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Handyman Letter - April 2000


1) Endless Clutter... 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!



I can't remember the last time I was able to see the top of my desk. Or the adjacent computer table. Or the top of the computer monitor. Or the office floor, for that matter. I suppose it is an advantage in my pest control efforts, since most of my office's corners are well-packed leaving little in the way of hiding places for the nasty little beasts to raise their bloodsucking progeny.

I am not a messy person (quality home repair requires keeping on top of the mess for safety reasons at the least) but I am a busy person... too busy to fuss over finding a proper place for everything. After all, if you put it away you have to take it right out again, right? And if you wanted to challenge me... if you were to ask me where something was, I could probably find it (without using up any of my lifelines)... unless it was really important. Then, all bets are off!

I had once considered purchasing a cool flat-panel computer monitor but nixed the idea when I realized that I would lose the 50-something square inches of convenient storage space atop my hulking 17 incher. Fantasy visions of hanging the flat panel on the wall left me yearning, but the gains would be insignificant as my current monitor sits atop a platform strangely resembling a Pacific oil rig... adrift in a rising sea of paper. Sanity and practicality always seem to rule here... why, I could add a window greenhouse outside my office window for the price of a decent flat panel! (Would the plants mind sharing space with a dog-eared "FrontPage 2000" manual, I wonder?)

When things get this bad, shelving doesn't even help. About 6 months ago, I did a little reorganizing (yes... THAT was the last time I saw my desktop, thank you!) and brought in a shelf unit that had adorned my daughter's desk till she blasted off to college. The entire shelf unit was filled in a day... and yet the clutter remained. Funny... I still can't figure where all those extra books came from.

I keep reading that computers will lighten the paper flood that we face in our offices. Without a second's hesitation I thoroughly disagree. In fact, I think computers have in many ways added to the P.O.P. (piles of paper). If I took all the paperwork related to high tech out of my office, I could probably rent it out to a small family. As a home repair guy, it is almost embarrassing to admit that I have nearly as many computer books as home repair books. Of course, the computer books have the advantage... each one seems to be at least 3 inches thick and weight 20 pounds!

Fortunately, there is some hope! Nowadays, there are professionals for every quirk and eccentricity. Disorganization is no exception. In fact, I have the names of a few of these skilled motivators that I would like to share with you... just in case you share my "disorder" disorder.

Unfortunately, I can't seem to find them.





OK... you purchased that new designer Corian countertop and the finest Kohler faucet money can buy... OOPS! You get the countertop home and... my Gawd... there are no holes for the faucet! Should you cry? Gnash your teeth? Call the home store, perhaps ( good luck!!)? Naw.... just visit  for the best way to save yourself from a trip to home repair limbo!!



Dear NH Guy,

During the rainy season our exterior doors stick and at times are nearly impossible to open. I am preparing to repaint them. After stripping and sanding, what is the best course of action to avoid sticking in the future? Do I prime/seal the doors first? Do I prime/seal all the edges? I've been told by some to prime/seal and paint the entire door, but by others to not paint the edges. I'm confused! Can you offer the solution. I will be using Benjamin Moore paints. Thanks



First, don't use latex paint. Latex paints are a marvelous invention for many reasons but, in some applications and under some conditions, gloss and semi-gloss latex paints can develop a "tackiness" that seems to last forever. I painted a garage door with an exterior latex paint over 5 years ago and, in the warm weather, I still hear the sound of the tacky paint breaking contact as the door goes up!

The problem you're having is known as "blocking", and can be caused by many factors such as applying an overly thick layer of paint, not allowing adequate drying between coats, reactions between the primer and the finish coat or the temperature at which the paint was applied... too hot or cold.

The best way to avoid blocking is to use an oil-based exterior alkyd paint instead. Alkyd paints, which are the very top quality oil paints, dry hard and smooth and do not produce the tackiness you have been experiencing.

Concerning your painting intentions, there are mixed views among painters on preparation for a latex-to-oil changeover. In my experience, oil paint can be applied over latex without priming as long as the environmental conditions are not too demanding. Of course, a light sanding OR the use of a "deglosser" such as Wilbond is essential for a firm paint bond.

In the case of an exterior door, though, I vote for (at the least) sanding followed by priming the doors prior to applying the oil. The primer must be an exterior grade and can be either oil or water-based. Again, there are some strong opinions on using either type of primer... just be sure it is an exterior grade. Under NO circumstances use Kilz, BIN, or any of the other interior primers.

Doors that are protected by an exterior storm door can have unique problems. Manufacturers of metal exterior doors generally frown on the use of storm doors, since the air space between the metal door and storm door can become hot enough under exposure to the sun to blister paint and distort the plastic moldings that some companies use to mount the window glass! This can also occur with wood doors, causing the paint to prematurely fade or appear weathered. In fact, this overheated situation can even cause wood doors to expand and contract severely enough to cause cracks in the door panels! And guess what makes the situation even worse? You guessed it... dark pain colors!

A final comment concerning blocking... if you are not ready to repaint and would like to eliminate the tackiness, one method that I have used successfully is to apply auto or paste wax to the sticky area. The wax coating removed the tackiness, though it may have to be repeated occasionally if the tackiness reoccurs.


Dear NH,

I want to repaint a child's room and can't get off some of the scotch tape that he used on the wall to hang some of his favorite pictures. I've tried a few store products but haven't had any luck so far. Any ideas? Thanks a million.

PM from Westminster,MD


There are a number of products that will remove the goo from tape. Since the tape itself resists the solvents, you will have to combine the use of the solvent product with careful scraping with a single-edge razor (preferably in a razor blade holder).

Before you use the solvent, though, try just the razor! Some tapes will come off easily once you lift a corner... others won't... it is worth a try. Then, just use the solvent to remove any adhesive residue.

The solvents I have used successfully are generic denatured alcohol, Goof Off, and Wilbond. The last product is a well-known paint deglosser... also known as "liquid sandpaper". If your walls are painted with latex paint, be aware that all of these products will remove some or all of the paint from the area treated, depending on the amount of rubbing. This is not a problem, since you are planning to repaint. (Note: There is another popular "goo" remover known as Goo Gone I do not recommend for this task because I am sure that it will accept paint well, since it is oil rather than solvent based.)

The method for "tough" tapes is straightforward. Apply some solvent to the tape. Use the razor to lift an edge of the tape... then slide the razor blade underneath the tape. Apply more solvent if necessary and alternately use the razor until the tape is completely off. Clean up any remaining adhesive with more solvent.

As an aside, I had one customer with a similar problem to yours whose child did some extensive taping. Her son, despite her pleas, insisted on taping every rock star picture he could find on the walls of his large bedroom. No exaggeration... there were literally hundreds of pieces of tape on the walls. He insisted that, when the time came for action, he could get all the tape off. Needless to say, he couldn't. In her parental wisdom, she made her son pay for the work. Almost 3 hours worth! A little lesson in capitalism and in responsibility!


Dear NH,

I recently purchased a 1912 detached home in DC. There are 2 flues in the house, one for the fireplace and one for venting the gas burner. The burner was installed in 1996, and the contractor in his infinite wisdom, did not install a new liner inside. So, the gas burner is venting into the terra cotta liner where the oil burner used to vent. I understand this could present somewhat of a fire hazard and I am wondering how easy it is for the do-it-yourselfer to install the stainless steel "slinky" liner.

My second question is easier to answer. The grading around the house is not adequate. In fact, it slopes towards the house on one side (where a concrete walkway was improperly poured). I am planning on tearing up said walkway, but need to know the best way to regrade the sides of the house. I am getting conflicting info from landscapers and from sources on the internet. I believe that this will alleviate the problem of moisture showing up in my basement (it seems to be most pronounced on the worst graded side of the house).

Thanks again, the site is great. I got lost on it for hours last night.

CT from Washington, DC


Glad you enjoyed the site!

The exhaust from the gas furnace is rather cool compared to oil furnace or fireplace exhaust standards. In fact, many homes have the gas furnace exhaust exit the home at ground level without any chimney at all! The problem you should be concerned with is carbon monoxide. If the chimney is not "drawing" the exhaust adequately, you could conceivably get unhealthy accumulations of carbon monoxide in your home. The only way to know if the system, as it exists, is safe and efficient is to have a professional HVAC person inspect it. This pro can also tell you whether or not it is wise or even necessary to install a liner in the chimney, or if an alternative venting system might be cheaper and safer.

As far as the basement goes, your common senses are correct... eliminate the obvious first. Be sure that your gutters (if any) are collecting the roof water and directing it away from the house. The poorly graded walk is an obvious suspect, and should be repaired.

If the source of the problem water is beneath the ground, neither of these solutions will fully solve the problem. Movement of ground water can be opposite the apparent grade in some circumstances. This month's featured book selection, "The Original Basement Waterproofing Handbook", is perhaps the single best-ever book on basement waterproofing. If your "above" ground solutions do not yield you the results you desire, this book is a must read! Knowledge is, after all, power.



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

Dear NH,

After reading your answer to a question about installing a laundry chute I thought I would tell you about mine. When I remodeled my upstairs bathroom I bought a small unfinished kitchen cupboard for about $25 to $30. I made certain that the chute was where I wanted it to be... directly above the front of the washer (which is in the basement). I cut out a hole in the floor and cut out the bottom of the cabinet. The "fake" cabinet matches existing cabinets perfectly and the clothes land in the basement right in front of the washer!



Now that is ingenuity! Using a cabinet instead of a hamper is a great idea! Laundry chutes are such a great idea I am amazed that more builders don't use them as a standard feature in their homes!!

Nowadays, many new homes have the laundry room on the second floor near the bedrooms. Though this on first blush seems like a great idea, I have found that many housewives/househusbands don't find it to be so nice! It seems that many folks prefer to have the laundry area closer to the living space... the main floor... rather than having to walk upstairs for every load change. See... you can't please everyone!!

One of our readers, BH, offered some interesting modifications to our "Monster Shelves"... a heavy duty shelving system using plywood and framing lumber to satisfy even the most insane shelving needs. BH contributed a few photos and also a few very useful modifications for those of you addicted to "overbuilding".

You can visit the article, fantasize that you have 16 feet of these babies in your garage or basement, and read also read BH's useful feedback at 


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