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Natural Handyman
February 1, 2002


1) Is neatness its own reward?... 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... win great home repair stuff!!

4) What's new at

5) Q&A with our readers


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

"The Cleaning Encyclopedia" by Don Aslett

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



We, who spend our blissful days in home service, receive a fabulous on-the-job education in the ways of disorder, with a minor in chaos. Not that we chose to become "connoisseurs of clutter". Just as a falling leaf cannot avoid the wind, our work requires us to have a practical acceptance of untidiness lest we become blown away!

One of the many unwritten rules of the professional home service worker is "Thou shall not pass judgment on other people's messes... only your own!" The second, "When in doubt, wear heavy gloves!" But when the disorder leads to wasted time, frustration or temporary insanity, it's time to smell the coffee.... neatness, after all, is its own reward, isn't it? Perhaps. It makes you wonder... is orderliness really a "natural" part of the human condition?

Maybe not... at least when viewed from this seat! Sure, in my workaday life I strive to be tidy and organized, maintaining a reasonably clean workspace in my customer's home while skipping from task to task. Those honey-do lists can get a handyman hopping for sure! Neatness is no mean feat considering the dust and havoc even the smallest home repair job can cause! Like a faithful dog, my trusty Eureka Mighty Mite has been my closest ally.

My motivation is not a personal compulsion for order and control, but instead driven by a desire to please. Should a customer request I not clean up, I would gladly accommodate... though I never ask, assuming they would like my visit to be as "transparent" as possible. Hi ho Eureka, away!!

But this veneer of orderliness is so, so thin! Perhaps my professional pickiness devours my limited quota of "neatness energy". Within its steel soul, my van (a.k.a. my haven... my second home) does have a "general" sense of order, with places for most every tool and gizmo. You'd never know it with a casual glance though, with much of its contents thoroughly buried under drywall scraps, half-folded tarps, chunks of wood and voluminous dust!

During a recent "National Clean Up Your Office... Or Else Week", an efficiency expert claimed that some office workers spend nearly as much time searching for lost documents (or reconstructing them) as they do working! Can you grasp how much time and money may be lost amidst the clutter in your workspace? Frightening! Or the back of my van? Horrifying!

Productivity at work is not the only victim of this burgeoning jumble. What about the games spoiled by missing playing cards? Or the lost puzzle piece that allows no closure after uncounted hours of effort? And where the heck are the scissors?

Like the slow unstoppable creep of molten lava, the reservoir of disarray grows and grows, destroying all productivity in its path! Unstoppable, the mountain of hot clutter rises till the task is no longer a simple cleanup... it has mutated into a colossal, hulking nastiness!

Yet, avoidance seems to be the rule, and for good reason, too! The sheer size of the chore is daunting... a typical "spring" van cleaning can take 4 or more hours... too much time to easily fit into any day without some hard-core planning. And finding the time amidst the other time stealers (toaster cleaning and sock-sorting for example) boggles the mind! It's no wonder that the clutter remains long after its origins have been lost in the quickly falling sands of time.

Somewhere out there is an answer... the magic potion that will open my eyes and inspire me to keep on top of my messes instead of being buried by them. For now, though, I will continue to take baby steps... making one big pile from smaller piles could be a start. And try to make better use of the trashcan.

One thing I know for sure; knowing the right thing to do AND mustering up the will to actually start doing it are often mutually exclusive, an instinctual twitch to the irony that doing the "right thing" is often neither pleasant nor immediately rewarding. So we stall, hem and haw... or run!

Another of life's little mysteries. Which I had the answer to... somewhere... if I could find the darn Post-It Note!




Dear NH,

My daughter and her husband who live in Northern Indiana have a terrible moisture problem. They live in a tri-level house. They are noticing gray-black discoloration of the ceilings in all of the three rooms on their upper level. Touching the areas, they are moist. Their windows also have condensation.

Looking in the attic, there are areas where the insulation is wet, and mold or mildew shows on the rafters. I suppose a roof leak is possible, but the moisture is so widespread, my inclination is against such. Would poor attic ventilation cause this severe a problem? They also have a humidifier on their furnace. Would such create this problem?

What must they do? Pull out the insulation? Replace the damp ceiling drywall? Is it possible to kill all the mildew, etc in the attic? A health concern if they don't? Can a general remodeling contractor properly assess the problem? Or do we need to contact someone more specialized? Help!!

KLV from Columbus, IN


Mildew is always a potential health hazard, though susceptibility to mildew from an allergic standpoint varies widely from person to person. An inspection of the attic and roof is certainly important, though such widespread dampness is not usually caused by localized roof leakage. I would recommend turning off the humidifier immediately.

Do they have natural gas heating? If so, leakage in the vent pipes can release large amounts of moisture into the air. This is also a carbon monoxide hazard. Have any venting examined for leaks if this applies. Unvented gas appliances such as space heaters and stoves also emit large amounts of moisture into the air.

If the insulation is truly soaked, it must be torn out. In your area is will never dry out during the winter and will continue to cause problems.

By all means check the attic for proper ventilation. Depending on the existing ventilation, a powered fan might be necessary at least part of the year. I have lot of information on ventilation at this URL:

High levels of moisture in a basement or crawlspace rise into the living space and can cause problems. You can find some solutions at:

Depending on your (or their) skills, most suggested remedies are of the do-it-yourself genre. Whether or not any specific contractor has the knowledge to assess your problem will require a little homework on your part. You may not have any local contractors with expertise in ventilation, but that does not mean that they cannot solve your problem You may have to take a "hands-on" approach and educate yourself to be sure the problem is completely solved!


Dear NH,

How do I remove burns (from cigarettes balanced on the edge) from my cultured marble vanity top?

GB from DeSoto, Texas


Ah... another of the "costs" of smoking! Cultured marble is a composite product of actual stone dust mixed with a binding product. The surface is sanded incredibly smooth and coated with a special "gel" finish that is durable and waterproof... but not indestructible. The surface is susceptible to scratching, burns and is affected by some chemicals... most notoriously nail polish remover!

You cannot remove the burns with any simple cleaning product. They are permanently etched into the surface of the cultured marble. Actual restoration to original condition is impossible.

However, there are a few repair options. The same folks who do "glazing" on tubs also do vanity tops. They use a special type of paint to give your sink a new surface. You may be able to purchase this paint from a local paint store, but it is quite expensive... perhaps more costly than a new vanity top... and a gallon will be quite a bit more than you need! The only website I have found that sells this product direct to the consumer is: 

Other sturdy paints, such as floor paints, will stand up for a while but will not be as durable or long-lasting as the "real thing".

If you want to attempt a spot repair yourself you may be able to mask the burns with a little artistry and a kit from Bath Wizard designed to repair small defects in cultured marble. Their website is .


Dear NH,

What is a good way to clean cob-web's from a "popcorn" ceiling?

VA from Boulder Creek, CA


Sprayed acoustic ceilings are relatively fragile, especially if they have never been painted over. They cannot be washed and the bits of texture have a tendency to fall off. More than one of my clients has complained about texture in their soup!

The absolutely best way is to vacuum the cobwebs off. Cobwebs tend to be rather "greasy" since they catch all sorts of air-borne dust and cooking smoke. I avoid using any sort of dusting rag or cloth because rubbing them onto the ceiling can cause marks that are difficult to remove.

The second best choice would be to use a feather duster, but being careful to lift the cobwebs from the ceiling. Remove the cobwebs from the feather duster before doing any other dusting or they may leave marks elsewhere!



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

Dear NH,

Regarding your "Starting Over" message in the Jan 15th newsletter, I suggest that both you and the parents of this child read the book "Son-Rise: the Miracle Continues" by Barry N. Kaufman. While I bet that the parents of this child are aware of the book - at least they should be if they are in a support group -YOU obviously made an impact on this child. As you would see from the book, it was a fairly long-term investment the Kaufman's made in their son but the result was little short of fantastic. Think about it.



Thanks for the book reference. I'll pass it on! After a little research, I discovered that Barry has a website with extensive autism resources for parents and professionals alike. They also have "Son-Rise" available for sale (though the price through is a little more reasonable!)


Greetings NH,

I just wanted to let you know that your "Starting Over" editorial was wonderful. You certainly have a way with words. I'm envious! And inspired! Thank you.



Thanks so much for writing. Glad you enjoyed last issue's message!

Over my many years in business, I have worked a number of families with autistic children. Each family has had to make remarkable sacrifices for these special kids. Seeing such love and strength makes one appreciate the possibilities within each of us to rise above our difficulties, however daunting!

One thing for sure... you don't have to look far for inspirational heroes if your eyes (and mind) are open.



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