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Handyman Letter - May, 2000


1) Creative procrastination... 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


4) Q&A with our readers


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



Every day I am confronted by more work than I can possibly complete. Like you.

Every day I make some wrong choices... does this sound like you, too?

And every day I also decide what to do and what not to... not necessarily in the order of importance. Importance vs. my "comfort zone"... ah, yes. And my good friend, procrastination... the "art" of delay and avoidance... has been a partner, companion and fellow traveler through my life. Soul mates are we, procrastination and I, as we navigate the rapids of life and avoid the rocks. Most of them, that is.

Having procrastination at my side is nothing to be sneezed at... Achoo!! She (or he, depending on one's inclination) does a wonderful job of smoothing things out... of making a day much more blissful and liquid than if she were... on vacation? I mean, what would a day be like when I actually answered all the tough questions I was asked... right away... without delay with none of my practiced sweep of the hand that causes the more difficult chores to disappear under the bed with the dust bunnies. I can hardly imagine what a day would be like that ended with nothing but true accomplishment instead of stationary cycling... spinning like crazy but really not going everywhere we might have intended.

Life is full of uncertainty and our contrary reactions to it's sometimes plodding inevitabilities can be comical. Or tragic. We all know that the longer we wait to confront problems the larger they loom... but we wait anyway... finding distractions, time fillers and psychological pain killers to make us feel we have accomplished something! Avoiding the inevitable may forestall the pain but usually increases the bite and worsens the consequences. But why do we wait? Why the heck don't we return that uncomfortable phone call now and turn it from lingering pain to a historical footnote? Why does the tax return have no urgency until the wall calendar begins moaning at us with the blooming of April? Why do students "cram" for exams when they have plenty of time to prepare? Why does it take three hits on the snooze button to wake up... a tactic that only increases both angst and urgency when we are least alert to deal with it? Why don't more people vote instead of letting "everyone else" make that choice... often an unpalatable compromise-of-all-compromises?

I think I know why... at least for me. It's because some of the time... procrastination does work in my favor! Somewhere in between the risks/rewards of bold action and the lethargic void of inaction lies that comfort zone where I feel good enough... then accomplished enough... at least for me. Taking that "mental health" day... a "procrastination vacation" as it were... recharges my batteries and loosens responsibility's torturous grip on my soul, if only for a while.

And sometimes good enough is... well...good enough. At least for me. At those times.




Dear NH,

My two upstairs bathrooms periodically produce a foul odor that is compounded by warmer weather. Our septic system seems to be in good working order and we just had our tank emptied by "The #1 man in the #2 business"!

I seem to think this odor is septic gas that is making its way back into the house either through bad traps or bad toilet floor ring seal. The vent in the roof is functioning properly (no squirrels or leaves) but that bad air still makes it inside somehow. Have you heard of anything like this before?

D from Nassau, NY


In a properly plumbed house, water should be in all your traps all the time preventing the entrance of sewer gas into your home. Traps, as you may know, are bends in the pipes that hold a small amount of water to block the entrance of sewer gas into the home. Look under any sink and notice the s-shaped bend in the drain pipe.

In plumbing design, care must be taken when installing multiple plumbing fixtures on the same drain pipe or else the movement of water from one fixture can literally suck the water out of the traps in the others. For example... if a toilet is on the same drain pipe as a sink, flushing the toilet will empty the sink trap in an instant. This loss of trap water can also occur in a single fixture if the distance from the sink toilet is too far from the larger main pipe it feeds into. Again, the result is the same... the water leaving the sink causes a vacuum and sucks the trap dry. Generally this would not occur in a single, long waste line unless the sink were filled with water and suddenly drained. The relative trickle from a typical sink faucet would probably not establish enough suction to empty the trap.

This problem is addressed by the use of plumbing vents which allow air into the waste lines "behind" the moving water. These vents can be physical pipes venting to the outside... usually the roof... or mechanical valves that selectively open to admit air into the system. This extra air prevents the formation of a vacuum behind the moving water and thus keeps the water from being pulled from the other traps. Consequently, blockage in the venting system or poor design can cause traps to empty and sewer gas to enter your home.

If the toilet seal was leaking gas, it would also most likely be leaking water. Check the floor around the toilets for evidence of leakage. If you have a vinyl or linoleum floor, leakage can be hidden for years between the flooring and the subfloor... especially if it is just a slight seepage. (Be mindful that this seepage can also generate odors.)

After you flush the toilet, does the water in the bowl rise at least a few inches above the level of the bowl's drain? This is important because the water in the bowl acts as a "trap" to keep the sewer gas out. It is possible that some gas could escape if the level in the bowl is too low. If you have the tank water level set too low or are using water displacement devices in the tank, such as bottles, bricks or "commercial" products, the amount of water entering the bowl will likewise decrease.

Another possibility is that you are getting downdrafts off the roof and the odorous exhaust from the roof plumbing vent is entering through open windows. Since the windows are probably closed most of the time in the colder months, you wouldn't notice the problem in the winter. Downdrafts are often caused by tall trees too close to the house. Cutting down the trees or increasing the height of the vent "stack" (the vent pipe that exits the roof) might help if you determine this to be the problem.

There is the remote chance that there is a trap missing in the tub/shower. When the seasonal odor appears, tape a plastic bag over the tub/shower drain and see if the odor dissipates. In fact, you can do this to each fixture to try and isolate the source of the odor.

I am running out of ideas... but I do have one, final thought. It may be possible that the odor is not sewer gas at all, but instead accumulation of gunk within the sink drains themselves. There can be quite a bit of gunk collected above the sink trap that gives off a rank odor as it decomposes. This would be more obvious in the warmer months since heat speeds rot... ever notice how the kitchen garbage has to be put out more often in the summer? And further away from the house, to boot?

This "glop" can be removed through the occasional use of a liquid drain cleaner, but can also be cleaned out manually by disassembling the trap and just scraping it out. Remove the pop-up drain stopper and look in with a flashlight first... if there is absolutely nothing there you probably don't need to disassemble it.

While you have the drain trap apart, don't worry too much about the stuff on the "downhill" side of the trap unless it seems to be causing a slight blockage... the water in the trap will keep that smell away.

One thing about liquid drain cleaners is that they can actually increase this odor problem by accelerating the decomposition of the gunk while not quite removing it from the pipes!


Dear NH,

I have a west facing sliding door that needs to have a radiant barrier in it to cut down the tremendous heat build-up by the direct afternoon sun. I've been told two ways to do it. One is to replace the whole door and frame assembly that contains a low E glass or just to cover the glass with a radiant barrier film. I'd prefer the less expensive method but only if it will work. What do you think?



"Reflective films"... glass coatings that prevent certain types of light from passing through... are the way to go if you want to lower the amount of heat gain in your home through glass windows or doors AND allow bright visible light through. Based on my research, you can reduce the amount of infrared light entering your home by up to 80% using a reflective film. Since the reflective properties have to do with the material and not the color, an untinted film will give about the same result as a tinted one... except that a tinted film will lower visible light along with ultraviolet light.

Some folks install drapes or blinds to address this problem, but they are only a partial solution. Though they may decrease the amount of fading of carpets and furniture, the heat will still build up between the drape and the window. A reflective film actually keeps the rays from entering so it will do as good or better job than drapes in keeping the heat out!

I would suggest searching your local home stores to see if they carry a do-it-yourself reflective film. I talked to the people at Home Depot and, while they didn't carry it, they suggested trying an auto supply store or even a large department store such as Wal-Mart.



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

Dear NH,

You recently used the expression ..."added to the P.O.P. (piles of paper)." I use a slightly different expression ... O.P.O.O.P ! [ Overwhelming Piles Of Odd Paperwork ] Somewhere, there are still people whose lives are uncluttered, whose desks, PC stands, chairs and floors are relatively bare, pitifully empty ... these people are properly called "ELS" ... Empty Life Sufferers! Such uninteresting theirs must be ... they have never known the thrill of finding last year's note from a previously unknown 2nd cousin, met at a family reunion, and the huge satisfaction of placing that note in the wastebasket ... for temporary storage until just before one's other family asks for the address because "Dad never throws anything away."



So, you have an interesting life, too? Bravo! I must admit (just between me and you) that an occasional "purge"... and orgy of garbage bag-filling and trash can packing... can be both satisfying and invigorating. Alas... another wonderful life experience missed by the overly organized!


Dear NH,

I am working on a science project investigating the best way to connect two pieces of wood. I used Elmer's School Glue, Gorilla Glue, Scotch tape, nails and screws. I tested how long it took for the bond to break. I found that Elmer's school glue held the two pieces of pine together best. (the wood broke before the connection failed) This also happened with the Gorilla Glue. The screw held the wood together better than the nail. But I was surprised by how well the scotch tape held the wood together. You have a lot of information about glues and adhesives. I hope to read some of it so I can use some of it in my report.



Sounds like a great project! Elmer's School Glue is chemically very similar to the types of glues commonly used in woodworking, so it is not surprising that it bonds well.

Besides adhesives, nails and screws there are also a number of structural metal braces that are used in construction to increase strength and speed the work. If your home as an outside wood deck you might have some installed on it (underneath) holding the floor joists (large horizontal supporting lumber) to the beams or to the house. If you visit a hardware store or lumberyard just ask to see "joist hangers". One of the larger manufacturers, Simpson Strong-Tie Company, Inc., has a website at  with lots of information on their products.


Dear NH

In last month's newsletter one of your readers had a problem with "sticky doors". Your response only addressed the issue of sticky paint or blocking. I believe the clue was in the first sentence... rainy weather! It sounds like moisture intrusion and you might find out if there is any overhead protection to the elevation the door is on.

Yes he/she should definitely paint all the edges especially the top and bottom. I even go so far as to paint under the hinges and in the bore hole for the knob, deadbolt and strikes. It also seams that an oil based primer seals better than a latex one. I also agree with you that it is harder to avoid blocking with latex paint than oil, except that oil takes longer to dry. I have sometimes used corn starch to dry lube the latex where you have used wax.

I am surprised to here you recommend against Kilz and Bin. Some of their formulas are listed as exterior primers as well. Do you have a preference for a brand of exterior primer?



This is one of the risks I take every day when I put my paint-stained fingers on my clean, off-white keyboard and try to answer questions from readers like "J" in the April newsletter. Because of the nature of the medium, I rarely have enough information to make a complete appraisal of the reader's problem. Based on the information I am given, I make assumptions and from those assumptions I try to formulate an answer that seems "at the time" to be reasonable and complete.

Unfortunately, as you point out, I may have "missed da boat" on this one. I read "stick" as "sticky"... you read "stick" as meaning "stuck"... or jammed, rubbing, etc. In what is admittedly 20/20 hindsight, I realize that J probably read my answer, shook his head and said to himself, "What medication is this guy on?"

Sealing all edges of the door as you recommend is the correct way to limit or eliminate swelling in wood doors. Indeed, ALL manufacturers of wood doors require sealing on all edges or they will not honor their warranties. Some exterior doors come pretreated with waterproofing to give you a fighting chance against swelling. However, if any trimming or cutting of an exterior door is ever done, paint or a clear waterproofing should be applied to the cut area.

Sealing should be done when the doors have the least amount of moisture in them... the dead of winter is the ideal time provided that you can keep the door open and warm enough for the paint or sealer to dry... if you have a good storm door, for example, or if you are willing to seal the entryway with plastic sheets. Otherwise the next best time would be early spring while the temperature/humidity index is still low. Paints and waterproofers usually have a low-temperature recommendation for their use that should be followed.

If the door were to rub ALL year, it is necessary to either cut or sand the rubbing edges as necessary to allow the door to close easily and to make room for the thickness of the new paint... with a little extra for luck! It is a fact that a bit of seasonal movement will occur in the door frame regardless of the amount of door-sealing you do and that, many times, sticking doors are caused by frame expansion not door expansion.

I never heard of corn starch to eliminate "blocking" (surface stickiness in dried latex paint) but what the heck... if it works do it! A few other folks contacted me and recommended using talcum powder instead, which might be superior if only because it is chemically inert (talcum is a mineral, not organic) and won't attract any vermin.

Regarding paint primers, I have been in the business long enough to remember when both BIN and KILZ recommended against using their "flagship" products on exterior surfaces except for very small applications such as knot sealing. Kilz has developed both water-based and oil-based clones that are specifically designed for interior or exterior use, and I tend to go with the manufacturer's recommendations unless I know for sure that they are "blowing steam".


Dear NH,

Your latest newsletter addressed the problem of removing sticky tape and its residue.
My method is to stick a clean finger into a can of (cooking) shortening and rub the shortening onto the area. Let it set for about five minutes, then attack it cautiously...with a fingernail or edge of an ordinary knife. Repeat if need be, then just clean off the grease and you've solved your problem.

It works on decals on cars, price stickers on most anything and on woodwork or painted walls.

N from NH


Thanks for a great alternative to using solvents. Just be sure to get all that grease off before repainting! Of course that begs the question... would you use a solvent to remove the grease??


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