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Handyman Letter - June, 2000


1) Keep your head and stay safe... a message from the Natural Handyman.

2) Hello and thank you to Websites and publications that have recentlylinked with or featured The Natural Handyman.

3) What's new at

4) Q&A with our readers.

5) LINKMEISTER's Corner.

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



1) KEEP YOUR HEAD AND STAY SAFE... A MESSAGE FROM THE NATURAL HANDYMANFlowers aren't the only thing in bloom now that spring has arrived in thesnow belt! Home repair projects are blossoming everywhere... homeownersgleefully dancing to the sound of lawnmowers, chainsaws and power tools!Springtime brings out the adventurous who, with the frustrations ofwintertime a distant memory, are boldly setting out to conquer that longoverdue repair!

Stop... put on the brakes! Danger lurks in them thar hills! For as sure asmy moniker is NH, there are lots of folks who are going to be visiting themedicine cabinet for some bandages and mercurochrome... or worse, theemergency room for a more serious injury... if they don't use their heads totemper their enthusiasm!

As a person involved in both home repair work and home repair information, Iknow how easy it is to get over one's head in a project. Oh... that treeisn't so tall... until it begins its slow, unstoppable descent towards youronce functional roof. Gee... I can cut a hole in that wall and install a newwindow... until the Milwaukee Sawzall nicks that 220 volt line leading up tothe clothes dryer on the second floor and adds an uncharacteristic curl toyour hair!

Danger lurks everywhere. Anytime a saw blade begins spinning or a can ofsolvent is opened you need to stop... just for one second... and realize thepotential for danger you face. NO... I am not saying to hide in the closet!Rather, just take that moment to consider the real nature of the tools andchemicals you are using. Respect them for what they are... sources ofsuperhuman power that we have tamed to improve our lives. But even tameanimals can turn if mistreated.

In the Friday, June 9th issue of USA Today, their cover article titled "TheHazards of Doing It Yourself". The statistics speak forthemselves... hundreds of thousands of people are injured each year inaccidents involving hand tools, power tools and ladders. Were most of theseaccidents preventable? There are no statistics on that, but I can hazard aguess... probably most were. They cite an instance of a man intentionallyusing a chain saw without any regard to the instructions (or safetyequipment) he received from the rental store... and paying the price!Ladders, a source of serious and sometimes deadly falls, are easy tomishandle and an inexperienced person may be half-way up to the roof beforehe realizes it is sinking in soft ground! Hand-held circular saws are onlymeant to be pushed, not pulled through the wood... but how many of you everread and really absorbed the instructions that came with your saw?

Why do so many folks get themselves in trouble? Having had to bail out"weekend warriors" on a regular basis, my sense is that the proliferation ofhome repair information has made it all seem too easy. Home repair hasbecome easier, without a doubt. The tools are better, the materials moreuser-friendly and the instructions (usually) more thorough. Still, skillsin another area of life don't necessarily translate into proficiency in homerepair. Confidence and self-assurance can be hazardous when not temperedwith training-through-practice, appropriate caution and patience.

And I am not about to let the pros (myself included) off the hook! Many ofus take shortcuts and use potentially dangerous techniques that caneventually cause us injury. A classic example is the intentional defeatingof safety guards on power saws. Improper hammering techniques can lead toelbow and/or carpal tunnel problems. Our intimacy with the tools and thetime pressures "on-the-job" can put us as much at-risk as the greenestamateur... unless we keep alert and in control of our bodies and our tools.

So do those repairs... but think! Use your head! Know your tools, read theinstructions (as painful as it may be), exercise common sense and use thepowers these tools give you with the respect they deserve. Or that "power"will bite you! Take it from someone who knows.




Dear NH,

We recently bought our first home and, because our gutters are full ofleaves (plus my son's dinosaur) my husband bought a rigid 18-foot ladder. Hedidn't buy an extension ladder because he is not mechanically inclined andwhen he tried to manager one it came down on his hand. However, the two ofus trying to get the ladder down from its leaning position against the housewould have been funny to the onlooker but was scary to us!

Any advice? Should we pay $700 to get gutter covers? Should we pay upwardsof $75 to get someone else to clean out the gutters? Can this ladder bemastered??



Your ladder question first...

It is difficult to handle a ladder of that length for most anyone. Puttingit up and taking it down safely is a two-person job... not that onedetermined person couldn't do it but it takes a little skill and a littleluck to get away with it. Two just makes it a lot easier and safer. Plusyou can share the experience over a cool drink afterwards!

The difficulty with either raising or lowering a long ladder, even one thatis not particularly heavy, is that the bottom does not want to stay on theground once the top is raised, causing it to pivot in (or out of) theiron-like grip of the handler. Holding the bottom in place prevents anout-of-control ladder landing! Doing this alone requires the base of theladder to either be somehow staked to the ground or to be pushed against animmovable object such as the foundation of the house, fence, tree trunk,etc. This provides enough stability so that the ladder can be safely lowered.

To put the ladder up, place the bottom of the ladder in position on theground. One person stands with their feet holding the bottom of the ladderin place (their back towards the building) while the helper lifts the topof the ladder up, "walking" their hands down the rungs until the ladder isupright. Once vertical it should be fairly easy to handle (high windsexcepted, of course) and put at the proper angle on the house. Most newladders have a whole litany of safety info on them, including therecommended angle.

Getting a large ladder down (again easiest with two people) is accomplishedby positioning everyone just as they were when the ladder was first raised.One person uses the feet to keep the ladder base in position while the otherperson "walks" the ladder, hand over hand, down to the ground.

Regarding your gutter guard question, my opinion is that if you are going tospend money on gutter guards, get ones that will need as close to zeromaintenance as you can afford. Choosing the right guards depends on howeasy it is for you to do "occasional" cleaning. Some types of gutter guardslet virtually no debris through, but tend to be more expensive to purchaseand install. Less expensive alternatives might work fine if your roof islow enough for sometime-maintenance. I suggest visiting at They have information on a variety of guttercover products to help you to make an informed choice.

There are alternatives to gutters. Rain Handler at , has a product that is a complete gutterreplacement. Instead of collecting the water and directing it to adownspout, special fins catch roof runoff and disperse it into smalldroplets away from the foundation. The harder the rain, the wider thedispersion so the area next to the foundation never becomes soaked. Ofcourse, this type of gutter is not for every home, since some landscapingproblems or architectural features may require redirection of the water flowto prevent possible basement dampness or even leakage.

After years of looking at gutter guards, I have come to the conclusion thatthe only sensible type to purchase are rigid gutter covers... preferablygalvanized steel or aluminum. The plastic-mesh type are too flimsy, tend tocollapse under the weight of leaves and other tree debris and, even whenworking, let too much stuff through! Because of this leakage, the guttershave to be cleaned every few years anyway so there is really little economyor savings with the plastic covers... especially if you pay someone to installthem!

Paying for regular gutter cleaning is an option too, but twice a yearcleaning may not be enough! Since it only takes a small wad of leaves andone short stick to completely block a 30 foot long gutter, it can becomeexpensive to continue to call someone for these little blockages. To helpsolve this dilemma, there are special metal downspout protectors that do afairly good job of stopping this type of blockage, keeping a path for waterto escape the gutter. They simply insert into the top of the downspout(from within the gutter) forming a protective, raised barrier allowing watera drainage path even when the gutter has some moderate debris in it.....................................................................

Dear NH,

I'm not sure if you get "out in the yard" with your tips and help topics,but I'm wondering what to use to kill weed roots under a driveway made ofsmall stones. I read that lots of salt and hot water will do the trick andin fact found this did work pretty well in a rock walkway. But this is abigger project and it would take one whale of a lot of table or rock salt totreat this driveway. Any advice?

JH from New Hampshire


First things first... you have to kill the existing weeds. Boiling water is atried and true natural remedy for weeds. good. One recommendation is to apply a vinegar/dishwashing liquid soup.

Now, depending on your "green" temperament, you can either maintain thedriveway with the above techniques or use a weed "blocking" chemical toprevent regrowth. You need not hunt for an exotic product... the samechemicals that are used on lawns to block weed growth can also be used on astone walkway.


Dear NH,

Do you have any more information on the sewage injection systems you mentionin your article on upflushing toilets?



You letter inspired me to add some more information to the article. Icontacted PlumbingSupply.Com at  about twospecific models that they sell online. They in turn put me in touch withthe manufacturers who eagerly gave us permission to reproduce some of theirmaterials on our site.

One, the aptly named "Quik Jon" from the Zoeller Company(  ) is a complete kit including a base for the toilet,an above-grade waste storage tank or sump and sewage extractor pump. Youwould need to supply the toilet and plumbing connections... plus the plumbingexpertise to make it all work. "Quik Jon" can also handle the waste fromother fixtures such as a basement sink or laundry.

The second system is the "Little Giant" from Franklin Electricat .  It can be used for multiple toilets, sinks andshowers but requires you to actually cut a hole in your basement floor toinstall it properly. Kits can include the sunken tank and pump.

You can view both of these systems on our site at .

By the way... you have to love the names of these products!


Dear NH,

I am in the process of buying a 1922 home. The chimney I have a questionabout is the one used to vent the furnace. I was told by the owner that itdoes not have a liner within it. I am wondering if back in the 20's if theyeven put liners in them. What should I do? Do I need one in the chimney?I believe it would be a major repair, since it goes all the way down to thebasement. The chimney seems to be in okay shape.



Chimney liners were not always required by building codes, so it is quitepossible that your chimney may be unlined. Considering the age of thehouse, there is also a great possibility that adding a liner may benecessary for your health and safety!

When determining the type of work your chimney may need, one criticalquestion is what type of fuel are you burning... wood, coal, oil or naturalgas? If you are burning coal or wood, you should most definitely get thechimney checked out by a pro to be sure it is still safe to use.

If you are using oil or natural gas to heat the water, the situation may beless critical since neither generate as much heat in the exhaust, but onlyprovided that a professional inspection indicates no gas leaks! This is notsomething that you should do yourself... there is a lot at stake. Both thesefuels have another potential danger... namely the carbon monoxide in theexhaust. With natural gas, there is the additional problem ofcondensation, since much of the exhaust from the burning of natural gas iswater vapor. If the chimney is attached to the house and has ANY cracks orbreaks in the block, bricks or mortar, carbon monoxide (CO) could possiblyleak into your walls. Even if the amounts are not life threatening, exposureto CO can cause subtle and damaging health effects over the long term. Asmentioned earlier, the moisture from natural gas combustion leaking into thewalls can actually lift interior or exterior paints and even start rotwithin the walls!

There are two methods of chimney relining currently in use. One requiresthe insertion of a flexible steel or aluminum tube that acts as a newchimney liner. The second method involves coating the inside of yourexisting chimney with a special material that seals and restores theexisting liner.

You may have another option... alternative venting. If you are using naturalgas, for example, you may be allowed by your local building code to ventthrough to the outside of your house anywhere above ground level... and notuse the chimney at all!

In any event you must consult a local chimney inspector (or two or more ifyou prefer) to get the "skinny" on your chimney's condition. Sincedifferent contractors will offer different solutions (and probably differentprices) it pays to have at least a couple of opinions. In knowledge isstrength!



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

Dear NH:

In a link description for the EnviroFan in the last newsletter, you wrote:

"The best feature of this fan is that it can be installed directly abovethe shower enclosure for the most efficient ventilation. Due to safetyconcerns, electrical codes prohibit electric-powered fans in thislocation, making this water-powered fan a gem! "

I don't think that's entirely true. I'm pretty sure that electrical fansrated for that wet location are allowed by the NEC. They may have somesort of internal GFCI protection, I don't know. Care to comment?



You are technically correct. We goofed. UL-listed bathroom exhaust fans(with or without lights) are exempt from the rule requiring ceiling fixturesto be a minimum of three feet away from a shower or bath enclosure.

However, because my audience extends beyond the awesome power of the UnitedStates NEC (National Electrical Code), I must qualify that I am unsure thisstatement is universally true. To be more "helpfully vague", I should haveinstead written that"some electrical codes MAY prohibit electric-powered fans in thislocation". Sorry for the misunderstanding... just being overly cautious.

By the way, I am unaware of any bath fans that have a GFCI in them toprevent electrical shocks. The approved fans are instead designed to haveno exposed electrically-conductive surfaces. If necessary, a GFCI wouldhave to be installed separate from the fan, typically in the form of a GFCIcircuit breaker or in the wall switch/outlet supplying the fan its power.

Thanks for your astute observation!



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