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Handyman Letter -  June 15, 2001


1) The importance of "natural" heroism... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Our appreciation to sites and publications that have recently linked to, listed or featured NH!

3) Sweepstakes Central

4) Q&A with our readers

5) Linkmeister's Corner

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

"Taylor's Master Guide To Landscaping"

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



Let me describe a person I know. She has honesty and courage. Nobility and determination. Character and enthusiasm.

Do you know her? Or a "him"? Wait a minute... do you think I am describing you? Perhaps... or maybe you have just flirted with these personality traits. Or been flirted at by them!

What about superhuman strength and invulnerability? Lineage to Zeus or Aphrodite? Nosebleed-section I.Q? I think you'll agree this second group of traits is less likely to be found among your "casual" acquaintances. Unless you happen to live in ancient Greece, Metropolis or Gotham City.

A theme throughout both ancient and modern mythology is that selfishness and cruelty often follow ultimate power, be it physical or political. In contrast, the superhero is larger than life because he does not use his power to dominate the weak but to help. But is this heroism? Not unless he has something to risk. He can be too good to be a hero... like a well-tuned machine we expect to work well and more noteworthy in failure than success.

Then... what exactly is a hero? I have come to believe real heroes exist for a moment in time; it is the circumstance of their heroism that defines them. An act of heroism is a blend of ability and desire, fueled by the hero's personality and, often times, plain old luck. The hero fulfills another's extraordinary need. To me, what makes a hero special is the simple fact he CAN fail. Sadly, real heroism does not demand survival and the price for heroism can be ultimate.

There is a time for super-heroism and a time for real people. All heroism is not a media event. We can't all be the subjects of a dramatic series (not that some of your personal tales would not improve the genre) but we all can embrace a quieter "natural" heroism which gives strength and encouragement to others at every opportunity. "Natural" because, if practiced enough, it will become a permanent and positive part of your personality. This is not like running into a burning building... though I would not want to diminish such selflessness. No. This is a heroic approach to life that whispers, "Every day there is some small thing I can do to make someone's life better."

We can't all leap tall buildings in a single bound... even after four cups of Starbuck's coffee! But we must recognize that... sometimes... just giving a few minutes of your time and energy for no reward, listening quietly to someone in need or a "natural" act of kindness can be enough to change a life.




Dear NH,

We are planning on redoing our living room. Part of the job is removing the old plaster & lathe and replacing it with drywall. Our 1890's home has insulation blown into the walls. We were informed that the wall studs may go all the way up to the second floor roof, so when we remove the plaster, all our upstairs insulation could come tumbling out. Is there any way we can either keep the upstairs insulation intact without having to remove the plaster on the upstairs walls?



Many older homes were built with a construction technique called "balloon" construction. The outside wall studs run in a continuous length from the sill plate to the roof. Then the upper floor is literally hung from the long wall studs. This method is quicker for the builder than standard "platform" construction where each floor stands on shorter studs, with the upper walls built above each floor. There is also less expansion and contraction in the house as a whole, since lumber tends to expand or contract most (percentage-wise) perpendicular to the grain rather than along its length.

Nothing is perfect. The problem with balloon construction is the hollow in the walls allows rapid spread of fire to the upper floor(s) and attic. To combat this problem, wood strips known as "fire stops" are (or should be) installed between the wall studs at each floor level. The firestops act to limit the movement of fire within the walls.

If your home has firestops, then the insulation from the upper floor will stay where it belongs. If you don't have firestops, you should install them as part of the renovation. You can make this determination by cutting open a section of wall between the studs on any outside wall (inside the house... not outside) just below the ceiling. Pull out some of the insulation and look for a firestop. You might have to reach into the wall or use an unbent coat hanger (or similarly improvised probe) to feel for the firestop.


Dear NH,

The pipe that connects to my bathroom sink drain has come undone. The drain also came loose in the sink, which I repaired with plumber's putty (yeah!).

I noticed that under the other bathroom sinks the piping comes out of the wall and then is turned about 30 degrees, whereas the pipes to the broken sink are straight. I'm not sure how this happened (no one will confess). Could this be why the pipe won't stay compressed against the drain? All of the fittings seem to fit tight.

A plumber told me I need a longer pipe (I'm assuming that means the straight one that comes down from the drain). I noticed that the small straight pipe can be lengthened, but I was unable to make it stay tight against the drain opening. I'm assuming I need to loosen the connectors and turn the larger black pipes to a 30 degree angle like the others. All of the washers seem to be in good condition. As you can tell, I'm plumbing illiterate but don't want to pay a plumber for something that I'm guessing could be easily fixed. Any help is appreciated!

LN from Fresno, CA


Because drain fittings use somewhat flexible washers... either rubber or plastic... to seal the joints, there is some allowance for "crookedness" in the connections. However, there is a point where seepage will occur so it may be wise to try to straighten them as much as possible.

In my experience, one of the biggest mistakes made by do-it-yourselfers when cutting drain pipe under sinks is either cutting the pipes too long or cutting them too short. Overly long pipes will force the trap assembly out of alignment and put unnecessary stress on all connections.

Cutting the pipes too short can be a silent killer... even though the connection seems water tight, over time leaks can start. A good knock with a bottle of mouthwash can cause a too-short tailpiece (the vertical pipe beneath the strainer) to dislodge from the trap, leading to a disastrous leak! A good rule of thumb is to cut the pipe so that at least an inch of pipe extends beyond the connection's washer. You'll get plenty of strength with no binding.

You didn't say whether or not you are trying to work with old or new parts. My suggestion is that IF you are trying to stop a leak it is usually better to purchase new parts once you get the assembly apart than to reuse the old ones. The only exception would be if the drain assembly is fairly new and corrosion-free.

There are some special-situation plastic drainpipes that are designed to "flex" so you have a little more wiggle room if the original plumbing is out of whack! One of these might help you get things back into "whack"!

As a final suggestion, when assembling a sink drain, always keep all connections threaded but loosely fit until you have all parts properly aligned. Then begin to tighten them. A small amount of plumber's grease on the threads only will make tightening a little more effortless and more effective.



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

Dear NH,

I was running through your "permission" article in the last newsletter and noticed the following paragraph:

"Or you are driving home in a rush to see "Jeopardy" and suddenly come across a serious fender bender. You quickly pull over to see if you can offer any assistance. You gave yourself permission to help someone else... instead of doing what had seemed important enough to rush home for."

Back a number of years ago, when I was taking my American Red Cross advanced first aid training, we were told the ARC course certification card should be with us at all times IN CASE we stopped to help someone. If things didn't turn out as hoped for, we could not then be sued - as a non-trained person could be. (I am not now covered because my certification has expired.)

So, I think that giving yourself permission to help could be dangerous. Calling for ambulance from someone's or your cell phone, dragging someone from a car about to explode, being there to calm a person until medical help arrives are okay, but physically caring for someone could be dangerous without official training. (i.e. tourniquet - people think that's what to do, but it rarely is because amputation of the limb might be necessary if binding was too tight or left on too long.) Hate to be a spoil sport but ...



Thanks for writing. NO, you're not being a spoil sport... or a party poop for that matter! Amazingly enough, in the final edit of my June 1st message, I deleted a line that referred to the person stopping to help having some "formal" training. I really don't know why I nixed it... perhaps because I feel so constrained by the harsh litigious realities and wanted to include more potential heroes in the mix. I appreciate your snapping me back to the more cautious world we share today. I wish you were wrong on this one, but I know you are not.

In reading your letter, the concept of the "Good Samaritan Law" flashed through my mind too. As I am sure you know, there are laws, which vary widely from state to state, that protect individuals from prosecution if they attempt in good faith to volunteer their help to another in need. Some laws actually mandate trained persons to help! Others make it optional. Some states are silent. With all this confusion I can only conclude that unless you are clear on the law, it IS probably better for the person without formal training to give themselves permission to keep their hands off and just call for help... or a least be prepared for "unintended consequences" of their unselfishness.


Dear NH,

I enjoyed your editorial based on the "copycat" author who had one of his articles published on your site. As a news reporter/features writer for a small, weekly, Eastern Ontario newspaper, I understand the frustrations of publishers who have little time to double-check the veracity of every piece submitted for consideration. Obviously, one should accept that most people are honest, including writers. But there will always be the sad few who find an obscure article, brochure or editorial, and rework it a tiny bit before passing it on as their own.

I'm glad you sorted things out, and the plagiarizing author experienced the appropriate high level of anxiety over this. I also appreciate the fact that you have the class to NOT publicly humiliate the fraud. Let's hope he/she learns something from this.

Thanks for your website too! Although I am a relatively new subscriber to the newsletter, I find the information useful and timely. And having just bought another "fixer upper," my wife and I will be paying even closer attention to your words of wisdom.


Tom Philp The Independent Brighton, Ontario


Dear NH,

Great stuff!!!!!! It only took me an hour to replace my toilet seat after reading your helpful hints! It could have been much worse. I feel so proud because my husband was unsuccessful with the project. Frustrated, he threw it down... and it was I who completed it thanks to you!!!!!



I love success stories! Toilet seat removal can be frustrating, uncomfortable and crazy-making! I am so pleased to hear that you persevered! You probably would not be surprised to hear the number of times I have entered into a toilet seat repair "mid-project". Amazing how long people can live with broken, loose or half-connected seats and yet not end up on the chiropractor's table!

The longer I am at this work, the more I realize just how much energy, creativity and patience the "fairer sex" can have when dealing with home repairs! You aren't the first woman to pick up the hammer after hubby threw it through the wall... and surely not the last!



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