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Handyman Letter -  March 15, 2002



1) Misinformation overload... 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

6) LINKMEISTER's Corner... Check out this special link "BEFORE YOU DIG!!" And more!

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



It happened just yesterday... and everyday. Two friends are having a somewhat heated discussion on a local powder keg issue. You can't quite hear their words, but it doesn't matter. The volume is rising, and you sense they've been enmeshed in similar rants before... perhaps over the education budget or the new superstore coming to their sleepy little town. Suddenly, a few angry words pass between these otherwise peace-loving people.

Stop! What has happened here... nothing untoward, right? A little debate is healthy for a free society, right? But in all honesty, do we REALLY know enough to justify the "heat" that these discussions can bring forth?

Much of the time, probably not. Though quite capable in their field of expertise, most people don't have much in-depth knowledge of the current "hot button" issues of politics, health or family. We "think" we know a lot... but a look inside ourselves may reveal that little of this "knowledge" is factually solid. Instead, what we have accepted as knowledge is too often a stew of disjointed facts, a dose of prejudice and preconceptions, and a jigger of personal insight.

There is just too much to know! No question about it... today's civilized human is indeed suffering from "information overload". The media to their credit rightfully accepts some of the blame, with too many news outlets looking for that big story. Add to the mix too much new technology for anyone to fully understand, too many books to read and too many social changes to absorb.

But my concern is not with the sheer amount of information. It is with the limited amount of "factual" information. I believe we may be suffering from a more pernicious affliction... "misinformation overload"!

Misinformation overload relates to the quality, not the quantity, of news and views that assault us each day. It is the effect that large amounts of unsubstantiated gossip, rumor and hearsay has on our ability to make intelligent decisions. The wickedness of misinformation is it provides comforting answers without genuine analysis. The result is a large group of our citizenry who are advocates for causes they do not understand and proponents of ideas they have not fully analyzed, resulting in a cheapening of knowledge in general and an increase in undisciplined thought!

It's no secret that much of today's "news" is not factual in a strict sense. Media competition has given reporting speed precedence over accuracy. Trust your own instincts. Have you ever attended an event, only to find that the news reports seem curiously at odds with your experience? Or read a movie review and wondered whether the critic actually watched the same movie? Or ask any public figure what they honestly think about the press in general... just be ready to cover your ears!

I am not trying to castigate the press... their ability to do their best work is victim to this informational gristmill, too!

I wonder what in our human nature compels us to speak with mock authority on issues we don't know much about? Is it really important that we influence others even as we are trying to shape our own immature beliefs? Is it an inherent need to communicate, regardless of the context or the topic? Or is it a way to learn... to hone our own beliefs by testing them against the beliefs of others through debate?

In real life, debate should be a learning experience... not a contest. There are no judges who will score your technical skills or even your true knowledge. For the most important people in our lives, there is less value is appearing smart than in being smart!

Fortunately, there is hope. Years of exposure to advertising "sizzle" only to be disappointed by the "steak" have made us wary. Now, we must learn to treat all potential sources of misinformation with the same skepticism... even when they play to our own prejudices and preconceptions.

As Mark Twain so aptly said, "Between believing a thing and thinking you know is only a small step and quickly taken."

Watch that step!




Dear NH,

The landlord opened the bathroom wall recently to install some new pipes because of a problem with the tenants upstairs. He left a small (about 8"wide and across) hole open because a pipe protruded. I'm wondering if any bad spores or mold could be coming in (it's an old building).

We have the windows open and try to keep the place ventilated, and I have the hole stuffed with plastic shopping bags. Your comments would be appreciated.


Dear FM,

Don't ask... DEMAND that the hole be closed up as soon as possible. More than mold could come through that hole. As a rule, no dwelling should have open holes in any walls except of a temporary nature. I can tell you for sure that your local health department would frown on it! In some areas, that could be enough to have the apartment condemned and the owner heavily fined. The problem is simple... the same sloppy holes that allow pipes to enter your home can also allow an easy path for mice and insects.

Sometimes, especially in older structures, it is impossible to totally conceal pipes within the walls. One repair would be to construct a "box" around the pipes, either from wood or drywall, so that the opening to the wall is totally closed. A removeable door could even be installed if there is reason to believe the repair may need to be redone.

Sometimes, sealing around the pipes is sufficient, but, when the repair is completed, there should be as little space as possible around pipes as possible. Then the remaining small gaps can then be sealed with caulk to keep both dust and vermin out. In some cases it is more effective to fill larger gaps with expanding foam insulation.


Dear NH,

I found your website through Yahoo while trying to find out how to stop my toilet from wobbling. It rocks front to back. I took it out to change the flooring and it is still unsteady. I have taken it apart and replaced it twice now! The top of the flange is " in. above the floor. I measured the clearance inside the bottom of the bowl and it seems that it should reach the floor but it doesn't. The front is about 1/4 in. too high (a wood shim at it's thickest part goes under easily).


Dear S,

A high flange is unusual... usually the rim of the flange rests on the floor. There are a number of possible reasons why the flange would have moved, but my speculating wouldn't be helpful to you right now.

One suggestion would be to hire a plumber to lower the flange. This would require either opening up the floor OR the ceiling below... not a cheap job! Another option for a do-it-yourselfer would be to build up the floor under the toilet.

In the case of minor wobbles, I have suggested using a mildew-proof latex bathroom caulk to basically "glue" the toilet in place. However, if the toilet is actually off the floor a little, you should probably add a custom-sized spacer under the bowl.

This is easier than it sounds. First mark the profile of the toilet on the floor. Then remove the toilet and place it on a piece of plywood of the proper thickness... in your case 1/2" thick would probably do the job. Trace the shape of the toilet onto the plywood. Cut the plywood to match the profile.

Then, cut a hole in the center of the plywood for the flange, using the line you drew on the floor as a guide OR use measurements from the bottom of the toilet... your choice! The hole doesn't have to be absolutely precise... it just has to allow the plywood to sit flat on the floor around the flange, matching the line you drew around the toilet bowl.

Once you have completed the cuts, place the plywood on the floor over the flange and reinstall the toilet. If you prefer (I would), waterproof the plywood with a sealer such as Thompson's Waterseal. Wait a few days before installing the sealed wood. Then after a week or so, you could put some caulk around the exposed plywood edge to further protect it from moisture when you wash the floor. Now it's your turn!


Dear NH,

I recently installed a hardwood floor in part of my home. My intent was to match it with the existing hardwood floors throughout. I used wood filler on the new floor and I really like the finish but the existing floors have been finished without wood filler. The finish is a water-based urethane that looks dull. Do I need to resand completely before using a wood filler and new finish or can I lightly sand with screens and a buffer. I am really not looking forward to the work and mess of a major floor-refinishing job. But I want the old floor to look more like the new part. I was advised to not use a filler when I refinished the old floors 4 years ago, now I regret heeding that advise. Any suggestions?

WP from Evansville, IN


Water-based urethane will stick to most old work (and itself) as long as the surface is clean, thoroughly dulled and totally free of grease or wax. Urethane can be recoated many times before stripping is necessary. I suggest you check your manufacturer's label to see what their recommendations are.

I can't see any reason why you couldn't use the filler prior to refinishing the old areas. There is the slight chance that it may lift out in spots (it would stick better to raw wood) but I think overall the effect will be worth the risk. Do the filling after the first sanding of the old floor. Then resand to level the filler to the floor and stain, followed by the urethane (again, according to manufacturer's directions).

One option that is usually not discussed in floor refinishing is the use of a chemical deglosser, such as Wil-Bond, on urethane. I have found it to be very effective in dulling many types of finishes. However, the problem with using it on floors is the buildup of vapors in the room. Forced ventilation is essential and all sources of sparks must be eliminated for safety reasons. You could experiment and see if this product might hold some value for you in this job... specifically in preparing the floor for filling. Test on a small area... if you find significant dulling you might want to use some Wilbond prior to filling. One thing to be aware of is that Wil-bond can remove finishes that are very fresh.

For sanding purposes, renting a commercial floor machine with screen pads will make fast work of this job. Use a grit of 100-150, starting with the 150 to see if you get an adequately dull floor. This isn't progressive sanding... from rough to fine grit... this is simply to dull the finish. The old floor finish must be totally dull or you may have adhesion problems, so be thorough. Use a sanding block to get into corners the circular pads can't reach.



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

Dear NH,

On your page about toilet dripping... a.k.a condensation on the toilet tank... you described the damage which can and will follow if something isn't done about it You also gave three fixes to the problem. All three fixes are rather difficult to do, sloppy to deal with or rather expensive.

May I offer a suggestion that has served me very well in a high humidity area that DOES cause an abnormal amount of dripping? It's called a toilet tank cover, a little rug that wraps around the tank itself and a tank lid cover. They coordinate with the contoured carpet around the toilet base, a rectangular bath carpet, and a toilet seat lid cover, too.

After applying the tank wrap carpet, the tank itself is insulated well enough not to cause any condensation. If there s any condensation, the contoured carpet around the base of the toilet would be more than enough to catch it and allow it to evaporate quickly, saving the floor from rotting out. No special tools are needed and even the least mechanically inclined housewife can install one in a matter of seconds if not only a minute or two.

Besides if the condensation gets really bad one day, a simple trip to the washroom and a spin in the dryer, and the cover is good as new! If you have a difficult color you need to match, get a white set and dye it. A simple and cheap approach to a nasty little problem.

The down side of this is the lack of availability. I've been searching high and low for one of these ensembles for over a month now!



Thanks for the info. You know... I thought I mentioned putting a carpet or towel under the toilet tank (a solution which is a little less stylish but even simpler than yours)... but I realize now that I mentioned this in a Q&A, not in the article! Silly me! Covering the outside of the tank should reduce the total condensation, though... a definite plus!!

I ran upstairs and blew the dust off the latest JC Penney catalog and, lo and behold, they sell "toilet tank sets"... carpet that covers the tank and the tank cover... for around $20.00. You're right... a very reasonable and easy fix. And you could always throw a coordinating towel on the floor, right?

Just two other quickies. First, most "housewives" I know are at least as "mechanically inclined" as their husbands if not moreso... it's called homeland survival!
Second, don't talk to me about toilet seat covers! Most of us guys don't like 'em for one reason... once they are installed the seat won't stay up... making them "inconvenient" to use. Nothing like a toilet seat banging down to wake up the family! 'Nuf said.



Dear NH,

I have a few footnotes to your information on caulking.

First of all, I don't like silicone for anything! Yes, it lasts forever but: it doesn't ADHERE forever. Plus, getting anything else to stick where you once had silicone is next to impossible!

Now, here's a tip for caulking around a Fiberglas tub: Before you begin to caulk, get into your swimsuit (or at least lock the door...) and fill the tub at least 2/3 full. That way, any flexing or 'pulling away' that the tub is likely to do will have happened before you apply the caulk.

The principle here is that if you don't weight the tub as above, and even if you do a professional job caulking around its edges, the first time it is filled with water and a person, it is likely to pull away from that fine caulking job!

With my method, it has already flexed as much as it is likely to. After the caulk has cured and then the tub is drained, the joint will be compressed, rather than stretched the first time the tub is filled.

JVD from Milwaukee, OR


Thanks for the useful tip. Rest assured I will give it more than a footnote when I update our caulking page!

Filling the bathtub prior to caulking was a traditional method of getting the best possible seal... especially when the tub was not securely supported beneath! Amazingly, few home repair books even mention it, even some I have dating back to the fifties and sixties. You would have thought it would have been gospel in those days, since the caulks were much less flexible and not nearly as adhesive as they are today!

As many handymen discover, tile installers rarely if ever caulk around a tub in a new installation... they use the same grout as they did on the walls. Needless to say, within a short time the grout begins to break. Caulks are designed to solve this problem, flexing and stretching to adjust to movement in the tub. However, if the movement is more than a small amount, the seal will eventually break and the caulking will need to be redone.

Hence the second value of your tip! If anyone has caulked and discovers a break in the seal, recaulk yes... but first fill the tub with water to settle it! Rub-a-dub-dub. three handymen in the tub... Oops!



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