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Handyman Letter - November, 2002


1) The mold, the bad and the ugly... 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!! We have two NEW CONTESTS!!

4) News from the Basement Annex!!

5) Q&A with our readers

6) LINKMEISTER's Corner...

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


A leak under the kitchen sink caused by a faulty dishwasher drain hose produced a bit of mildew staining on the drywall behind the open-backed cabinet. The owners opted to replace the dishwasher... a wise idea considering the original was nearly 20 years old. Both the cabinet and wall dried out nicely but the moisture had left a legacy... a growth of mildew which had stained the painted drywall.

These folks were selling their home, so I was asked by the seller's realtor to inspect the area. After seeing the minor nature of the staining and the obvious solidity of the wall, I recommended that only minimal repair was necessary. The wall was to be thoroughly cleaned with a bleach solution to kill mildew (including overspraying the bleach mix into the areas below and to the sides of the cabinet to catch any strays), prime the visible areas with Kilz (the best interior sealer/stain killer in my opinion) and then paint the entire area with a mildew-resistant paint. The owners agreed and I performed the work.

But the plot thickens! Weeks passed, and I assumed that my evaluation of the situation and repair work was acceptable. Obviously it wasn't! The buyer's realtor had just taken a course in mold. Waving her diploma like a battle flag, she demanded complete replacement of the stained wall behind the cabinets in the deficiency report, the "final" list of items to be repaired by the seller prior to closing.

I was amazed at the realtor's vehemence, till I learned that the fire under the realtor's "attitude" was the original building inspector's report. The inspector noted that he "checked for possible black mold under the kitchen sink". As you might be aware, so-called black or "toxic" mold (also known as stachybotrys) has become the "issue-du jour" in home repair circles since it has been associated with some rather serious health concerns around the country.

Now mind you, the buyer's realtor never looked at the staining and the inspector only mentioned black mold in passing. And neither individual performed or even recommended testing of the surface. Repeat... no testing was ever done!

The battle was now joined. The seller justifiably felt that tearing out the wall and the cabinets was a ridiculous and unnecessary expense. When they learned from the buyers that they were going to do some "work" in the kitchen anyway, they sensed that the mold was not the issue... it was a negotiating ploy by the buyers to whittle down the sales price. Phew!

At the advice of their own realtor, the seller realized that there was no escaping her signature on the deficiency report this late in the game. Rather than risk losing the deal, the two parties agreed on a dollar amount and soon I received a call to do the repairs.

After much soul searching I did something I rarely do... I refused the job. The more I thought about black mold (real or imagined), aggressive lawyers, the realtor's faux expertise and the emotional impact of building inspector's vague comments, I realized one simple truth. By accepting the work all responsibility for everyone's fears and anger would be on me. I would be the one who would be fingered should the new owner's young child develop the sniffles... or got a rash... or a headache. I could not accept the risk.

To this day I feel somewhat uncomfortable with my decision but, in retrospect, I really had no choice. Alas, the dangers of mold extend far beyond those of health and some risks are better not taken.

It turns out I am not alone in my distaste for the parade of black mold litigation. Most building insurance policies now specifically exempt mold damage in their policies. Their reasoning is simple and honest... there is no case of mold growth that cannot be connected to neglect or ignorance by the building's owners. None. Mold growth is not an "accident". It does not happen suddenly, though it may occur without warning in hidden areas. Mold grows because the owner has avoided routine maintenance, not been diligent in inspecting the roof or siding, allowed vegetation to grow too near the home or any of a hundred other owner-correctable reasons that allow areas of the home to remain constantly wet or damp. Simply put, home insurance companies resist paying for property damage caused by the owner's poor "home hygiene". About the only exception would be mold caused by some construction or roofing error, which would justifiably fall at the feet of the contractor and his (or your) insurance company!

How we react to mold as a society says more about us than about the actual danger. Mold is everywhere, indoors and out, and it is virtually impossible for a home to be mold-free. So many symptoms have been associated with mold allergy that any of us, at any time, could fall prey to "moldophobia". Chronic fatigue, runny nose, headaches, hives, itching, memory loss, sneezing and red eyes all have a place on the symptoms list. Perhaps, with tongue firmly in cheek, we should add being too deep in credit card debt, vague feelings of guilt and obesity to this list too!

There is no doubt that true black mold can cause health issues in some, but not all, people. The real question is whether science or emotion will rule the day. Personally, I am hopeful but not optimistic.



HOME... THE FAMILY HAVEN can help jump start your home decorating through the creative use of paints. Authored by Gail McCauley for the Paint Quality Institute.


Dear NH,

I am refinishing my old double-hung windows, all of which use spring/spiral balances. The problem is I have not been able to find any company that manufactures these so I can replace them. Any suggestions or companies that do this? Thank you for your reply.

DS from Edgerton, WI


Here is a link to a company out of Cincinnati that stocks a large number of parts:

If you can't find original replacement parts, you might still be able to make a generic repair. Many lumberyards and home stores sell window track replacement kits that may work with your existing sash... if you can find the proper size.

These kits require removal of all stops, guides and, of course, the original hardware. They were originally developed to replace the pulleys and counterweights in old-fashioned double hung windows, but they can be used with most any sash or frame.

Dear NH,

I read somewhere that putting paintbrushes and rollers in plastic bags to keep them fresh when you need to stop painting. I wrapped mine and wasn't able to start painting again for a couple of days. Well, I was surprised to find that the brushes were pretty dried out in spots and the roller cover was hopelessly stuck to the frame! Was I mad! Did I do something wrong?

CB from Durham, NH


Years ago I used the same technique and ran into the same problem. It's hard to seal a plastic bag well unless you put the entire roller or brush inside. Even then, the air in the bag still allows drying to take place. Wrapping a brush or roller in plastic wrap gives a better seal but is messy to deal with.

My own solution to this problem is aluminum foil. Foil is absolutely airtight when folded around a brush or rolled onto a roller and conforms to the shape perfectly, leaving minimal air for drying. A standard width piece cut about 12" long will cover either a brush or roller.

Does it work? I have wrapped rollers covered with Kilz fast drying primer and had them still useable for up to a week! I prefer to use thicker heavy-duty foil, which is less likely to tear. It is only a few cents more per roll than regular foil but well worth it.

Not satisfied yet? If you want those wet brushes and rollers to last even longer, throw... okay... place them in the refrigerator. Then their useful life can increase by weeks! In fact, I have found month-old rollers still useable, buried behind the veggies in my fridge. Not that it makes my wife very happy... but that's another story!



Dear NH,

You asked for feedback on Mike Bells drywall repair method (last newsletter). His method is the way I have been doing it for years and I believe it is the easiest way to go.



I have always been ready to experiment with new methods, even though most of the time I tend to return to my own tried-and-true techniques. A week ago I had the opportunity to test out Mike's method on a series of smallish holes made during a plumber's search-and-repair mission. Overall I found the technique to be quite easy. However, I found a way to make a good technique even better.

One problem with most drywall patching methods is the patch tends to be a "high spot" on the wall. Though this is not usually a problem, if the wall has natural light at the right angle the repair will show as a lump. So I wanted to modify this great method to produce a thinner patch.

I followed Mike' method right up to the step where you peel off the extra drywall from around the edges of the patch. Instead of applying the wallboard compound at that point, I placed the patch into position dry. Holding the paper firmly in place, I used a utility knife to cut through the patch slightly in from its edges through both the patch "paper" and into the paper on the wall, transferring an "outline" of the patch to the wall.

Using the knife cuts on the wall as a guide, enlarged the outline about a quarter inch in the height and width. This would allow the patch's paper to fit easily within the outline. It is important that the patch paper and the drywall paper be as nearly level as possible when the patch is in place.

Then, using the utility knife to lift up a corner of the outline, I begin lifting the paper within the outlined area till all the paper within the outline was removed. I applied compound to the wall, pressed the patch in place and applied a thin coat of compound with a broad knife to smooth the patch.

After drying overnight, only one additional coat of compound was needed to complete a perfect repair. In testimony to the efficiency of this repair method, I was able to complete a repair on six small 2x2" holes and one larger 7x7" hole in less than 1 1/2 hours total work time... including all setup, takedown and cleanup! It took a tad longer than Mike's original method but I felt it was worth it.

For those of you who didn't click through to Mike's tips, here's another chance!

Dear NH,

I just read your report on asbestos at and I just wanted to say thanks! We had some 1970s asbestos linoleum abated professionally a couple of years ago and every day I still worry about what exposure we all received even though we had it removed, tested, and cleaned up correctly.

Reading your article does ease my mind somewhat. Usually I just read about the massive lawsuits going on and its all doom and gloom. Most sites act like if you breathe one fiber you are going to die and here's a lawyer's number so you can sue.

Yet I find it curious and somewhat scary that Do-It-Yourself shows on TV just do not warn people about it. They pull up old linoleum and knock out plaster walls (you can bet they had it tested) but still don't warn the TV audience to ALWAYS test the material. Its like if they mention the "A" word then people will be scared out of fixing their old houses and stop watching their show or something.

I personally know several very smart individuals that have in the recent past sanded asbestos containing mastic backing while removing their own linoleum. And I bet it's a fairly common mistake. Obviously a real big no-no but you can still pick up books printed last year that do not mention that asbestos is in the mastic in most old linoleum. It seems there's a lot of misinformation out there. I was going to remove our old linoleum myself but after digging thru several books I luckily found out about the asbestos.

Anyway thanks again for a refreshing honest view on asbestos and good luck in the future. Thanks!

TS from Nashville, TN


Thanks for the kudos! I don't have any direct contact with the media you mention, but I tend to agree with you. Mentioning asbestos might add a negative component to their shows that they don't want to get involved in. Also, having written hundreds of articles myself, I know first-hand how hard it is to include every possible contingency on any repair topic. Early on in my career I wrongly criticized other media for their "do-it-yourself lite" approach to topics. Now I realize they are limited by the same factor that limits us all... time and resources!


Dear NH,

I own a handyman franchise in Woodstock, GA and have hired a female technician who is very good at what she does. I'm interested in hiring additional women to work for me but don't know where to look. Advertising for a female technician can be tricky due to "discrimination" issues. I really appreciate your help.

CA from Woodstock, GA

You pose a difficult question. I am well aware of the discrimination issues.

Because there are a disproportionate number of men in the repair trades, the only way to balance this is to focus your help-wanted advertising dollars in women-orientated media... whatever that may be in your area. For example, local schools often publish ad-supported flyers for sporting events and student band or theatrical productions that are read by many women. Some small local newspapers have cooking or decorating sections that, again, are read mostly by women.

If you want to really reach out and touch someone, there may be local women's groups that you could either send a mailing or speak to that might give you some leads.



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