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Handyman Letter - July 4, 2001


1) Freedom is right for today... and tomorrow! ... 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


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

"Taylor's Master Guide To

8) Rate our newsletter!! Or recommend it to a friend.



Today is the Fourth of July... Independence Day 2001... a day to both enjoy and ponder our freedoms. What personal freedom do you hold dear? The freedom to marry and raise a family... or to remain unattached? The freedom to earn as much money as you are able? Or to travel across our great land in privacy, without being harassed at every town or state border? Or... near and dear to my heart... the freedom to make your home YOUR castle?

Freedom is at a crossroads. But this time, it is not the freedom of a country as it was in 1776... it is the individual freedom that we as Americans have enjoyed for these past 225 years. A convergence of technology and fear are joining hands to place all our futures in peril. It is a pernicious trend that, if unstopped, has only one possible outcome... the total loss of meaningful individual choice. And I honestly don't know if it can be stopped.

The structure of law in America is well established and, like it or not, there are few human activities that aren't regulated in some way. If you drive a car, if you own a home, if you go out to dinner... all these actions are subject to a depth and breadth of law that has become unfathomable. We can enjoy a laugh over some of the dumb laws across the country and the world (visit  for an eyeful), but in our levity we are disarmed to the true nature of this proliferation of law.

On the surface, the noble purpose behind much modern law appears to be concern for public safety. But in the shadows, the enabler is our individual fear... fear of insecurity, fear of pain, fear of the unknown. To that end, modern laws seek to restore the civility that the community once enforced through social sanctions such as public judgment, public disapproval and even "shunning". If a person doesn't care what others think... if he is anonymous to those around him... there is no societal pressure for civil behavior. Only law remains. In a society where we know more about media created celebrities than our neighbors, our separateness is used to separate us further.

So, in many ways we have yielded our social responsibility to the law. But what happens when, at the same time, our privacy is removed... when our every activity is under scrutiny and under legal judgment? If there is one thing that threatens freedom more than anything else, it is the loss of privacy. The more public scrutiny, the less a person can live a normal life... ask any entertainer or politician how life altering the spotlight can be. What if the spotlight was... everywhere?

That day is quickly coming. We all have been living for years with security cameras in stores and shopping malls to reduce crime. We are justifiably concerned about our privacy on the Internet as more companies place sensitive, personal information online. But what about this latest wave of surveillance... how about a miniature camera on every street corner or inside every traffic light? Will it be long before our cars all contain surveillance equipment... for our safety? Hey... it's coming in our cell phones and a rental company already monitors its cars' speed via global positioning equipment! Can a personal electronic barcode implanted at birth be far behind?

The logic behind these devices is deceptively sweet. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to locate anyone that carries a cell phone at any time... just in case they fall and break their leg or run out of gas? Wouldn't universal identification cards reduce fraud and make us all more secure? What about keeping all of us locked up in safely padded cells every night, then taking us to work in slow-moving trains and strapping us to ergonomically correct desks... that would be really safe, too!

I remember the joke that was made of George Orwell's book "1984" as the "real" year 1984 approached. It was said that Orwell's political vision of man's future... constant surveillance, loss of freedom and government control of our actions... was politically impossible. We now know he was technologically on the mark... he just had the date wrong but the clock is ticking!

The Fourth of July is a time to celebrate our past... and a time to ponder what the future may bring for our children. Like it or not, freedom... not law... has allowed us to thrive and prosper. The loss of the freedom to choose our life's path... even the freedom to make mistakes and get hurt... enriches society by making it truly diverse in the only way that counts... in thought!

Don't give up your freedoms easily. As Benjamin Franklin once said, ""They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."




Dear NH,

My garbage disposal isn't working. First, it made an awful noise. Now it doesn't do
anything. Not a sound! How do you fix it?



From your brief description it sounds as if one of two things may have happened. Either you dropped something into the disposal that jammed it OR the disposal has self-destructed. When a disposal jams, the grinding mechanism stops turning. For a few seconds, the motor may make a humming sound... followed by silence as the built-in circuit breaker turns the motor off to protect it from damage.

First, turn off the electricity to the disposal at your main electrical panel. Though disposals usually don't self-activate, if you want to be totally safe turn off the disposal circuit at the main panel! Look inside the disposal with a flashlight for anything hard... metallic or even a small stone... that might be hopping around.

If you do see something, remove it with a pair of pliers, long tweezers or even a magnet if it's metallic. Some folks use their hands. I don't recommend it... even with the POWER OFF you won't get "disposed of" BUT if your hand gets stuck we may next see your pretty face on "Rescue 911"!

If you see an object that is solidly jammed in place, you need to rotate the blades to attempt to free it... more on this below.

If you don't see anything inside the chamber, reset the disposal and try operating it again. There should be a reset button on the side or bottom of the unit (under the sink). When you press it, you will feel and probably hear a "click" indicating that the built-in circuit breaker was tripped and is now reset.

Then, turn on the power to the disposal and try to operate it while running water through it. ALWAYS run water through your disposal when operating it. If it either makes an unusual banging noise of just hums, turn it off immediately. Sometimes, small items such as staples will drop through the disposal. Sometimes, larger staples or other small metal objects will jam between the cutting blades and the sides of the disposal chamber. This would cause the "humming" as the disposal motor wants to turn but can't.

If this is the case you need to rotate the blades to free them up. This is accomplished by either using a hex-head wrench underneath the disposal (the tool comes with all modern disposals and may be under your sink) or inserting a broomstick or other solid wood stick into the top of the disposal and attempting to turn the blades in either direction. Some disposals have a retaining nut in the center of the blades which can be used to rotate them IF you have the proper size socket and a long enough socket extension. Turn clockwise only, though... you don't want to loosen this nut.

Once the blades are rotating freely, turn on the disposal and listen... most often the offending material has dropped through the disposal into the drain never to be seen again. Sometime the turning will just loosen the jam and you will have to look inside again to remove the object.

If you cannot rotate the blades at all, you may need to have a pro disassemble the unit to free it up. Or, if the disposal is over 10 years old, my advice is to seriously consider investing in a new one!


Dear NH,

What is the best way to clean an original, upainted popcorn ceiling and what type of paint should you use to coat it? Should the ceiling be primed first?



You can carefully vacuum or lightly brush off the worst of the dust so you don't damage the texture.  Using any liquid cleaner may cause the ceiling to smear or even lift off, necessitating more repairs.

Regarding painting it, the safest thing is to first coat it with oil primer. An oil primer will not lift the ceiling material off and gives a solid, water resistant surface that can be repainted with any latex of oil finish paint.  For the primer, I prefer Kilz or one of the low odor, fast drying oil primers... they save lots of time! Let the primer dry for at least a few hours and then coat it with one or two coats of a quality acrylic flat ceiling paint.

In kitchens, there is always the possibility of something splattering on the ceiling. If you want a finish that is not very porous and cleanable by sponging, use kitchen-bathroom paint for your finish coat. A number of companies make them, such as Benjamin Moore and Zinsser. These specialty paints have a low-lustre finish that is washable and mildew resistant. Two coats are required for proper sealing. Zinsser sells their kitchen-bathroom paint in two finishes... satin and gloss... to suit your own aesthetic sensibility.

Spray textured ceilings are only somewhat washable regardless of the paint used, since you can damage the texture with vigorous scrubbing... as well as your sponge! To clean, spray with a cleaner and sponge off with a daubing action. Obviously, quick action is ideal. If anything dries, get as much off as you can and then just touch up the ceiling with a little of your ceiling paint. Depending on the stain, it may take a few coats or even a dab of primer first to keep the stain hidden.



Dear NH,

I'm building a platform out of pressure treated wood. The dimensions are 17' X10'. This platform is to have a pre-made storage shed placed on it. I estimate that this platform will be required to hold about 2,000 lbs of weight. I was wondering if I frame the platform with 2" X 4" PT. and insert blocking every 16" on center, will this be sufficient for this amount of weight? Or, should I use 2" X 6" PT? Thanks for time.

Homeowner from New Hampshire

Dear Home,

By blocking do you mean support under the deck or actual blocking between the joists to stabilize and straighten them? If you mean blocking between the joists, it won't do any good since the frame will tend to twist to conform to the ground without extensive support underneath. If you mean support under the deck every 16", that may be a little overkill.

You could use 2x4's for this deck, but I would advise against it. The deck will be much more rigid and stable with a 2x6 frame. And frankly, I just like the appearance of a 2x6 frame... plus it is a nice "step" height... especially if you slightly bury it to blend with the ground. With the 2x6 frame, you really only need to support underneath the center of each 10' joist or at about 6' and 12' for the 17' joists. Even that is a little overkill, since a 2x6 frame with 16" centers can span over 9' safely. However, since this type of ground-level platform has a distributed load rather than spans, the extra supports are good!

A trick I have used to make easy, solid supports under ground-level deck joists is to dig out about a square foot hole about 4 - 6 inches deep under each support point and fill the hole with concrete. Make a well around the joist with dirt so the concrete height is slightly above the bottom of the joist. The concrete will expand slightly when set making a strong, stable support pad. For the perimeter of the deck to keep the concrete concealed at least on the outside of the platform for aesthetic reasons.



Dear NH,

I'm moving into a newer house and the electric clothes dryer has a 4-wire connection. (my old dryer had 3-wires). I bought a new 4-wire power plug. I connected it just like the other was connected but the 4-wire cord has its own ground wire. What do I do with the old ground wire that is connected from inside the dryer? Disconnect it? Leave it??



First things first... if you don't feel confident in determining the hot, neutral and ground connections, call in an electrician to do this hookup for you! If you reverse the wiring it could be disastrous! Luckily, most replacement plugs come with a schematic describing what wires and prongs are for which connection. Though I don't get too deeply into electrical issues, I know this is one job that many DIYers attempt so I will try to give a simple explanation of the process.

In older 220 volt clothes dryers that utilized a three-wire plug, two of the prongs were "hot"... each carrying 110 volts, and the third was the "neutral", which also doubled as a grounding wire for the metallic body of the dryer. The neutral wire completes the electrical circuit back to the main electrical panel and then to the ground.

The latest electrical code requires a fourth prong on all 220 volt plugs. This additional plug is a separate ground for the appliance frame. The separate ground is a backup in the event the neutral wire becomes disconnected... for safety reasons, of course. Should one of the hot wires accidentally touch the body of the clothes dryer, the rush of electricity to the "ground" will cause the circuit breaker to trip and turn off the power. By having this additional wire leading to ground, there is less chance of the metal frame of the dryer becoming electrically charged... a possibly deadly situation!

Look at the power "block" where the prongs on the plug are attached. There is usually some sort of removable metal linkage that connects the neutral terminal to the body of the dryer. This "bridge" must be disconnected. Then, attach the new ground wire to the body of the dryer. Sometimes there is a screw at the end of the grounding linkage that allows this connection to be made. Or, you may have to drill a hole into the frame and attach the ground wire using a sheet metal screw and a washer.

Test the ground with a multimeter set to check resistance... touch one terminal to the body of the dryer (bare metal) and another to the ground prong on the plug... if you show positive resistance you have correctly grounded the appliance. If your meter doesn't show resistance, check to be sure your ground connection is onto bare metal. You may have to even scrape off a little paint to make a good connection.

Electrical work can be dangerous! If you have ANY DOUBTS AT ALL about your connections, call in a pro and get it done right!



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

Dear NH,

Should I be concerned about asbestos when removing old vinyl? I see no reference to this in your current postings on asbestos.

AR from Carrollton, GA


You can only know for sure by having the floor tested by a certified testing lab or purchase a do-it-yourself asbestos test kit at a hardware or home store. However, if the floor is less than 30 years old you can be reasonably sure that it has no asbestos in it.

As mentioned in my article on asbestos, there are different types of asbestos and not all asbestos is dangerous. That having been said, ALL asbestos removal should be done by professionals, since the particles can get into everything in your home if special care is not taken.

In many cases, it is better to cover the old flooring rather than removing it. This is done by installing a 1/4" layer of plywood underlayment over the old floor. Then, any type of flooring material can be installed over it. Using both screws and construction adhesive to attach the underlayment will provide the strongest floor.

Laminated flooring, such as Pergo, can be installed over sound vinyl or linoleum with no plywood underlayment. This cost savings may be one reason why laminated strip flooring has become so popular!



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