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Handyman Letter - March 1, 2002


1) It's a laughing matter... 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!!



While I was waiting in line to be checked out at a local hardware store, the lovely lady behind the counter, Joan, was showing visible frustration with a customer. Apparently she had misrung an item. The customer understood and was sympathetic, but it was obvious SHE was more irked by her error than he was!

When I reached the head of the line, we exchanged niceties and I asked her what happened, being concerned that she still looked drained and gray. Joan looked up at me (no superiority complex here... she stands just 5' in shoes!) and said with a half-smile, "You always seem to be in such a good mood. You laugh at everything. I wish I could laugh more."

Joan had me pegged... I do laugh a lot and quite easily. I smile every chance I get and sometimes even force myself to smile when I deserve to be grouchy! Laughing seems to defuse my own self-destructive impulses. Even though I know I'm trying to fool myself, it often seems to lighten my mood.

I am unsure how or what led me to this mental state. Call it a sort of "late-blooming" maturity. The world now makes more sense and every day is easier than the last. After all, looking at the world as a funny place instead of a scary place opens up new horizons.

Don't get me wrong... I am a realist too, and Lord knows there are enough things out there that scare me! I just decided it makes no sense to be afraid all the time. So I reserve my fears for when I really need them to put the brakes on stupid actions or choices. The rest of the time, I try to find some humor... some airiness... in everything.

Maybe it's my way of keeping sane. I've observed enough people with a perpetually sour attitude, I know I don't want to be one of them... ever. I've known people with misfortune so great as to crush mere mortals, so I have lost my sense of being "entitled to sorrow". Somewhere betwixt and between is the humor zone... that's where I try to keep myself!

Humans are not entitled to be happy. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence of a free person's unalienable right to the "pursuit" of happiness. With all life's little surprises, he knew there is little hope of guaranteeing tomorrow, let alone something as elusive as happiness.

For me, standing on the road to happiness is the sweetest place to be! Looking at that twisting white line fading to the sunrise, you are free to keep things light when you can, and find meaning where you will. And knowing in your heart that getting there is not the point... it's enjoying the walk!

And having a few hearty laughs on the way.




Dear NH,

I have a sliding shower door that is driving us crazy! One of the wheels keeps coming off the track. Is there something I can do to repair this. I have tried spraying it with WD-40 but it doesn't seem to help except to make everything gooey.

BP from Idaho Falls, ID


Lubrication is a start, though I would have chosen a silicone lubricant instead. WD-40 isn't really a lubricant... it is a protectant that has some lubricating properties. First and foremost, the mechanical functioning of the door should be evaluated.

There are a couple of problems to look for. The first is the condition of the wheels, also called "rollers". Are they still round and smooth, or are they starting to look like the soles of an old pair of sneakers? Do they rotate easily without any wobble? If you notice either of these problems, remove the old rollers (most are held on with a screw) and take them to the hardware store to get a proper size match. The doors will have to be removed do this (more below).

The second problem could be in the adjustment of the door. When closed, the door should fit vertically against the side molding. If there is more than one rubber doorstop, it should make contact both of them. If it doesn't, there is a tendency for the door to lift out of the track when opened too "aggressively"!

The way to adjust the door depends on the design. Some doors have multiple holes for each roller... moving the roller to a "higher" hole lowers the door, etc. Others have the roller screws in a "slot" that allows finer adjustment. Before making any adjustments, look at the bottom track. Some doors run inside a U-shaped track... others (the so-called trackless doors) utilize a sliding mechanism. Be sure the sliding mechanism is disengaged before attempting to remove the doors for adjustment. Some have a lever... others use a simple screw-on clip. (Be careful not to break anything... it may be impossible to get a replacement part!)

Aggression! Leading me to the final possibility... that someone is being a little too violent with the doors. Sliding doors do not take well to banging and excessive force... they retaliate by jumping out of the track! Team up a maladjusted door with aggression and the only result can be home repair tragedy!

When you adjust each door, be sure to adjust it to the side it will be at when "closed". The correct closing position of the inner door is near the showerhead. The outer door should close further away from the showerhead. This will keep water from blowing through the gap between the doors. Having seen the staining and damage that can occur over the years, this is not a minor point!



Dear NH,

My wife and I have noticed that the water pressure in our house is sometimes very poor. Is this something we should be concerned about? Or is it just due to too many people in our neighborhood taking showers/using water at the same time?

RI in Pasadena, CA


It is unlikely that your neighbors' water use would affect your water flow. The size of the pipes used for municipal water supplies is large enough to keep the flow even to all homes, even if everyone turned their taps on at once. I would contact the company that manages your public water supply to see what experience they have with this problem.

Generally speaking, a draw on your water system in one part of your home will affect the pressure elsewhere, depending of course on the size of your home's pipes, the starting pressure and the volume of water flow. A garden hose, for example, will have a more dramatic effect than a toilet, since the volume of moving water is greater. Also, there are "automatic" systems that might cause temporary draws you might not be aware of at the time the pressure drops, such as self-cleaning water softening systems, sprinkler systems or automatic refilling of a heating system.

If you happen to be on a well system, variations of water pressure are normal. Some folks who are accustomed to the constant pressure of "city water" are astounded at the difference! Showers have to be carefully planned around toilet flushes, dishwashing and, of course, the laundry. Or else there may be lots of screaming!

Residential well systems operate within a range of pressures. Keeping the pressure absolutely constant would require the pump to cycle on every time you drew water, increasing the wear on the pump dramatically. This would also cause you to experience a "pulsing" in the water as each cycle of the pump moves water.

You should also investigate whether your home has an automatic pressure adjusting system. Some municipal water supplies have such high pressure that residents install pressure-reducing equipment. A malfunction with this system could possibly cause unwanted pressure variations.

Of course, there could be other hidden factors I have missed. In which case you might want to have a plumber inspect your system for other pressure "bottlenecks".



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

Dear NH,

In the Feb. 04,'02 issue you answered a question about mold growing in the persons attic with wet insulation, etc... I just wanted to point out that this could be black mold which is very dangerous. My brother just had his entire ceiling/roof redone because of this. His home owners insurance company picked up the entire tab. Thought you might pass that info on.



I have done a little reading on black mold... aka "Stachybotrys atra". Frankly, the jury is still out on just how dangerous this or other molds are to "normal" individuals. But there is no doubt this particular mold can produce toxic reactions in some individuals, allergic reactions in others, and no reaction in some. People with known allergies, immune system malfunctions and other respiratory illnesses must be vigilant and limit their exposure to molds.

The US EPA has a some very good information concerning mold detection and abatement with respect to schools and commercial buildings. These guidelines are thorough and don't fan the flames of panic as some media articles have. In most homes, mold problems are a minor annoyance and can be solved by finding the source of moisture, eliminating it, and removing the mold by cleaning, coating or, worst case, tearing out infested materials. The link to this informative set of articles is:

Insurance companies may pay claims for mold damage even though in some cases they could justifiably dispute them. As a policy holder, I can attest to the fact that it never hurts to make a claim... after all, that's what insurance is for! Hopefully the reader will contact his insurance company and investigate.



Dear NH,

Is there some reason why you didn't suggest to this lady that she get a pumice stone and use it on her stains? I have hard water and "little boys missing" stains on my toilets and nothing works anywhere nearly as nicely as the pumice stones I get from the local janitorial supply place. If there is some reason why you didn't suggest it, I would be glad to know what it was in case I need to re-evaluate using it myself.



Using pumice stone is an accepted way to clean deposits from toilets. It is abrasive enough to do the job, works well when wet and will "usually" not damage the toilet surface as long as it is used wet... usually because pumice stone is one of the most abrasive products you can use for cleaning aside from sandpaper and can cause permanant damage to all but the hardest surfaces.

Abrasive cleaners work quite well for many cleaning tasks, but I have learned from experience to use them as the last and not first resort. I have seen too many surfaces permanently damaged by overuse of commercial abrasive powders, so I tend to perhaps "err" on the side of caution.



Dear NH,

I have another suggestion for your reader with the stubborn toilet bowl stains. Our home's water comes from a well. It is very hard water-- extremely high in minerals. The bottom of our toilet is always brown and I have tried bleach, all kinds of cleaners.

I have found that when I scrub it with toilet bowl cleaner it doesn't get clean--- UNLESS I drain the bowl first. I pour a bucket of water into the bowl, which forces the toilet to drain all but a small amount of water. Then I apply straight Lysol toilet bowl cleaner to the toilet and allow it to run down, covering all of the stained area. It begins to dissolve the stain in seconds. A little scrubbing with the brush for the stubborn spots, flush to refill the bowl and you're done! It works every time!



Right on! Commercial toilet bowl cleaners are quite strong, but they are most powerful when used undiluted. Nice trick to drain the bowl, too! Nothing nastier than using a sponge and elbow-length neoprene gloves!

Great suggestion!!



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