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Handyman Letter - February, 2003


1) Coming home one last time... 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) News from the Basement Annex!!

5) Q&A with our readers

6) Linkmaster's Corner

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

1) Coming home one last time... a message from the Natural Handyman

“My fellow Americans, this day has brought terrible news and great sadness... The Columbia is lost; there are no survivors.”

So said President Bush in his brief address this past Saturday, officially beginning days of national mourning for the lost seven of the space shuttle Columbia. Again, our president has been forced to preside over the impossible sadness of senseless slaughter. Again, good people have fallen... this time from the sky.

We don't know what death is like for the dead. As yet there is no science to define the departing of the soul from the body, the loss of that essence that transcends the blood and bone and flesh that make the appearance of life. Rather, each person's faith defines this... or chooses not to.

We do know what death is for the living; one of the greatest tests ever put before us. Some days we feel as if we are not in control of events; when it seems that someone else is in the pilot's chair and we are just along for the ride. Yet those days end and the trials of yesterday often become the humorous anecdotes of tomorrow.

Death offers no such respite, for it is final, never-ending and impersonal. Death does not knock, nor does it whisper. Death screams, enters our lives and takes what it will. Death does not desire victory but Death is a true competitor. It does not seek our attention but yet grasps our senses. And as we all know, the most difficult foe is the one who has no soul and does not care for itself.

But we must always challenge Death. We must not rush to Death, but we also must not mold our lives to avoid it. We only fool ourselves if we think we can challenge its authority over us. No, we must follow our hearts and our dreams... even to the stars. Our place in the stream of Life is cast not by its length but by our life's quality and depth.

“The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on.”

The Columbia crew will be remembered both for how they died and for what they did. For in both their lives, and in their deaths, is their true victory.



To your pocketbook, that is. According to STATE FARM INSURANCE, over a hundred million dollars worth of deadly! Egads!! Read their interesting article on these invisible wallet-killers... and how to protect yourself. Oh... and then please check your hoses for potential problems!

In these winter months, the kitchen is the center of the home as we circle around the pot-bellied stove for warmth. OK, maybe not all of us... how about around a steaming tray of brownies!! Read our latest installment from Gail McCauley of the Paint Quality Institute.


Dear NH,

Are frozen DRAIN pipes something to be concerned about? Our 2 upstairs bathtub drain pipes froze during a recent hard freeze. We had no problems with supply pipes, which I had thought were the usual "frozen pipe" culprits. I'm worried that there might be a problem with the way the pipes were installed... Luckily the pipes thawed without bursting 2 days later, about 12 hours apart from one another. (We have no access to these pipes & just had to wait for them to warm up.) Is this something that needs to be fixed? Thanks for any advice!

CL from Charlotte, NC


Frozen pipes are always something to worry about... and not only if they burst. The expansion of the water as it turns to ice is what causes damage to the pipes. Sometimes, though, the pipes will weaken but not burst, making them more prone to damage the next time they freeze.

Though this typically applies to supply pipes, damaged drain pipes can also leak if damaged by a freeze. And if the pipes are concealed the damage from leaking may be, too. Over time, a small drip from a drain pipe can cause big problems with rot and even mold!

You are not alone. Many homes have similar problems with badly placed and/or poorly insulated pipes. Fortunately, your problems are intermittent and generally limited to freak weather circumstances... especially since you live in NC where the temperatures don't get to freezing as often as further north. One of my daughters lives in the High Point area so I am aware of your relatively “balmy” winters!

As an alternative to repair, many homeowners let a trickle of water run through questionable pipes during hard freezes. The movement keeps the water warmer and prevents significant icing. Again, this works for the drain as well as the supply pipes!

You could, of course, open the walls and insulate the pipes, which would be a more long-term solution that will not require you to be as weather-alert. As always, it's your choice. Ain't America grand!

Dear NH,

I want to cover my kitchen walls with paneling. They are plaster and have a number of small cracks in them. How do I attach the paneling to the plastered walls? What kind of nails do I use? Do I need to glue it first?

DG from Nekoosa, WI


One nice thing about wood veneer or synthetic paneling is that it covers a multitude of surface defects in walls. As long as the wall surfaces are flat and solid you should have no problem installing paneling over them.

The best way to install paneling on plaster or drywall is with adhesive. Nailed-only paneling never feels solid and may eventually loosen. There's nothing more annoying than trying to reattach loose paneling in a finished room!

Various brands of adhesive designed for use with paneling can be purchased in "caulking" tubes... the easiest way to apply it. A continuous 1/4” bead a few inches inside the edges of the precut panel and about six inches apart within the panel will give you good bonding.

You should not put the adhesive on the wall first. The reasons are 1) you would need to mark the precise location of the panels so the adhesive is in the proper location; an extra unnecessary step and 2) you can tilt the panels or lay them down while you apply the adhesive which can be neater (even with a caulking gun)... not possible with the walls unless you live in a mobile home and want to jack it up!

The typical method of installation is to press the panel to the wall, using your hand or a towel to press all over the surface to assure glue transfer to the wall. Then, pull the panel away from the wall for about a minute to allow the glue to develop tackiness. Press the panel back to the wall and it should hold very firmly.

If the walls are not flat you may need to temporarily hold areas of the panels in place until the adhesive dries. This is typically done with small paneling nails that are colored to match the panels. Use as few as necessary to get the job done. They can be driven right through the plaster, but wear eye protection because these nails are hardened and can break if mis-hammered. If possible, locate them in locations that will be covered with moldings!

(Note that panel nails are not very long and have "rings" on them. They are designed to assist adhesive, not to replace it, and thus do not have to go through the wall into the studs.)

In some cases, you can even use masking tape to hold the panels in place if just a little "persuasion" is necessary... of course to be removed once the adhesive dries!



Dear NH,

My husband is a “natural” handyman. Some years ago, I encouraged him to use his talents to make the extra money we needed to make ends meet. God has truly blessed us, he now has so many jobs he has to turn some of them down. He doesn't do electrical work and just a small amount of plumbing (changing out a pipe) but he makes a nice steady income just doing work for single women or husbands that just don't have the time.

I would like your advice on the legalities involved in this type of business and the administrative part of it as for as software I would need to install in my computer to keep up with his jobs and maybe even payment plans if it is a person on a fixed income. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

DJD in Alabama


You're a lucky woman! But be careful and keep him on a short leash... some of those single women might want to steal him away!

I have shied away from establishing a database of the rules regarding handymen throughout the country. Not only do they frequently change but occasionally local codes confound the matter. The main areas you need to be concerned about “legally” are plumbing and electrical work because most states have rules regarding licensing of these crafts separate from general contracting. States also vary regarding the “definition” of what plumbing or electrical work are. For example, some states allow installation of appliances such as dishwashers by unlicensed persons. Others require each part of the job to be done by a licensed person (making for an expensive two or three-man job!)

This information is written in the statutes of your state and available at your state's website. You may need a lawyer to sort it all out, though. Or use common sense, hope for the best and have lots of insurance!

Visit the State of Alabama website to determine if he has to register with the state to be a handyman.  All states are different and rules change all the time.  Being registered adds a level of “respectability and legitimacy” to a handyman. His license tells his customers he is a stable businessman... important in today's climate of distrust towards contractors in general. As we are all sadly aware, contractors consistently rank highly in consumer complaint studies!

Regarding recordkeeping and software, I personally use Quickbooks for my accounting. I have also used Peachtree, Cashgraf and a few other now defunct programs. Overall I like Quickbooks the best because it allows you to go back easily to correct errors and the reports are nifty! Any bookkeeper will tell you how unforgiving some software can be if you goof with, say, a check entry in a prior month. It isn't cheap, though, so I would suggest buying last year's version if possible.

Quickbooks does allow you to do quotations (which can be converted to invoices later), track installment payments on those invoices and even schedule payment reminders. Overall it is a fun program to use once you get the hang of it.

Quickbooks now has a special contractor's edition, but unless your husband plans on doing extensive estimating and construction its extra features probably would be a waste of money.

Dear NH,

Thank you for your common sense help with fixing my toilet! My poor husband cracked the seat the other day and I wanted to surprise him with a new toilet seat. Reading your site helped me and I thank you! I plan on using your site in the future for other things. Thanks again and take care! :)

K from Long Beach, CA


Just like a man... break the toilet and then run off to work! Thank goodness more women are learning the joys of doing-it-themselves! Glad to be of service.


Dear NH,

I made a donation to your site last year and cannot access the “FriendsOnly” section of your site. I thought I had a username and password.

DM from Seattle, WA


As of Jan 1, 2003 we discontinued the FriendsOnly area. Though our intentions were good, the area of the site received very little use and, amazingly, less than 5% of the donors were even interested in a password, even though we sent follow-up emails!

In the end, the cost in software and time far exceeded any benefit. Instead, we initiated a “site-wide function” which allows ALL visitors to access our articles full-page width! There is a text link on every article page (beneath the "A feast " banner) that allows the full-width page to open. The only difference between these pages and the “FriendsOnly” pages are the standard ad banners on the top and bottom of the pages.

The FriendsOnly area was intended to be a perk for our donors, not a purchase. But I can understand how our intention could be misunderstood.



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