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Handyman Letter - May 1, 2001


1) I'll have my house super-sized, please! ...a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Contest Central

3) What's new at

4) Q&A with our readers


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

"American Electricians' Handbook"

8) Recommend our newsletter to a friend... or rate our newsletter!!



You've all seen them. I'm sure a few of you even live in them. I'm talking about homes... large homes... homes with 4000, 5000, 8000 sq.ft. and more. In my area, they are sprouting up like mushrooms in a damp pasture. In fact, in some towns there is little residential construction occurring except for these mini-mansion gardens.

Were I naive, I would believe this is occurring because of the old business axiom "supply follows demand". But are these opulent homes being built because the public is clamoring for them? No, I don't believe it for a minute. If you look at the economics of home construction and sales, it is easy to see they are being built because it makes more money for everyone involved. What is a home, after all, if not a box full of air! The larger the rooms and the higher the ceilings, the less it costs per square foot (or, should I say, per cubic foot) to build. The more air the home encloses, the more it can be sold for... leading to greater realtor commissions and builder profits. I am not implying any nefarious motives to anyone concerned. In fact, in a pure business sense I must applaud as maximizing profit is good business practice... nothing more and nothing less. And... it takes a big crew to build a big home!

The unintended consequences, however, are troubling. First, a growing population of lower-income buyers are forced to purchase older homes because there are no new homes in an "affordable" range. Older homes are ok... most people never buy a brand new home... but the day-to-day maintenance costs of a similarly-sized older home can be surprisingly high. And though we can appreciate the difficult job a home inspector faces when examining an older home, the sad fact is that many deficiencies are missed not due to incompetence but because inspectors don't have precognition or x-ray vision. New homes, on the other hand, can have a "grace period" of minimal maintenance varying from 5 to 10 years... barring contractor error, manufacturing defects or acts of God.

Middle-income buyers are often tempted by eager realtors and liberal lenders to overbuy into these coveted neighborhoods, leading to a precarious financial trap. Husbands and wives often work long hours to afford these homes. If either loses their job, their home is lost very quickly as the oppressive mortgage and tax payments quickly use up their savings. Even in single income families, a layoff that might have been a difficult but manageable setback becomes a disaster. Too late, they realize their home has truly owned them... and was not a benevolent master!

Robert T. Kiyosaki, author of "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" steps on lots of toes by challenging the notion that a home is an "asset". "When downsizing (corporate layoffs) became the "in" thing to do, millions of workers found out a house, their largest so-called asset, was eating them alive." He goes on to say, "What they thought were assets could not help them survive in a time of financial crisis". Continuing, "I see so many young couples who get married and trap themselves into a lifestyle that will not let them get out of debt for most of their working years."

There is nothing wrong with wanting a better life for yourself and your family. There is even nobility in the struggle to keep ahead of the bank and the taxman. Like it or not, making lots of money by working hard and working smart is the only sure way security can be achieved... at least in a capitalist society such as ours. But we must also save smart or our years of hard work can be totally wasted!

Kiyosaki urges us to keep a sensible balance between needs and wants and work towards accumulating real assets... income generating real estate, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, intellectual property, etc. For example, rather than impulsively purchase a new item, such as a car or golf clubs to replace one that still works well; invest the money and work towards your family's security. Or purchase used and invest the difference.

This sensible way of looking at wealth, money and possessions requires both understanding and discipline. And the willingness to view sacrifice as intelligent planning. It has been forever said that the one defining difference between psychological maturity and immaturity is the ability to control impulses and delay gratification. For some of us, it may be time to grow up.




FED UP WITH ROOF FUNGUS?? We have updated our article on roof fungus with some information on a new fungus-removal product. If you live in fungus-fear, you must read this article... 



Dear NH,

I have a problem with a whole house fan installation. I can't install a 24" fan in my 36" wide hallway! Because of the design of my home, this hallway is the only location I can locate the fan. My attic uses trusses on 24" centers, but the location of the trusses prevent the louvers from opening, no matter how I try to locate them. I have been told DO NOT CUT THE TRUSS, so I am in need of some advise!

SK from Geneva, IL


Yes... under no circumstances should a roof or floor truss be cut without consulting an engineer. Trusses are rather flimsy, but they get their strength through their design. Any cuts can make a truss dangerously weak and possibly make your roof unstable!

There are a few ways to skin this cat without tampering with the trusses. You could, for example, make the truss irrelevant (at least the part in the attic) by installing a through-the-roof powered turbine fan instead. Of course, I understand that this may not be possible if you dislike climbing on the roof or if your home has restrictive zoning rules or property covenants.

You may be able to use the floor/ceiling fan anyway if you have the clearance to mount it. Though the ideal situation is to have the fan located directly above the louvers, this is not an absolute requirement. It is also not an absolute requirement to have a totally open space between the fan and louvers. A few boards in the way are not a "deal breaker". Just improvise! If the members of the truss force you to offset the fan even as much as a foot, you can still creatively box in the fan so that there is a closed shaft... however crooked... between the louvers and the fan. Of course, the more obstructions there are, the less efficient the fan will be. But having a fan work at 80% is better than 0%... at least the last time I looked!

No... I have not been avoiding the question of the obstructed louvers. As I mentioned in the article at , some attic fan manufacturers supply a flush-mounted louver assembly that mounts right on the ceiling, requiring no clearance above. I do not know of any manufacturer of this type of louver that sells it independently of the fan. But if you can perform a little simple carpentry, you can solve the problem. Build a wood frame from 1" nominal pine boards for the louvers to provide the additional clearance you need. Mount the frame on the ceiling first... then mount the louvers to the frame. Once primed and painted to match the ceiling, the frame should be unobtrusive and functional! Use a quality adhesive caulk to smooth any unsightly cracks between the frame and the ceiling prior to painting.


Dear NH,

What do you think about the self-adhesive caulking strips that are sold to be used in place of tube caulking in a tub enclosure? They were recommended by a home store (which shall remain nameless) as an alternative to doing a complete recaulking job.



To be compassionately blunt, the so-called caulking strips are pretty much useless as a caulk replacement! They may have some usefulness in low moisture situations where the decorative appearance is more important than actual function. However, the adhesive is unreliable and, in my experience, will not last very long. As more than a few of my clients discovered to their dismay, the strips may "appear" to be working... while the wall behind is being savaged by moisture!

I would strongly suggest against using them within any tub or shower enclosure.


Dear NH,

The contractor replaced the asphalt shingle roof on my house. I can see the nails sticking out from the plywood for 1/2" inside the roof. It wasn't so with my old roof. Will this shorten the life of the roof or cause any other damage to the structure?



It is perfectly normal for roofing nails to extend through the roof plywood, or "sheathing". I am surprised that you didn't notice them from the previous installation. Over time, the moisture in the attic space can cause the bright ends of the new galvanized nails to darken, making them less obvious. If your previous roof was 15 or more years old, that may explain why they seemed to be invisible.

When installing new shingles on your roof, the contractor installed them from the bottom up, so that each successive layer of shingles covered the nails from the lower row. Thus, very few nails are directly exposed to the weather. Good roofing practice requires that any exposed nails be sealed by placing a small amount of roofing cement or silicone caulk under the nailhead before setting it. Clear exterior silicone caulk is the obvious choice for a lighter colored roof.

If your new roof was installed over the old roof (up to two layers are permissible provided your roof structure can hold the weight), roofing contractors must use nails that are adequately long to extend through the deck. Though there is consensus as to the shortest nail that is adequate for roofing purposes.... 3d (1 1/4")... it is more typical to find a roofer using a 4d (1 1/2") roofing nail or, in some cases where roofing materials are thicker, a 6d (2") roofing nail. These easily penetrate through two layers of shingles and the sheathing. Your roofer may have opted to use the same nail length throughout. Again, this is perfectly acceptable roofing practice. If you roofer used a nail gun, it is almost guaranteed he used the same nail length for the entire job. It's just easier, more efficient and the difference in cost is minimal compared with the total material's cost. Remember... a roofers TIME is more valuable than the cost of a few longer nails!

In climates that experience extreme wind and rain and/or significant snow, many roofers install a product known as an "ice and water shield" underneath the shingles. This is a self-adhesive, rolled product that is installed directly onto the roof sheathing. It replaces the once commonly-used tarpaper providing a second line of defense against leaks. The advantage of the shield over tarpaper is that it "self-seals" around the nails providing better leak protection than either shingles or a shingle-tar paper combination. This product can be installed over the entire roof if necessary, but is usually installed along the bottom three or six feet of the roof to protect against ice-damming leaks. Also, the use of this product is determined by the slope of the roof and the climate... the more moisture and snow AND the flatter the roof, the more protection the shield can provide!



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

Dear NH,

Referring to your last newsletter, for the retired person whose neighbor's squeaky floor in the apartment above disturbs his/her sleep, I suggest the best earplugs I have ever found at . Mine are clear, but they are also available in colors, which would be easier to locate if dislodged.

I found them several years ago and have used them to get proper sleep when I was working outside the home. I still use them for hubby's snoring or other times I am unable to block out irritating noises. They block noise so well it is almost dangerous. However, I believe a person can train themselves to hear a smoke alarm or phone ringing through the earplugs.



Thanks for the tip... I'll be sure to pass it on. In ways, a more practical answer than mine and DEFINITELY less expensive and labor-intensive!



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