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Handyman Letter - July 15, 2001


1) Pressure treated wood under fire again...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) What's new at

6) Q&A with our readers


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




"Death in the backyard... this evil wood is killing our kids!!"

No, that's not a headline I have seen... yet ... but I wouldn't doubt that some local paper used similar words to describe the latest controversy surrounding pressure-treated wood.

As part of a continual review of old regulations, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking another look at the use and manufacture of pressure treated wood. They are focusing on wood treated with chromated copper arsenate, or CCA... the predominant preservative used in these long-lived "outdoor" wood products.

Research from the University of Florida has indicated some possible health concerns posed by these treated woods. My skeptical ears perked up as these reports filtered into the news over the last few months. After all, I have worked with CCA for years, as have hundreds of thousands of other homeowners and contractors. Could we have been handling a ticking time bomb?

As I have looked at the pros and cons of CCA-treated wood for years, I have come to believe that this product is safe for use... but only when installed in appropriate locations and handled in accordance with long-standing safety rules. So I wondered... what has changed to suddenly make this product the subject of such rapt media attention?

It is undeniable that we are under an anti-arsenic siege this year... specifically since the Bush administration's decision not to enforce former President Clinton's eleventh-hour change in long standing levels of water-borne arsenic. Could this increased public awareness of the dangers of arsenic be fueling this side issue, bringing it into the limelight again?

The Florida study was "field" research, examining the soil under pressure treated playscapes throughout the state. They found quantities of arsenic up to a hundred times greater than currently acceptable levels and concluded that these higher levels were due to arsenic "leaching" from the treated wood due to rain and weathering.

I think this is cause for further investigation and even local cleanups where necessary, but not for panic. In fact, I don't find this result surprising at all, but not for the reasons the researchers concluded. Chips from CCA-treated wood are more likely to contaminate the soil since they release their arsenic more quickly than whole boards. Unless a carpenter is scrupulous in his cleanup, treated chips and debris from the construction of playscapes routinely end up in the soil under and around them. Since the study was done on existing playgrounds, the issue of how well the contractors cleaned is not mentioned and, now, probably can't be determined.

Also, as many wooden playscapes are built by local volunteers (there have been projects like this in my town and probably in yours), my guess is that only the most minimal cleanup of the sites was done... not due to negligence but due to ignorance. Could this be the reason for the high levels in the soil and not leaching of arsenic from the wood itself?

The CCA industry has been under strict regulation for over 30 years. They are manufacturing a product that has been in existence since the 1930's with a great track record of performance and safety. There has never been a dispute as to whether the CCA is a dangerous compound... it definitely is. However, as with all dangerous but valuable chemicals... from aspirin to gasoline... the value can outweigh the risks IF the risks are minimized through proper use of the products.

Nevertheless, it may be time for a change. There are now viable alternatives to CCA. ACQ, or ammoniacal copper/quaternary (now THAT'S a fifty-cent word if I ever heard one), is virtually interchangeable with CCA lumber and is less toxic. It is also significantly more expensive and less widely available. Borate treated lumber is another option, where insect resistance is of primary importance. Again, the product is hard to get in most areas and pricey.

I think that the attention brought to this issue is a good thing for the future of the pressure treating industry. I believe that CCA-treated wood is a product of the past and that, over time, alternative methods of lasting wood protection will become more dominant. As is the history of commerce and free enterprise, prices usually drop as demand increases. If YOU demand these alternative products from your local home store and lumberyard, they will become available... and affordable... for all of us.




SYDNEY MORNING HERALD featured us in an article on June 20th by Rosanna McGlone-Healey. In our otherwise glowing review, she referred to the "sexist title" of our website. Rosanna, unfortunately "handyperson" was already taken! Of course, in her mention of another site titled "Handywoman" no similar comment was levied.

Perhaps we should change the name of our site to "Natural Handywhatever". Ugh. If any of you know the author, please let her know that... yes, Rosanna... there is a difference between men and women... handy or not!



Our beloved editor, Lin Erickson, is leaving Connecticut and moving to Florida at the end of this month. Boo hoo!! Among her many talents, Lin is also a popular and sucessful interior decorator, and will be setting up shop in her new home in the Boca Raton area. That is, just as soon as she gets her own digs in order!

Fortunately for us, her friendship and unique ability to keep some of NH's grammatical errors (and excesses!) in check will not be lost, as we will continue to work together via the wonders of electronic communication.

Good luck, Lin, in your new home and new life!

NOTE: Due to Linda's move we will not be publishing an August 1, 2001 issue.
(OK... poor excuse for a little R&R... but you have to take it when and where you can!)

Our next newsletter will be on AUGUST 15th.



Dear NH,

I have a security iron storm door that was installed with a MARKS day lock and deadbolt. MARKS was touted as one of the best locks of this type which is why I opted for it.

Although the bolt is aligned correctly with the receiver opening, it turns only so far with the key and then resists movement any further. This resistance is present both when locking and unlocking it. Both locking and unlocking can be accomplished if the key is turned in one continuous quick motion through the point of resistance.

The lock has been thoroughly spray cleaned with WD-40 and subsequently lubricated with a silicone spray. Dirt in the mechanism appears not to be the problem. It simply resists smooth locking and unlocking as if something within the lock itself is misaligned but I have never disassembled such a lock and would therefore appreciate some advice on this.



Have you tried the deadbolt with the door open? You did not mention whether you did or not, but this would eliminate the mechanism itself from consideration. Some locksets will bind internally if the mounting screws that connect the inside and outside plates of the lock are overtightened. Loosen them a few turns and see if this frees up the mechanism.

If the deadbolt otherwise works properly, the bolt must be rubbing on the strike plate as it extends into the pocket. Though you may have the bolt centered vertically, the opening in the plate must also be centered horizontally. It is quite possible that the bolt is rubbing on either the inside or outside edge of the hole.

To test this hypothesis, try to activate the deadbolt with the spring latch held in by turning the handle/knob on the lock. Is there a position that the deadbolt works smoothly? If so, then you need to either adjust the position of the strike plate inwards or outwards or, if there is no adjustment in this particular strike plate, use a metal file to slightly enlarge the strike plate opening so the bolt moves freely.

Sometimes, a bolt may not travel straight out, causing rubbing on the inside of the pocket in the door frame. Therefore, you must also look for any obstruction within the pocket and clean it out!


Dear NH,

Your article on saddle valves made it quite clear that they should be attached to the cold water supply line. However, the "professional" installers of my humidifier tapped into the hot water line from my water heater. The humidifier is attached to the furnace in the attic, which is also where my water heaters are. The installers said that the 1/4" tubing would be less likely to freeze by tapping into the hot water supply. My questions...

1) Is the saddle valve more likely to fail because it is attached to the hot water supply?

2) I was told to turn on the saddle valve on in the winter and off in the summer.
I thought the more you turn on and off a saddle valve, the more likely it is to widen the hole, and eventually never turn off. Is this true?



Saddle valves are mounted on a cold supply line instead of a hot line because the heat of the water decreases the life of the rubber/fibrous gasket used to seal around the hole the valve pierces in the pipe. Any plumber will tell you that flexible parts always fail on the "hot" side of a faucet first. I can't tell you how much "life" you are losing, but I can tell you that NO manufacturer I am aware of encourages installation of saddle valves on hot water lines. Even companies that manufacturer sink-mounted "hot water machines" recommend installation on the cold line. There are some water heating units that DO feed from the hot water line, but they do not use saddle valves.

As far as opening and closing the valve, don't worry about it. The saddle valve only pierces the pipe once. After that there is no further increase in the size of the opening. There is no additional stress placed on the valve by opening and closing it. In fact, you may prolong the useful life of the valve by opening and closing it a few times a year. Plumbing valves that remain unturned are more likely to seize up and fail when you need them the most. I have found this to be a common problem with shutoffs under sinks, which are usually only turned when the faucet is in need of repair!

If there is any leakage around the handle stem when you open or close the saddle valve, use a small wrench to tighten the packing nut enough to stop the leakage. If the body of the saddle valve turns, use a second wrench to hold it in place while tightening the packing nut.

Concerning the issue of freezing, I would suggest that you wrap the tubing in fiberglas pipe insulation... just in case. Don't depend on the connection to the hot water pipe to give you much freezing protection. Because the amount of water drawn through the tubing into the humidifier will be small, it probably won't even be warm unless you have just run the hot water in the sink!


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

Thank you for today's editorial comment. I believe that we give up freedom for security, just as we "give up" good bacteria for antibacterial security. We don't realize that we need risk for freedom as we don't realize we need "good bacteria" until we are all resistant to antibiotic drugs. As St. Augustine said, "moderation in all things."

We also need to be a little less self serving and a little more concerned about the golden rule. Happy 4th of July!



Well said. Relating loss of freedom to disease is a stroke of genius and couldn't be more "right on"!


Dear NH,

Thank you for a wonderful message about freedom!! It scares me about how many people just go along with things and let all this happen! Stay on this site and also find a more visible soapbox and carry on!

HS from Olustee, OK


Appreciate your suggestion... but (for now) one soapbox is plenty, thank you!


Dear NH,

Thanks for your very helpful newsletter. May I suggest a section for your newsletter?
HANDYMAN 101-- For those who want to make a serious career of this...
and maybe join the ranks of the profession, how would he/she start?



I have "now and again" answered questions about the handyman business, but not in an organized form. I will consider it. Thanks for the suggestion!



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