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Handyman Letter - March, 2003


1) Making the case for dirt... 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) Making the case for dirt... a message from the Natural Handyman

From the first time my mother told me to clean my room, I have been resistant to the concept of “perpetual neatness”. Now, as people make lucrative careers writing books and lecturing people on the wonders of a clutter-free life, I have become more than a little wary of this neatness avalanche. If you look at the march of modern psychology and the new mental “diseases” being discovered each year, you have to wonder if there is a bit of self-interest driving this trend.

Being too organized can be a much as personal burden as being disorganized. Frankly, few people are truly crippled by disorganization. For most of us, disorganization is just another way of prioritizing. If something ends up is the pile of “stuff”, it usually wasn't very important anyway. I know myself that, whenever I get the notion to clean my desk, more than half of the clippings, magazine articles, post-its and random chickenscratch end up in my trusty circular file. The rest is usually filed in real files, leaving a scant few items needing immediate attention. Then the pile builds yet again.

Using the actual disease of “hoarding”... the inability to clean house at all because of an exaggerated attachment to virtually everything... the tidiness police have cleverly convinced many of us that being untidy is somehow wrecking our lives. This couldn't be further from the truth. The unexpected, the accidental...the “dirt of life” if you will... is in fact life's essence. No... I'm not referring to the “primordial ooze” from which the first life sprung (though some messy homes I have worked in could qualify). I mean the dirt, dust and dander... the supreme messiness associated with really living life, life that may include, children, pets, hobbies, mail, guests, mildewed caulk, garbage cans overflowing with junk mail and the unexpected nest of carpenter ants.

Being too neat and clean can be stifling. (Mom, are you listening?) Having grown up in a home where the furniture was in a perpetual state of mummification under either plastic or fabric covers and there was NEVER a dirty dish in the sink, I can sympathize with the many families that have whole rooms off limits... except to valued guests. Though keeping your valuables things safe is always meritorious, turning one's house into a museum seems antithetic with the concept of “home”... a warm place where one can find refuge from the insanity of the world at large.

Of course, I'm not implying that being organized is somehow evil either. There are, after all, benefits to being able to find one's keys on a moment's notice or the olfactory relief of not leaving uncovered food on the countertop for days. And I would be the first to say “thank you” to any client who for example moves the clutter aside for the handyman, or cleans under the sink for the plumber.

So what to make of all this? Sometimes, it only takes reducing a problem to its most basic level to find a solution. In this case, I think the concept of organization should be linked closely with our concept of survival. When being untidy begins to affect our health, our efficiency or safety we must move de-cluttering to the top of our list of priorities.

But the rest of the time, we must also be relaxed enough to “go with the flow” of everyday messes and realize that without them our lives will become as stale and bland as week-old bread!



We've made a few changes in our article on smoke detectors... notably special information for people who live in mobile homes with a smoke alarm.

In our ongoing battle against SPAM, we are "experimenting" with our mail system. Certain of our email addresses are under heavy assault! To fight back, we are changing our Linkmaster to “LINKMEISTER”. It will be interesting to see how long it takes the SPAMMERS to find us again!


Dear NH,

I have a client with an unglazed stone floor called “travertine”. She was told there is a specific cleaning/stripping/waxing product that should be used for this type of tile. I have two questions. First, what cleaning products should I use? Second, what can be used to increase the shine? The builder sealed it only 5 months ago and it is already very scuffed and dull. The customer would like the tile stripped and then waxed to a high glossy shine.



Try the ALDON CHEMICAL website. They are manufacturers of sealing and maintenance products for stone and marble:

This should get you started, at least product-wise.

Waxing the floor might be a mistake. Waxing tends to make floors quite slippery, plus on an uneven surface such as the travertene the high spots will wear quickly. One of the more durable finishes (such as the type Aldon sells) will give a good gloss but not be as slippery-when-wet. It will also last much longer than wax. With stone sealers (and, in fact, natural oil finished for woods, too), more coats produce greater gloss. Multiple thin coats are always preferred, allowing you to precisely control the gloss.

Even if you use another product, Aldon has a great FAQ to help you through this job!

Dear NH,

I am painting my walls red “barn” color over flat white. I'm on my third coat using a paint roller for satin paint and roller marks are still showing through! I paid $31.00 a gallon for the paint. What am I doing wrong? I'm ready to panel over them!



Poor coverage can be caused by a variety of issues. The first, of course, is that the paint you are using is not top quality, though at $31.00/gal. it's unlikely. Mid-to-low-quality paints will not hide as well as the best paints, thus requiring more coats. When you have a severe color change using the best quality paint is essential. Most painters find and stick to what works for them. It's harder for the homeowner to know how good their paint choice is, especially since every company says their paints are "one coat" capable. Frankly, for many of them this is BS.

Another possibility is the condition of the walls. Even if your old walls were a flat finish, sometimes the new paint just doesn't spread and stick evenly, leaving high and low spots (we're talking hundredths of an inch here) that can show as roller marks when making a severe color change. Sometimes even multiple coats will still show through white, your situation. The solution is to first prime the walls with a quality primer (latex or oil) that is tinted to closely match the finish color. Primers are designed to stick better to difficult surfaces so you know you will get the best coverage from your finish paint.

This doesn't mean you won't need two finish coats... it does mean that needing three will be almost impossible. Even with a tinted primer, multiple finish coats are often necessary when using very dark or rich colors.

You may also be using a roller with too short a nap. For virtually all wall paint, a 3/8" nap roller will assure good coverage. 1/4" rollers give a smoother, less "orange peel" look but put less paint on the wall... not what you want with a severe color change. So-called "pearl" or "eggshell" finishes can be applied with 3/8" or 1/4" rollers. Higher glosses usually are applied with 1/4" rollers. Your paint, "satin", may be eggshell or it could be considered flat... depends on the company!

It's probably not necessary to prime since you already have a few coats on the wall. Try a 3/8" roller if you haven't been using one. In any event don't give up... even if it takes two more coats the beauty of the finished room will make the extra work worthwhile.

(Check out the letter from MR in our “Pass The Hammer” section below... she solved her problem AND received a refund for the wasted paint!)



Dear NH,

I was searching the web to solve a water heater problem and came across your site. I have a home repair/handyman business. Unfortunately, the high cost of liability insurance stopped me as an independent building contractor.

It's sad that most things new are not built to last. Build it quick and in 5,10, or 20 years replace it. Give me the old houses of the 19th century. I want quality, not quantity!

Thanks for being here, NH. Some new things do have value. There's hope after all.



Thanks for writing and for your kind words. We're not exactly new (we're rapidly approaching our 6th anniversary online), but I understand and appreciate your sentiments!

Being a builder/contractor is not the easiest business to run. As you know, there is much more to it than just being a great carpenter. You need to really be a manager first, worker second if you want to really succeed in the contracting business. It's a hard transition for some of us "doers" to make.

Being an independent handyman isn't a walk in the park either, but there are definite advantages. You do have more control over your day-to-day destiny and those "little jobs" are always... repeat ALWAYS... going to be there.

That is, as long as you are reliable, competent, and available!



Dear NH,

Just wanted to share this info that I learned about... too late for my kitchen, though! We decided to use a bright red paint on the walls and were NEVER told to use a dark gray colored primer at the home improvement store where the Behr paint was purchased. The coverage was horrible over the white primer, necessitating the purchase of more red paint to get a smooth color.

When I went to another branch of this home improvement store to make this additional purchase, the paint salesman told me to call Behr and lodge a complaint. I did so, and received a full refund from Behr. Nowhere on the can or at the store was the info posted about tinting the primer for better depth of color. Heads up for all the novice painters like me!



Your experience is common for novice painters. Gray is better than white as an undercoat for a rich color, but not as good as actually tinting the primer to a close color match.

Paint store clerks should ALWAYS suggest tinting the primer when selling rich colors to their customers. Alas, none of us are perfect!

There is a wealth of information at the PAINT QUALITY INSTITUTE on what makes a good paint great. They also have an informative pictorial on interior and exterior paint failure that is enlightening (and frightening)!



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