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Handyman Letter -  February 15, 2002



1) A patch on the wall... 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!

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

10) Be a "Friend of NH" and get FULL ACCESS for one year to our new ADVERTISEMENT-FREE site!!



A handyman enters the inner realm of a home in a special way. Rather than being outsiders, we are partners who strive to complement the necessary chores that define home ownership. We make other's lives a little more comfortable by attending to minor annoyances. We brush the dust from projects started in good faith but somehow went awry or were left unfinished. We provide the physical accompaniment to a client's artistic designs. In that way we often become friends (and occasionally confidants) to both our clients and their homes.

There is no greater privilege than to be allowed to share in the vitality of a home, to witness a family as they mellow with time and familiarity in their home. We've lived through those frantic early years, struggling to make sense of the powerful responsibilities of home and family. We've moved on together to the stressful middle years, when just keeping the kitchen counters clean is a major feat... but the dreams we shared! And, of course, we've felt the joys and stings of the later years... the endless "have-tos" gently yielding to "want-tos", then to "need-tos" as life slowly but inevitably dims.

What makes a house a home? One thing for sure... it's not square-footage or the cedar siding! Nor is a home defined by the amount of brass or glass.

Sometimes one must narrow his vision... maybe even squint... to see the little things that define a home. Move a little closer to that wall. If you look just at the right angle, you might see the not-so-neat patching of holes that may have hung a treasured work of art or an oddly functional wicker shelf. Glance there at the painted-over, but ever visible, height lines on a kitchen doorjamb which once celebrated the growth of a child. Or at that wall, where the dim shadows of picture frames on age-faded paint reveal a life that has moved on.

Home is in both the carefully groomed garden and the compost pile. In the bounding Labrador or the now empty doghouse in quiet mourning for an absent friend. You will find a home behind a pile of old furniture in the basement... way over there under a few dozen generations of spider webs.

A home is not defined by its perfection but by its uniqueness borne not of permanence but of change... not of neatness but of clutter... not of sterility but of life. Just as a perfect patch is lost to the wall, our homes and our lives are to be found not in the sunlight, but in the shadows and nuances cast by our passions, our stumbles and our triumphs.

As a handyman, there is no greater privilege than to have been there.




Dear NH,

I have a ground water leak at my water service pipes during periods of heavy rain. I have a poured concrete wall foundation. This pipe enters approximately 6' below grade. It appears that when enough water-pressure is achieved in the ground water, it forcefully shoots along the pipe and into the basement.

I have it blocked to stop the spray and allow it to run down the wall to the floor joint, where it enters the sump drainage system. However, I would like to finish the basement so I am looking for a way to stop the leak. This is not a large hole, so expanding foams probably will not work. Would applying a marine epoxy with a syringe into the pipe/wall joint when dry form a permanent stop for this leak? Do you have a different recommendation? I have seen you recommend goop for other types of leaks, but I don't know if it would withstand the hydroscopic pressure.

NO from West Chicago, IL


Any breach through a below-grade wall has the potential for leakage. This includes water pipes, electrical wiring and holes from the metal ties that held the concrete forms together during the pouring of the foundation.

There are a number of products that are designed to stop leaks in concrete walls, the best from a do-it-yourself perspective being hydraulic cement... a.k.a. "Water Plug". This Portland cement product sets quickly and expands while drying. It sticks tenaciously to new or old concrete and will provide an excellent water seal between metal pipe and concrete... provided the metal is not too dirty!

Hydraulic cement needs at least an inch or two of "depth" and a half inch of width in order for the cement to have sufficient and reliable holding strength. Carefully chisel or drill out (with a masonry bit, of course) an adequate width and depth of concrete surrounding the pipe. Rinse off any dust or dirt and, while the wall is damp, apply the hydraulic cement with a metal or wooden tool, packing it tightly around the pipe. You can smooth the patch with a damp tool but work fast, since you will only have a minute or two before the initial hardening occurs. Once the patch hardens, your leak should be permanently stopped. The ground water will still be there, of course, but it will find its way to your drainage system instead of your basement floor!

I would not use marine epoxy in this specific instance. Expanding foam may or may not work in this instance, again due to the depth of the cavity to be filled. Not that there isn't a place for expanding polyurethane foam in sealing leaks in concrete walls. For example, it is one of the few sure and easy solutions for leakage through a pipe containing electrical wiring, such as from a well pump or underground wiring for light posts. The foam will not damage the wiring and will expand to fill every nook and cranny in the pipe!

And forget Goop! Though dry Goop is waterproof, it is not designed to stop leaks, especially under pressure.


Dear NH,

I am going to have some new carpet installed in my two-floor condo. The floor under the carpet is plywood. I know because the installer and I peeked under the old carpet when he came to measure.

My problem is that the floors squeak so loudly it frightens my cat! The carpet man told me the best time to stop the squeaks is before the carpet is put in. How do I do this, and can this be done before the old carpet is removed? I have a finished basement so I can't see under the floor.

By the way, I don't have many tools but I have lots of heart!!

OB from Chicago, IL


I give credit to your carpet installer for his honesty, knowing that his job might be delayed while you do the repair. Some companies tell the homeowner to wait until after the new carpet is installed. Home repair myths never die; that squeaky floors can be repaired with the carpet in place is near the top of the list! It is usually a "fool's sport" in my opinion. Floor squeaks are caused by a number of factors and most repair methods require a clear view of the floor to be efficient and effective... especially when a floor has as many squeaks as you describe!

The only exception is if you have a clear view of the underside of the floor, such as a downstairs floor above a crawl space or unfinished basement. Then there are some techniques that can be used, such as installing blocking, using construction adhesive or angled screwing through the beams to pull the floor down. However, since 50% of floors don't have any access from underneath, I will address the three most common causes of floor squeaks and repair tips...

Squeak #1: The nails holding the plywood to the beams have loosened.

The noise is caused by movement of the plywood against the nails. Simply banging the nails back in may silence the squeak temporarily, but the most reliable solution is to first bang in the nails and then install a screw within an inch or so of each nail for added strength. Sometimes, the plywood or the beams have slightly bowed. This pressure will pull the nails back out over time, making the use of screws an absolute necessity. It is helpful to stand on the squeaky area to press it down while installing the screws.

Screwing down a floor can be both backbreaking and time consuming... especially if the squeaks are widespread. At the least, you must use an electric drill with a screwdriver bit. An electric screw gun designed for this purpose would be a step up, since they have features making screw installation quicker and more accurate. A third option... the fastest and least fatiguing... is to buy or rent a self-feeding screw gun that uses strips of screws. They drive screws almost as fast as you can place the tool against the floor! One such gun, the Quikdrive can be seen online at:

For screwing down " plywood, 2" #6 drywall screws are quite adequate, though (if available) a heavier weight #8 subfloor screw is better. Either square drive or Phillips heads are fine, though square drive screws can be driven with more power and less slippage. I have used both with excellent results.

Squeak #2: The floor is flexing at seams and two plywood edges are rubbing against each other.

This can happen when two pieces of plywood were pressed too tightly together during installation OR if structural settling has caused pressure between the edges. Stepping on the seam can cause a squeak. You may lubricate the seam with silicone spray or graphite, but this is, at best, a temporary fix. The better solution is to simply open the joint up slightly with a circular saw or jig saw. Just a "saw kerf" (blade thickness) of space is all that is necessary to ease up the pressure! I prefer the circular saw because of the shallow depth of cut. The deeper cut of the jig saw could hit pipes or wiring that were not installed to current codes and are too close underneath to the floor! Once the cut is made and the squeak silenced you could put some subfloor adhesive (either with a caulking gun or force it in with a putty knife) into the crack. This will stabilize and seal the seam, further reducing movement. Not absolutely necessary but a nice finishing touch!

DO NOT use the sawing method along plywood edges directly over a beam! Instead, install additional screws to tighten up the floor. The "saw kerf" repair is strictly for squeaks originating in seams that extend between beams (perpendicular to the beam) with no support underneath.

Squeak #3: A mysterious hidden structural member is moving when the plywood is walked on.

This is the worst possible squeak and requires the most skill to repair. You have this one when you have screwed your little heart out and the squeak is still as strong as ever! Sometimes the squeaky sound seems to come from "everywhere and nowhere", making it difficult to locate. These squeaks are caused by movement in the underlying beam or truss and are repaired on a case-by-case basis depending on the type of movement. First, a section of floor must be removed to expose the beam or truss. Second, examine the beam or truss for looseness. Third, stop the movement by using a combination or nails, screws and/or construction adhesive. Finally, reinstall the cut-out section of floor.

Floor repair is a whole lesson in itself, so I will leave you here (for now) and pray that all your squeaks are little ones!



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

Dear NH,

While reading your editorial about keeping ahead of messes, I was reminded of a cleaning philosophy that I have been meaning to try. Yes, I too am a mess magnet. The philosophy goes as follows:

Don't look at cleaning / straightening up as a long task. Dedicate 5 minutes of your day to cleaning up your messes. It's amazing how much can be accomplished in that short time period. Also, once you see results, you may be inspired to work more than 5 minutes and make a real dent in the piles.

People who have tried this concept swear by it. Thanks for reminding me of it. I'm going to try it this week and see what happens.

Keep up the good work!



Five minutes... sounds like a start! Thanks for another shot in the arm!


Dear NH,

Thank you so much for your article on cleaning!! I am a home schooling, stay-at-home mom with a wood-working and handyman addiction. So between the school and projects that I have going, trying to keep the house tidy with all the drilling and sawing messes that I make, seems very much impossible to me!

I am however learning to clean up as I go, which seems to me a little like shoveling the sidewalk during a blizzard. But it is helping (especially when you have little ones complaining about getting splinters from my wood shavings). After all, what good mommy wants to endanger the kids with my scraps? Not me!!

So thanks again for your article, it is a continuing encouragement for me to keep up with the tidy work!! Joyfully in Christ

KA in Kansas


Keeping your work area clean is definitely safer for everyone! Hey... in a few years you will hopefully have some little hands lightening your load!


Dear NH,

Regarding the letter (in the last newsletter) about excessive moisture in the home, the owner should have the heat exchanger on their furnace checked. I am a former HVAC technician and sudden excessive humidity can be a sign of bad heat exchanger or blocked vent pipe. Both can be a deadly hazard.

You mentioned checking for leakage in the vent pipes. They should also check for "blockage" in the vent pipes. If the chimney is not screened, birds can get down in the chimney and end up blocking the vent pipe. While the furnace is operating, they should hold a lit match in front of the draft diverter. The flame should be drawn towards the draft diverter. If the flame is directed away from the furnace, there is a venting problem.

Another thing that should be checked for is bathroom exhaust fans vented directly into the attic. This can exist for years without causing a noticeable problem until 'suddenly', the child(ren) become teenagers and start taking frequent, long showers depositing large amounts of hot moist air in a cold attic.

I hope my comments are helpful. I appreciate your essays. They are thoughtful, often thought provoking, enjoyable and I look forward to them.



Thanks for your insights. I'll pass them on! Hopefully the writer took my advice and had a HVAC pro (such as yourself) in to evaluate the furnace!


Dear NH,

I am considering starting my own Handyman business, like one of your readers in the June, 2001 newsletter. In your answer to him, you said, "Some areas severely limit the handyman's ability to do certain types of 'protected' crafts such as plumbing and electrical work. Keep yourself legal and keep yourself in business."

OK, how do I find out what the limits are for these "protected" crafts? I've read through the state laws for electrical work and, though I'm not a lawyer, it appears that I'm technically not even allowed to operate a "light bulb changing" business as light bulbs could be considered to be part of "wires, ..., apparatus, devices, fixtures, ... for carrying or using electricity for light, heat, power".

WG from Tewksbury, MA


Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules concerning the work you can and can't legally do in any state. The laws vary so widely and some are worded so vaguely that whatever your interpretation, you could still be ruled wrong in court!

Judging by the way the CT law is written, you may be quoting from the "definition" of electrical work, not the regulations regarding it.

CT has some common sense exceptions to licensing requirements. There aren't enough electricians to do the work if every single job involving an electrical appliance needed a licensed electrician on hand. For example, the CT statute states:

"The provisions (of the law) shall not apply to... persons engaged in the installation, maintenance, repair and service of electrical or other appliances of a size customarily used for domestic use where such installation commences at an outlet receptacle or connection previously installed by persons licensed to do the same and maintenance, repair and service is confined to the appliance itself and its internal operation."

In my non-legal reading of this rule, it appears to say that as long as a "licensed electrical contractor" performed the initial installation of all wiring according to the electrical code, it would appear that non-licensed persons may perform future installations or repairs as long as the work the electrician did is not modified or undone. For example, an unlicensed person cannot install original wiring for a garbage disposal but CAN replace garbage disposal that had been previously installed. The same would apply to dishwashers and other "hard-wired" appliances.

Similar rules apply for plumbing work, with shutoff valves and soldered joints being the limiting connections allowing repair and replacement of toilets and faucets by non-licensed individuals. Therefore, a handyman can do a variety of plumbing and electrical jobs in Connecticut within the legal framework and within his own education and skill level. Some states have very few restrictions on work that "overlaps" into the crafts... others have very restrictive licensing policies.

Of course, the actual "line" of legality is always somewhat vague and I shouldn't have to remind anyone how important it is for any businessman to have adequate insurance to cover all eventualities!!

I am sure all states have statutes which lay out the limits of your involvement in the "licensed" crafts. You just have to do a little more searching for your state!



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