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Handyman Letter - February, 2000


1) The Home Repair Zone... 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) The Home Repair Zone... a message from the Natural Handyman

Most of us don't even come close to getting everything done we want to accomplish each day. Life seems to always get in the way with its distracting hungers and enticements on good days; with its demands and humdrums the rest of the time. Inspired notions take a back seat to our daily realities as we move forward in directions we often don't control.

Every month I receive letters from both men and women who want to take control of their work lives and enter home repair as a business. Some are nearing retirement and want to turn a lifelong hobby into a little extra income. Others have had it "up to here" with the lack of freedom and even lack of respect they may receive as employees. Whatever the reason, they want to make more of their lives and home repair-as-career has become their passion.

I fell into the "home repair zone" long before I even considered it as a career possibility. Like many before me, I cut my teeth on the renovation of my first home and made just about every mistake possible, using my domicile as a roofed guinea pig! Each project presented its challenges, setbacks and eventual triumphs. For me, though, the joy always was in the small repairs, attacking and overcoming those niggling problems that seem to be the most annoying. Even today I prefer to have someone else do the "big stuff"... even in my own home! Perhaps that is why my 'notion' has become what it is... a "small" small job business.

This little business was started with a desire to change the path of my life and my willingness to risk failure to do so. There is no true apprenticing in small home repair, no union, no "safety net" or organized system to guide a person into this career path. And, as with all modern businesses, there is so much to learn and so many hats to wear. When you are not holding a power tool you will become an accountant, a salesman, an advertising agent, perhaps a webmaster, at times an Indy 500 driver and even a psychologist... striking out into new learning experiences each day. You will laugh, cry, succeed and fail... sometimes all at the same time. But it is yours... all yours... and that's the truth that brings it all together and makes it worthwhile!

It's not easy to change a life's path and each person reinventing themselves does it their own way. But every day that you roll down that same old dirt road, the ruts get deeper and deeper and turns in any direction can seem impossible. And had I listened years ago to all the friendly advice of those around me now left behind, I probably would still be locked into an unsatisfying worklife and lifestyle. Jumping those ruts, though, is really what life is all about. Getting up when everyone is telling you to stay on the mat... "Take the ten count, Slugger"... is more than difficult. But no true rewards come from playing dead!

Somewhere in between the joys and frustrations of life there is that zone... that home repair zone... that will allow you to (at least for a while) shed your workaday skin and become one with the hammer... the paintbrush... the wood. I know that once I gave myself permission to enter the home repair zone, I was rarely disappointed.

Whatever place home repair takes in your life... be it career, hobby or necessary evil, don't forget that there is a peace and a joy in the simple accomplishments of home repair that is like no other. Look for me there... I'll be the one with paint-spattered overalls with way too many tools in the pockets!




'TIS THE SEASON TO HAVE ICE DAMS... AGAIN! Always a growing topic this time of year, roof ice dams cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage! Plus that ever annoying drip... tear out my fingernails PLEEEZE! We don't have all the answers (yet) but we're working on it! Visit our ice dam page at to see NH's and our reader's suggestions for ice dam undamming! Or even contribute your own special fix.



Dear NH,

How can I select a showerhead without purchasing it and installing it? The ones I have now simply get me wet. They don't wash or rinse. Do they still make showerheads that stream water out?

JP from Apex, NC


I have installed countless showerheads and their sprays are all somewhat different! The same showerhead sometimes even gives different results in different homes! So I'm not comfortable giving a brand recommendation.

All new showerheads currently available in the U.S. are flow restricting (per Uncle Sam), limiting the amount of water that will pass through them. This limit is 2.5 gallons per minute. However, this is a deceptive figure as the testing is done at a constant water pressure of 80 psi. No problem on most high-pressure municipal water systems, but if you have a 40-50 psi well system, the difference in apparent pressure is dreadfully obvious! Even though these new showerheads are designed with smaller outlet holes to cause the "sensory illusion" of a great flow of water, the effect is of limited value with low-pressure systems.

So the question is... what is a guy who wants a decent shower to do? There are a few things. You could, of course, visit someone who has an older home and try to buy one of their wonderful old water-wasters. Then again, you could purchase a showerhead with a removable restrictor. I am not up on all the brands, so I can't make a recommendation. I know that the Waterpic Shower Massages "used to" have them, but I can't guarantee that is still the case.

A second option is to make a physical modification to the showerhead to increase the flow. Since the inlet hose/pipe running to the showerhead is about one half inch, you will notice that there is a smaller hole inside the threaded inlet connection of the showerhead. Drilling out this smaller hole with an electric drill bit to increase its diameter will increase the flow rate. The feasibility of this procedure depends on the design of the showerhead and the accessibility of the restrictor. Be sure to get all the chips out of the showerhead to prevent blocking the outlet holes.

Frankly, I have no idea if doing this is legal! Here's a toast to freedom of the press! I made some inquiries and I could not find anyone who thought that this would not be legal for the homeowner to do. However, there was mixed opinion as to whether a hired contractor could legally make this showerhead modification. Take that for what it's worth!


Dear NH,

There are green chlorophyll stains all throughout my mortar joints on the front brick stairs. I have made several attempts to clean them with muriatic acid and wire brush. It seems to work for a while but the stains come back. Can you offer any more permanent solution?

CM from North Easton, MA

Dear CM,

You are stripping off (actually dissolving away) a little of the mortar with each muriatic acid treatment, inadvertently providing a good medium for regrowth of the moss (or whatever plant life it is!). The muriatic acid leaves the mortar slightly more porous (and slightly weaker, too.

Here is a suggestion; use a phosphoric acid masonry cleaner followed by a neutralizing rinse of household ammonia and water... 1 cup of ammonia to 1 gallon of cool water. Let the area dry thoroughly and apply an exterior grade clear masonry sealer. There are a number of products available at your hardware or home store. This should seal the mortar sufficiently to retard further growth. However, I cannot guarantee that this problem will not eventually recur, especially if the mortar is in a very damp location. Plan on cleaning and resealing the mortar annually. Don't use the muriatic acid, though... use the lower strength, less damaging phosphoric acid cleaner.


Dear NH,

My dinette set was made in 60s or early 70s. It has a Formica-type top that is high gloss. Is there a simple way to get a matte finish? Thought about fine sandpaper but I was afraid the finish would not be even. Also I don't want cloudy finish, since it is a fake woodgrain. Any suggestions?

L from Opelousas, LA


Formica can be coated with many paints or clear finishes as long as it is absolutely clean and is very slightly sanded... 220 grit paper would be the roughest that should be used.

Since you want to maintain the appearance but just lower the gloss, you could try a water-based polyacrylic coating. This is a durable, abrasion resistant product that should serve your purposes. Minwax is one manufacturer of this product. Apply it with a foam brush or lint-free roller... very lightly! Multiple coats are preferable to a single heavy coat. This product can also be sprayed if you have access to the proper equipment. For a small area, though, spraying is unnecessary to obtain a smooth finish.

Thorough stirring is essential. These products are naturally glossy... additives are used to produce the satin or "matte" effect. Don't stir too vigorously and don't shake the can... the bubbles caused by shaking may not "pop" fully before the finish dries leaving you with a rough finish. Sand lightly between coats with 220 grit sandpaper. Do not use steelwool.

This is not a manufacturer-approved use for this product, so don't expect to find it listed on the can. However, the water-based polyacrylic products are recommended for use over old finishes including polyurethane... provided that the surface has not been waxed or treated with an oily finish or soap. Hence, you should get good adhesion on a plastic laminate.



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

Dear NH,

I have a McPherson upflush in my house and of course it doesn't work so I went to get parts. I need a grinder, plus the valve or pump leaks. I was told the awful truth- that McPhersons went bankrupt and Zoeller Quik Jon in KY are now the only makers of upflush toilets and a new one is $700. Can I get the parts I have rebuilt? Please reply. However, I am wondering if I want to get it fixed after reading your remarks on them. Also were the McPhersons a quality product or were they really bad. Thank you.

S from Terre Haute, IN

Susan Terre Haute, IN


Since writing about the McPherson toilets... excuse me... the formerly available McPherson toilets... I have received both praise and mildly coarse feedback about them. They seem to have been somewhat inconsistent in performance... even under similar "loads" (couldn't resist the pun) they seemed to satisfy some folks while turning others into teeth-gnashing, drooling Neanderthals.

I can't offer you much confidence in getting repair parts, let alone a rebuild. I have yet to find anyone with a stockpile of McPherson products. If I ever do, I will make the name available.

(If any readers know of someone who has parts or rebuilds McPherson upflush toilets, let me know and I will gladly post the info!)


Dear NH:

You may just have been enjoying joking around, but I thought I would let you know about a website with good information on low flow toilets. It's called Terry Love's Consumer Toilet Reports, and is located at He rates lots of models of low flow toilets. The well-rated ones really do work. The model we bought is only rated "good" by him, and we didn't have any problems with it, even with two boys and countless construction workers in and out of the house we remodeled in San Francisco.


RG from San Francisco


Quite a selection of toilets on Terry Love's page! I will definitely pass this link along to my readers in the next newsletter! Thanks for the link suggestion.

By the way, I wasn't kidding. Most folks who have low flow toilets rarely replace them just because of the poor flush... they just make do. Since most of the early low flow toilets are still in use, there are still lots of unhappy campers out there. It's good to see that technology is catching up with legislation.


Dear NH,

Natural Handyman is by far the most helpful and worthwhile site I've come across on the Internet. This is what the Internet is intended for. The information I've received and used has made a big difference in the way my house works and in my pocketbook. In other words, you've made my life easier. Thanks (P.S. I like the subtle humor your staff writes in, It takes the edge off of the frustration one encounters in home improvement).




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