. The problem is that these chemicals are not easily detectable.

Well, to prove our point may we please have permission to print several copies of your page and give them to these bozos who don't have a clue... nor do they care on how hard of work sanding the floor is. Who knows... maybe we might even finally get paid for our back charges of the re-refinishing we have had to do. If so I will send you your cut. Great work thanks again



I'm glad the information was helpful. The article you refer to, at , was supplied to us by Hal Rusche 2nd, president of Heritage Hardwood Floors at .
Like many other homeowners, I was blissfully ignorant for many years regarding problems caused by various cleaning and coating products, even those supposedly designed for floors!

Whenever I can find something of value to the home repair aficionados in my readership, I like to get the word out. We publish a variety of home repair info that is not always widely available, as well at the "nitty gritty" stuff.

If you need to use the article to amplify your point, feel free. Just leave the info concerning the site name and URL on the pages you print.


Dear NH,

In your response to the person (last months newsletter) who thought there was a dead rodent in their wall, you mentioned that the best thing to do is to wait it out. I had a similar experience. However, I was able to find the body in the attic above my daughters closet. That was 6 months ago and the smell is still in her closet. I have tried room extra strength deodorizers to no avail. I was just wondering how long you had to wait for the smell to go away in your experiences?


Dear DO,

I have rarely had the smell linger longer than 2 to 4 weeks... usually quite pungent at first but disappearing over time. I have been involved with this situation perhaps 20 times over the last 25 years, but I do by no means discount your personal experience. I know that there will be times where circumstances might cause a more lengthy stink. Larger animals, such as squirrels or raccoons, must be removed ASAP but they are usually easier to locate because they cannot get trapped in the smaller spaces mice can. Of course, raccoons stuck in chimneys are not that uncommon!

Perhaps you have had more than one mouse and/or the one you found was not the only cause of the odor. Mice make nests, so where there is one there are usually many.

As far as getting rid of the odor in the closet, I would remove all the clothing and launder them. Let the closet air out empty and see if this helps. If the closet has any dampness in it, it might explain the resilience of the odor. Using a small fan can speed the airing/drying process. Once thoroughly dry, a repainting the inside of the closet may also be helpful.


Dear NH,

I'm enjoying your newsletter. I'm not a rabid feminist, but there ARE plenty of householders who are the resident Handywoman! The most successful wedding shower gift I ever gave was a toolbox for the bride. For years, ever time I saw her, she remarked on how useful my gift had always been!


Dear JH,

You are right on the mark! My "hands-on" clientele of over 1000 is approximately 90% women. Most of the married women in this group call me for help not because their husbands can't do the job... they gave up on their husband's willingness to do the jobs years ago! They call because they are unsure how to do it themselves!

Though home repair has often been represented as a man's game (have you heard any of the new Sears ads promoting their new tool store?), I get the sense that in general women are more invested in their home's appearance and function than the men. So here is a toast to all women are right up front, tool in hand, trying to keep the home fires burning and the walls painted!


Dear NH,

I thought I was the only one viewing TV that had concerns/anger even about EXPERTS. Apparently I was wrong. You would think television and the other media would want Americans to trust them, but when every single show and every single day revolves around so many experts. I can make some repairs on auto engines, but since the invention of side mounted engines and the unending addition of computers, sensors and vacuum hoses, I more or less hate working on them. Does this make me a hate expert?

It'd be a lot better if they just had total idiots saying they have no idea what to do. I can't see how some have the nerve talking about treating your children a certain way will make them angels. Every child is different-and so is every situation. Some respond with strict discipline, others revolt-rebel. I'm sure I could go on and on but I won't.


Dear J,

Venting your anger is good as long as it doesn't make you crazier. We share a common frustration... everybody seems to have the answers. But then that begs the question... why doesn't anything seem to get better? "They" had the answers for the schools, except schools are worse now than they were 25 years ago. Teaching about contraception and sex seems to have led to more unwed mothers (a trend that seems to be finally turning back)... the list goes on and on. To sort out what causes what and what doesn't is enough to make me a crazy expert!

I like your idea that total idiots should be on the shows instead of experts. Then I thought about it and realized that it is already happening. Ever hear of Jerry Springer and his guests??


Dear NH,

I got this tip from a handyman- don't know if it is included on your site or not but I couldn't find it. If you keep SuperGlue in the freezer it never dries and the cap is easy to remove... plus the spout never gets clogged with dry glue! It should be stored in an upright position to work.  Love the newsletter!


Dear DO,

Thanks for the tip. Makes sense to me! I'll see it gets added to our Adhesives and Glue page... .

Thanks again,


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