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Handyman Letter - May, 2003


1) Handyman! Do No Harm... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Our appreciation to sites and publications that have recently linked to 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) Handyman! Do no harm... a message from the Natural Handyman

Around 400 B.C., the Greek physician Hippocrates, considered to be the father of medicine, wrote a code of conduct for physicians popularly known as the "Hippocratic Oath". Hippocrates recognized the seduction of power and recognized that the sick were uniquely vulnerable to their physicians. The oath is a stern, unforgiving document that bares no bones about Hippocrates's religious propensity, medical predilections and moral foundation. Not the slightest bit of political correctness here! He holds his teachers up to reverence, bans abortion and assisted suicide. "Relations" with patients were forbidden. Doctors were sworn to secrecy regarding the privacy of patients and threatens expulsion from the profession for any physician who dares violate the oath. Indeed, the oath sets a very high bar for physician conduct that few, then or now, could hope to leap!

As society has changed and medicine has advanced, many of Hippocrates notions have become antiquated. The truth is that, even in Hippocrates' day, his thoughts were hardly mainstream. For example, both abortion and doctor-assisted suicide were widely practiced and even some of Hippocrate's other works seem contradictory to the spirit of the oath.

Yet, Hippocrates sense that first and foremost, a physician should do no harm (see note at end) has spread beyond medicine. Variations on the pledge have appeared in non-medical fields... wherever people have concerns that their work may be used for nefarious purposes. Many socially responsible engineers, scientists and students have vowed to work only for the betterment of mankind. Perhaps the greatest example of a "foxhole conversion" was J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project which developed the US's first atomic bomb. His energy and enthusiasm were laid waste as he watched the first mushroom cloud and realized what he had wrought to humanity. Sometime later in a meeting with then President Harry Truman, he was heard to say, "Mr. President, I have blood on my hands."

Though we may live in a secular society, we all confront moral issues in our work. Many of our choices require us to choose who benefits and who suffers. In business, the credo has always been profit, first and foremost. Immoral and selfish choices in business inevitably lead to pain and suffering for the few or the many. Irresponsible business leaders should return to school and relearn the fundamental credo of good business practice... the human element of compassion, understanding and cooperation can provide us with both infinite satisfaction and sometimes infinite profit, too! After all, is it not a fundamental truth that a deal is only good when all sides benefit?

Whether we are at work or play, "Do no harm" should be more than a worthwhile goal. It should be woven into the fabric of all our decisions. Just a doctor's must at times make tough choices of life and death, we also must choose how best to use the limited time we have here on earth.


NOTE: Interestingly enough, the phrase "Physician do no harm" or anything similar does not appear in the Hippocratic oath, even though the spirit of this notion permeates the oath!
You can find a copy of the original Hippocratic oath and some interesting commentary at the PBS website at:


Ever wonder if it's cheaper to turn off the fluorescent lights in a room for a few minutes? Or is it better to leave them on? Scientifically, it does take extra power to start a fluorescent bulb... but how much? Mystery solved! Read our special feature on this nail-biter at: 

A little time, a little paint and a little imagination can go a long way to add spice to your home's outdoor spaces. Courtesy of Gail McCauley from the Paint Quality Institute 


Dear NH,

The shut off value is not working on the toilet ... is that a major repair or what? I need to replace the inlet valve... the tank fills as slow as a turtle! Can I do that without replacing the shut off valve?

By the way, your response to prolonging the flapper life made me laugh! Thanks for that and thanks in advance for your response!

TB from Aurora, CO


Toilet woes aren't always funny. Glad I was able to tickle your funnybone!
Yes, you can do the repair without turning off the valve. Just turn off the main water supply to the house. Flush the toilet once to relieve the pressure in the lines and sponge all the water from the tank before disconnecting the inlet valve.

Be careful! Water from any pipes or fixtures ABOVE the toilet shutoff valve may drip (or FLOOD) back through the disconnected valve. However, this is not usually a big deal since the vacuum in the pipes will keep the flow to a minor drip... just put down a few towels, a frying pan or bucket (depending on the height and orientation of the shutoff) and work fast! Just be sure that no one in the house turns on a faucet, begins washing clothes or (gasp) flushes another toilet while you have the valve disconnected. If they do, you will be singing... and bailing... like a sailor!

You can save yourself the possible grief by planning ahead and getting a 3/8" compression cap at the hardware store (I'm assuming your shutoff valve is standard size). Wrap the threads with Teflon tape, then screw the cap onto the shutoff valve (after you disconnect the toilet supply tube, of course) and this will stop any dripping till you're ready to reconnect the inlet tube.


Dear NH,

I want to refinish my pressure-treated deck. The boards were not too bad, but very dirty. I powerwashed the deck, but now there are weird grooves in the boards. It appears that the water cut into the boards. Is there anything I can do to save the deck?

FB from Cleveland, OH


Powerwashers are great timesavers, but they can cause tremendous damage if not used carefully. Many surfaces are just too soft to stand the concentrated power of powerwashing. Cedar siding and pine deck boards are two examples. Pressure-treated (PT) wood is typically yellow pine... a sturdy breed of pine but softwood nonetheless. As the wood ages from the weather and the sun, the surface begins to develop soft spots along the grain. Powerwashing can blast out this soft material, leaving deep ridges in the boards.

A repair can be done, but it will require a little work. First, countersink all nailheads at least an eighth inch into the wood with a sturdy nailset. Then, you can use a belt sander or (to save your knees) a floor sander to flatten the ridges. Start with a fairly rough grit... 50 should be a good place to start. You can leave the floor rough or sand again with 120 grit for a smoother surface. Most rental places will allow you to return unused sanding belts so get an assortment if you want to experiment!

This same procedure can be used to refresh worn handrails... but use the beltsander. The floor sander may be a teensy-bit heavy for anyone but the Incredible Hulk!

Because of the health danger of the cyanide-based preservative in PT wood, collect as much of the dust as possible utilizing the built-in dust collection of the sanders and also vacuuming or sweeping any residual dust. Lay tarps under or around the deck for even more protection. A NIOSH-approved respirator is also advised. Needless to say, try to plan this job for a dry day with little wind.

If you don't want to repeat this laborious task in a few years, keep your deck protected with a quality finish that contains both UV blockers and a mildewcide. You should recoat it at least once every two years or whenever water no longer beads up on the surface.

Don't misunderstand... powerwashing is not forbidden! Most powerwashing problems are due to overenthusiasm. Use the LEAST AMOUNT OF PRESSURE that gets the job done!

A great alternative to the "power" approach is a chemical deck-restoring product. These are applied with a low-pressure garden sprayer, allowed to work for a few minutes and rinsed off with a garden hose. Some brushing may be required on really disgusting, dirty filthy decks! Yuck!

Even with these products, though, a neglected deck may require a little sanding to return it to almost-like-new condition!



Dear NH,

I read your article on drilling holes in a Corian countertop. Are you aware that if you are drilling into Corian, you are voiding the warranty? And for a homeowner to be able to have the 10-year transferable warranty, Corian has to be installed by a certified fabricator installer?

LP from Franklin Park, IL


You are correct... sort of! DuPont has two distinct warranties on Corian... one on the product itself and one on the installation. To quote their warranty as it appears online at their website ,

"Every inch of Corian® is backed by a 10-year limited warranty, your ultimate assurance of quality. Plus, when a DuPont Certified Fabricator/Installer installs Corian®, the entire job is warranted for 10 years against fabrication and installation defects. In residential applications, if you decide to sell your home, Corian offers a warranty that's transferable to the new owners."

As you can see, the product warranty is separate from the installation warranty. Any seams, cuts or other modifications made to the "raw" product by the homeowner do not necessarily void the warranty on the product, just on the installation.

Anyway, let's be practical. If you were to purchase a small Corian® vanity top for your bathroom that did not come with faucet holes predrilled, I wish you luck finding a "certified Corian installer" to come and drill the holes! These guys and gals have their hands full with all the new homes and kitchen renovations and have little time for small jobs. Though the cost of drilling faucet holes can be as little as $20.00 as part of a full installation, their hourly rates can be over $80 per hour. Most skilled do-it-yourselfers would prefer to do the job themselves, warranty be damned!

I love Corian because it is tough material and is much less likely to crack or break during installation or drilling than plastic laminate. Dupont's concern is that poor do-it-yourself installations might impact on Corian's reputation... hence the installer certification policy.


Dear NH,

Your advice to lower the temperature of water heaters is very poor advice. While there may be a financial saving, there is a serious chance of increased corrosion (ie shorter unit life) and a definite chance of hydrogen sulphide generation in storage systems producing black water and noxious smells

BR from Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


"Who ate the beans?" Stinky hydrogen sulfide gas... the notorious rotten egg that is the bane of many homeowners, can naturally occur in well water or can be caused by a variety of chemical reactions between bacteria, sulphates and even with the magnesium "sacrificial" anode rod in a water heater tank. The sacrificial anode is designed to dissolve more easily than the metal parts of the tank, thus prolonging tank life. In some circumstances the anode can actually cause odors and removing it will decrease or even eliminate the odor.

Though very high water temperatures can kill bacteria, it's a very dangerous solution. According to Larry Weingarten, author of "The Water Heater Workbook",

"Another trick that does not work is to temporarily turn up the heat (on the water heater) as high as it will go. These bacteria will quickly reappear unless the condition in the tank is made less hospitable to them. In addition, the scald risk is tremendous with 160 or 170 degree water."

Thus, the best and safest solution to odiferous water is to pre-treat the water with a suitable combination of chemical treatment and filtration. Also, troublesome wells can be super-chlorinated to destroy bacterial contamination (though it is useful to ascertain the source of contamination).


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