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Handyman Letter - December, 2002


1) Have a thoroughly commercial holiday! ... 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) Pass the hammer, would ya?"... NH's readers speak out!

ONE-HOUR CHRISTMAS CRAFTS from Anne Van Wagner Childs


When do you mark the beginning of your holiday season? For some of you, it's the Thanksgiving turkey. For others, it could be the first night of Hanukah or perhaps the appearance of lights and wreaths in the malls, your office or on the streets of your town!

I really know the holidays have arrived when I hear the droning complaints from radio jocks or in the newspaper, the mandatory sniping at the evils of holiday commercialism. You've heard them... they complain (groan) how early the decorations have appeared in the stores, or (groan) about the holiday music or (groan) at the ten-thousandth running of "It's A Wonderful Life" or "A Christmas Carol". Just the mention of fruitcake is enough to inspire insane drooling. It's as if it's somehow hip to be down on Christmas commercialism.

I say "Bah... Humbug!" These knee-jerk reactions to holiday regalia... including the omnipresent advertising... is to me nothing more than lazy thinking by dispirited people. The fact is commercialism has done more to keep the holidays in our minds and spirits than all the religious ceremonies put together!

It's not that I applaud the secularization of Christmas. But neither do I disparage it! In a society where we have so little time we can truly call our own, that which attracts our attention should hold some value for us. Though I don't have any numbers, I would wager that more money will be spent on holiday advertising than will be donated to all the churches, synagogues, mosques and other secular and religious organizations put together in a year! What more fitting way to get all of us into the game than to embrace the people with the money to jumpstart our holiday spirit... the advertisers!

I have some favorite holiday ads and I am sure you do, too. Some ads have become holiday classics, like the Budweiser Clydesdales, a symbol for Anheuser-Busch since the end of Prohibition in1933. Then, alas, there are some that make your skin crawl. (Hey, we just went through an ad-infected election season so I can understand your sensitivity!) But whether you like them or not, holiday advertisements make the season inescapable. And that's the point. No matter who you are, what faith you practice and where you call home, there is no way to escape the holiday season.

For me, that's a good thing. It's good to be reminded that there are things greater than ourselves, motives more powerful than personal greed... and some darn witty people working hard to get our attention! If someone tells you to spend time with your family, is the message any less important because they are trying to sell you a new razor? I think not! To think that giving and getting gifts does not have spiritual value is to ignore the very foundation of life in a commercial society. Encouraging gift giving is not necessarily a bad thing if it leads to communication, understanding and peace within ourselves.

So come on people... lighten up! Shhhhh.... let's keep this secret between us. We may not buy the razor, but we can secretly buy into the spirit! And that, my friend, is the most important thing we can do!

May your holidays be full of joy and hope.



NH has done a little redecorating in our "Painting and Decorating Library" with a few new articles and better organization. He's dumped the drop-down list for a full list of articles by title. One new entry of particular interest to those of you doing a little holiday painting is our article on the use (and abuse) of tarps and dropcloths.
Visit the Painting Library to access all current articles:

YOUR WATER HEATER is a real fuel guzzler! Learn the "hows" and, more importantly, the "whys" on adjusting the temperature... and maybe even save some bucks!


Dear NH,

Can you please tell me if there is any way to clean polyurethane that was spilled on a concrete basement floor? And yes, it has since dried and hardened. Should I get my sander out?



Don't bother with the sander. Instead, get your fan out, open the windows and use paint remover to lift the poly. It will do a more thorough job, removing most if not all evidence of your mishap! After the remover has worked for a while (20 to 30 minutes) wipe it all off... along with the softened poly... with paper towels and let it dry. It may be necessary to use a scraper if the poly is really thick.

You may need to apply multiple coats, allowing overnight drying time, to evaluate the appearance of your floor post-stripping!


Dear NH,

My heating repairman told me that I have two cracks in one of the gas chambers in my furnace. I have four gas chambers in total. He told me that I must replace the furnace because these cracks will leak carbon monoxide.

Do you agree with him, or can the cracks be repaired or even the gas chamber plugged up? Or can the carbon monoxide leakage be measured to determine if it is significant?

MD from Oak Park, IL


If you are skeptical about the repairman's diagnosis, hire a second contractor to verify it. I do not believe there is any way to repair the furnace... but that is why you should hire a second pro to take a look.

I know replacing a furnace is an expensive job so I appreciate your hesitation. However, a damaged furnace is nothing to toy with. Even if the current level of carbon monoxide (CO) was not deemed "immediately" hazardous, this situation could change at any moment. Do you really want to take this risk? If you haven't read my article on CO's dangers, here is a link: 

You should also immediately purchase a CO detector, available at all hardware or home stores. Put one in the furnace area and see what happens. But your first priority is restoring... or replacing... that potentially deadly furnace.

By the way, I share your pain. Last year I needed to replace my oil furnace after more than 30 years of service. Judging by the savings we have seen in oil alone (not to mention lower repair costs and the warranty), the new furnace will be paid for in 5 to 6 years... and then will continue to save money through the rest of its useable life! Though, like you, I hesitated making the change, in retrospect it was well worth the investment in both economy and peace of mind.


Dear NH,

Is there a silicone spray SAFE for use as protectant on my enamel Thermdor brand gas cook top kitchen range? Prevention and easy clean up of burnt food is the idea.

SH from Richfield, OH



Use a wax product such as automobile wax or, even better, a product made specifically for countertops such as Gel-Gloss. Gel-Gloss combines quality wax and cleaners which clean and shine in one step. By sealing the minute pores in the enamel, the wax makes the stovetop a little more slippery. It will probably have to be applied at least weekly depending on how sloppy your cooking technique is... daily if you are as sloppy a cook as I am! Obviously, don't apply it to heating elements.

There is a "food-grade" silicone spray that can be used on food-contact surfaces, though it is only sparsely available. Frankly, I don't think silicone would be advisable in your situation. First, it is not a cleaner. Second, it does not have enough body to seal pores in the surface so it's effects would be short-lived. Finally, it's just too slippery and sloppy to use to treat a large flat surface (though spraying it on a cloth would make it easier to apply in a light layer). Any overspray that gets on the kitchen floor could result in a serious slipping hazard.

By the way, readers, silicone spray or wax are NOT RECOMMENDED for glass or ceramic cooktops that have become popular for electric ranges in recent years. Only use cleaning products recommended for them. If you use anything else, you may leave temporary or permanent residues that will make you cleaning chores more difficult or impossible!

Conversely, don't use ceramic stovetop cleaners on other surfaces unless specifically recommended by the manufacturer, such as stainless steel sinks or appliances. They contain silica abrasives that will scratch soft surfaces, thus permanently damaging them!


Dear NH,

In rewiring a lamp what gauge wire do I use, 16 or 18? Also, which is heavier?

GF from Kettering, OH


Both 16 and 18-gauge copper "lamp cord" are acceptable for lamp wiring. The smaller the gauge the heavier the wire is, so 16-gauge would be heavier. (In a few paragraphs I will get into the process of gauging wire... a very interesting bit of research.)

With lamp cord, the wires are "stranded", not solid. In other words, lamp cord (as well as extension cords) is made from a cluster of smaller wires whose total size is electrically equivalent to a single wire of the given gauge. Using braided wire for lamps is important because it is much more flexible than the same size of solid wire, thus less prone to breakage after continued bending.

If the lamp you are rewiring is a typical single bulb table lamp, either size is acceptable. If the fixture uses multiple bulbs AND it can be safely threaded through the lamp, I always prefer to use the heavier 16-gauge wire. This doesn't mean that 18 gauge is absolutely unacceptable. Under electric load a heavier wire will heat up less because it does not offer as much resistance to electrical flow. With most incandescent lamps, this is a moot point since they do not draw large amounts of current and the length of the wire is rather short. However, as wire length becomes longer and the power needed increases, wire sizing becomes very critical for both efficiency and safety reasons. (That is why electrician's make the "big bucks"... and why homeowner's should be careful whenever installing any wiring in their homes!)

When in doubt, take a sample of the wire to the hardware store and use the same type. This doesn't always work, though. I have found low power, chandelier bulb-type table lamps using 14-gauge appliance cord... much heavier than necessary! Some lamps even use specialty wires that you would have difficulty purchasing except by the mile! But generally speaking, standard lamp wire will work in most circumstances for incandescent or fluorescent lamps.

Whatever you do, do not force a large wire through a small hole in your lamp! If the lamp is designed to accommodate 18-gauge wire, use it... there is no energy saving advantage to oversized wiring in a table lamp and forcing wire is never wise... you could damage the wire or the insulation and produce a safety hazard!

Now, back to wire gauging. It may seem odd that the smaller the number, the larger the wire... at least it did to me. After doing some research, I found that the sizing of wire was based on an ancient manufacturing method known as "drawing". A wire of a certain specified size was pulled through a slightly smaller hole of a standard size. This would produce a wire of smaller diameter but longer length.

Since this process was done by hand, only small increments of change could be done at each drawing. From this lowly start was born the American Wire Gauge, which was based on the number of times a large standard wire (size 0) wire would have to be drawn to be reduced to the specified size. Thus, the more times a wire was drawn, the higher the "gauge" and the smaller the size.

This gauging system is still used today, though the multi-drawing process has been simplified due to the advent of sophisticated and powerful wire drawing machines.



Dear NH,

(Regarding a comment in the last newsletter to preserve paint-covered brushes by wrapping them in foil and storing them in the refrigerator...)
Storing wet paintbrushes the freezer is the ideal place because it will not allow the paint fumes to permeate the food. Wrapped up and put into a Ziplocs bag is the best way.



I stand by my use of foil as the ideal wrapping medium, but there's always room for other opinions! However, I don't agree with the use of the freezer, especially with latex paints. Latex paints do not freeze well and become "semi-solid", lumpy or even stringy when exposed to freezing temperatures. These solids will transfer to your work when you resume painting, adding to your work time (and mess) if you remove these obnoxious lumps with your finger as you go. Been there, done that!

I have never noticed any fumes from brushes or rollers, probably because solvent evaporation is reduced to near zero at low refrigerator temperatures... and I would have heard some "negative feedback" from my better half had there been any, her nose being more sensitive than mine! However, putting foil-wrapped brushes or rollers into zippered or twist-tied bags for additional vapor containment would be absolutely okay, too!


Dear NH,

(Regarding a letter in our last newsletter requesting tips on getting quality female candidates for home repair employment...)
I would recommend that the employer print a simple one page flyer, and send it out to high schools that have building trades or appliance repair or whatever area of expertise they are seeking. Make the appearance a little feminine, but don't specify female applicants only. You can screen as applications come in. Our local high school has many young ladies who are in building trades, auto mechanics, welding, electronics / electrical trades, etc. and going right on into trade and technical post high school education.

One young lady of my immediate acquaintance is a building trades / carpentry HS grad, and going to college for a degree in building restoration, hopes to become an architect, but is working all the time.

I teach in our local public school district, spent several years at the HS, and am a big promoter of girls in trades. My father taught me plumbing, wiring and I learned carpentry along the way. I think this is great, and I also think it is great to have some female techs as other women and the senior citizens sometimes are more comfortable with female repairpersons.



Today, an increasing number of men are unwilling to get their hands dirty, and with so many parents being brainwashed into thinking that a college education is the "only way" their children will have a future, it's good to know that you, as an educator, recognize that women are needed to fill the void in the trades the men have left! The opportunity for professional tradespeople to make great money in a satisfying career is better than it has ever been!

The trades, unlike the networked and interdependent corporate world, allow a person to really take charge of their life. Plus they offer self-employment opportunities that fit well into a family-oriented lifestyle. Women without a college degree can parlay their motivation into a surprisingly good income with hard work, perseverance and planning.

During WW2, my father spent nearly four years overseas as a mechanic in the Army. My mother took the reins of the family business, a small automobile repair shop, and kept it running though sheer force of will and lots of hard physical work. She was not a mechanic, but she pumped gas, repaired tires, changed oil and did all the accounting... while supervising two older male mechanics. Don't tell me that women have any limitations!

Hurrah for all the women who have stepped forward to accept the challenge!


Dear NH,

In your November 2002 newsletter you state that homeowner's ignorance causes mold. I take exception to that statement! I bought a brand new mobile home 9 years ago and was not informed that it has LP Inner Seal siding. When I first noticed fungus growing on the siding (while doing a regular inspection), I didn't know what it was. After doing some investigation, I found out that my siding does not have a waterproof seal and is waterlogged.

I have now filed a claim in the class action lawsuit which was started 5 years ago and am struggling to stop the damage. One outside wall has already rotted out , I found mold on my studs and have taken appropriate action to halt the mold. In this case, I have done everything right and it still turned out wrong, through no fault of my own!

NG (in very cold northern Canada)


When I'm wrong, I'm wrong. My blanket statement did not include enough qualification and your pique is justifiable. Of course, there will be situations where the cause of the mold will be beyond the homeowner's control. Manufacturing errors such as you describe are hardly within your power to prevent and, as you have found, difficult to resolve when the company decides to not accept liability, for whatever reason.

There are also circumstances where shoddy workmanship on the part of carpenters, roofing or siding contractors can cause moisture buildup that can lead to mold problems. I worked in a condominium where a plastic vapor barrier was installed behind drywall in bathrooms, ostensibly to protect the insulation from water damage. Over a period of years, though, the drywall would become saturated with water since the moisture had nowhere to go! Here, too, the homeowner would have no knowledge of the problem until the ceramic tile begins to literally bow out from the wall! And, alas, no one to sue, either, since the builders have long gone to contractor heaven... or hell!



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