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Handyman Letter - August, 1999


1) THE NATURAL HANDYMAN NETWORK is online!! ... a message from the Natural Handyman.

2) What's new at

3) Q&A with our readers


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




Dear NH,

What is the difference between sanded grout and unsanded grout? Which should be used with marble and why?


Dear KE,

Tile grout is a product used to fill gaps between tile or natural stone products, such as marble. It is made primarily from Portland cement. That's right... the stuff that they make sidewalks and skyscrapers out of! Think of Portland cement as the "glue" that hold cement products together. Combined with other chemicals and mixed with water, a chemical reaction occurs which causes it to harden. The filler products that are mixed with the Portland cement determine the characteristics of the cement, such as how quickly it sets, how strong it is when fully hard, how waterproof it is and how much strength it has under various conditions.

With standard Portland cement tile grouts, there are only two types to be concerned with... sanded and unsanded. The added sand provides additional strength and durability to the otherwise fairly soft grout. Sanded grouts are used in work where the spacing between the tile or stone products is at least 1/8 inch. This minimum spacing is critical, because in thinner gaps the sand causes the grout to be unacceptably weak.

Unsanded grout is designed to be used in applications where the spacing between the products is very small. One typical use for unsanded grout is between ceramic tiles that have those little "nubs" to keep a uniform spacing between them.

Of course, there is a confounding issue. Most sanded grouts are labeled "floor grouts". This is a misleading label, however. If you install a floor tile that has less than 1/8 inch gap between them, the "floor grout" will fail for the reasons discussed above. In these circumstances, you must use an unsanded "wall grout".

Either type of grout is suitable for use with marble. However, the choice of color is more critical. Because marble can be porous, darkly colored grouts can stain it. Sticking to lightly colored grouts is the safest course!



Dear NH,

I am regrouting a small section of tile in my bathroom, but I can't get a matching color at the local home store. Is there somewhere I can order a custom colored grout?

PB from Cleveland, OH

Dear PB,

There are well over a hundred different grout colors available from numerous manufacturers. If you have gone to one hardware or home store, you have not tapped into the variety that is available. I suggest you go to a quality tile store instead. Most of these stores stock one or two brands of grout in the most popular colors. However, the strength of these specialty stores is that they usually have samples of a wide range of grout colors that can be ordered for you. Just bring in a sample of the original grout for comparison purposes.

You do have another option and that is to mix two grout colors together. This is a standard way of obtaining an intermediate shade... good old trial and error!


Dear NH,

For the first time in 10 years my gas water heater is dripping a small amount of water out the relief valve discharge line onto the basement floor. Is this ok or do I need repairs?

KO from Newnan, GA

Dear KO,

Consider this little drip a polite warning sign that some repairs may be in order. If you have not noticed any other changes in the system... unusual increase in the temperature of the water, for example... then the valve is most likely the culprit.

The only way that a water heater can become dangerously overpressurized is if the thermostat(s) did not turn off the heating elements (in an electric unit) or gas flame (in a gas unit) at the temperature setting of the water heater. This can cause the water in the tank to overheat or even boil!. The valve is supposed to open under these extreme conditions to protect the damage to the tank or to your plumbing fixtures by relieving the pressure.

By your description, this does not sound like an emergency situation but it could eventually turn into one. I would suggest having the pressure relief valve replaced at your earliest convenience.


Dear NH,

In regards to GFCI outlets, how do I choose the one with the proper amperage? I noticed that there are different types.

JD from Victoria, TX

Dear JD,

GFCI's (ground fault circuit interrupters) are electrical outlets that have a protective circuit built into them to help prevent life threatening electrical shocks. ** There is a lengthy article on GFCI's at the website.

The easiest way to determine the correct amperage is to select a GFCI with the same amperage as the circuit breaker for that outlet.

The other way is to get a wire gauge checker at the hardware store and determine the size of the wires in the circuit. Turn off the power first, of course! Generally, 15 amp circuits use 14 gauge or larger wire and 20 amp circuits use 12 gauge or large wire. The smaller the gauge, the larger the wire.

I have noticed over the years that many hardware stores only stock 15 amp GFCI's, so you may need to go to an electrical supply house or home store to get the proper sizing for 20 amp appliance circuits.



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

Dear NH,

Referring to a reader's question last month... storing glues in the freezer is a solution for "keeping" them liquid. However, I've found that storing them upside down in the freezer keeps the air away from the spout and allows for quick dispensing of the liquid.



Dear NH,

I have taught teachers to teach driver education for nearly 30 years. Try this

with the stick shift & daughter. Teach friction point where car almost or may stall. Do this on a level surface 5 times and then progress onto street and slight hills to give her

confidence. Then go for steeper hill in traffic behind her. I taught my 2 own kids this way and all my pre service teachers.

By the way, the stick is really going out of style! 87% of all cars are now automatic shift. I think this means some inexpensive used cars in the future with no one left to drive the stick shifts!

MT from Radford, VA

Dear MT,

I tried your method and it does give the student a "sense of the clutch". In case I ever adopt (or teach a grandchild) I will keep your tip stored in my gray matter.



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