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Handyman Letter - August, 2003


1) Looking for Mr. Goodtool... 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!

"Foremost Mobile Home Fix It Guide"



In a world fraught with danger, we all seek a place of safety and security. Our homes can fill this need... the doors our castle's drawbridges, our driveways the crocodile-filled moats that give us space from life's frantic pace. In our safety-spaces, we feel free to take the cell phones, pagers, laptop computers and scores of other devices that never allow us to be unburdened of our responsibilities... and shove them under the bed with the dust bunnies and other monsters!

The problem, of course, is that once you accept someone into your sphere of trust, you become vulnerable. Most assaults occur between people who know each other... witness the appalling statistics on domestic violence. According to the NYC Police, they receive over 5000 complaints a day about violence between family members!

And what about "other" people... the salesmen, electricians, plumbers, handymen and gardeners who we allow into our most private spaces? Who are these people? What do we really know about them? Generally, not an awful lot, but we open our doors with the faith that we will not regret the choice.

On July 6th, a 61-year-old Avon, CT man was reported missing by a friend when he missed a lunch date. The friend found blood at the home and immediately called the police. After a stabbed-body was discovered four days later, two men were arrested on suspicion... brothers who had been doing "handyman" work for the victim. One was a carpenter and the other a former construction foreman... both with long criminal records including violence, burglary and firearms offences.

How did this happen? Did this man check on their backgrounds? Did he contact the state to find out if they were registered contractors? Did he talk to any of their other clients? And if he did, would it have made any difference? I don't think we'll ever know.

At the State of Connecticut website; I performed a search for these two men in the home improvement contractor database. I found that neither man appeared to be registered contractors. Would this knowledge have helped their victim? Perhaps, but lack of understanding of the registration process and the protections it offers make some people think that registration is just another government intrusion to be avoided.

Even if one or both of these handymen had been registered, the database gives scant information about the contractor... hardly more than a name, address and a list of consumer complaints. Interestingly, the application asks for information concerning felony convictions or trade-related offences, but this information is also lacking online.

I have written and spoken often regarding hiring contractors and handymen, and don't hesitate to express my anger at the few bad apples who have spoiled the reputation of all home repair professionals. Yet despite the efforts of home repair writers, pleas from consumer protection agencies and all the public cases of contractor mischief with disastrous outcomes, many people still don't get it.

I know from personal experience... in over 17 years as a registered contractor I have never once been asked for my registration number! Not that I'm complaining. Trust is the best lubricant for all relationships, business or otherwise. Everything works more smoothly when you can take a person at their word. But sometimes, trust can be misinterpreted as weakness by the unscrupulous. In many crimes, most notably financial scams, misuse of trust is the weapon of choice!

My own clients have often complained to me about shady contractors, but not one has filed a formal complaint. Some didn't know they could, some were just not motivated enough and some felt intimidated by the contractors. Unfortunately, without input from the victims, the sheep will continue to be fleeced by the wolves!

Some folks think it's romantic to work around "the system". Some think that they will get a "break" if they hire a rogue contractor. Perhaps, but it may not be the kind of break they expect!



You really don't want to invite the local bears into your cottage... or your home's secret hideaway! But you can safely bring the essence of the great outdoors with the imaginative use of color and texture! Contributed by the ever-creative Gail McCauley for the PAINT QUALITY INSTITUTE.

Many homes that use wells are afflicted with water that smells like rotten eggs... a.k.a. hydrogen sulfide! This chemical is usually not hazardous at the levels in most drinking water, but it sure is annoying and can damage your plumbing if not eliminated! Never fear... there are solutions and our article can be a starting point in your quest for olfactory relief!

We've updated and consolidated our countertop pages with some very useful information. Keep your laminates ship-shape!


Dear NH,

I am planning on painting the inside of our garage soon. The walls are unpainted drywall and poured concrete. We are debating which type of paint we should use. I think we can use interior wall paint but my husband thinks he should use exterior paint. What's your opinion?

BB from Fredericksburg, VA


Though your garage may be protected from direct contact with "the elements", it is not protected from the some of their effects, so regular interior wall paint is out! Thus, I vote for using exterior latex paint for a few reasons (with a caveat at the end)...

1) Exterior paints are also designed to accommodate wider temperature ranges than interior paints. Our homes are mini-ecosystems and most of the stuff in them... from paints to building materials to even appliances... is designed to work optimally in a narrow temperature range... the same temperature range we are optimally designed to work in!

2) Exterior paints are heavier and cover surfaces better than most interior paints. Even over unpainted drywall, most exterior paints can stick just fine without a primer! (Since the manufacturer's don't consider drywall an exterior product, they don't even mention it in their instructions! Figures, right?) Of course, the surface should be dust and mildew-free.

3) Exterior paints are more mildew-proof than interior paints, aside from specialty kitchen/bath paints. If the walls are mildewed already they may need a little cleaning with a bleach solution prior to painting. This is a messy proposition on unpainted drywall 'cause the joint compound can become mushy. I suggest brushing or vacuuming the dust off the walls while they are dry. Then use a hand or garden sprayer to apply a 50% bleach, 50% hot water mix onto the walls, let it dry thoroughly and then paint.

Regarding the concrete portion of your walls, most exterior latex paints will cover clean, dry masonry without any need for a primer.

If you don't want the defects in your walls showing, use a flat paint. Though low luster and glossy paints are more washable, every little blemish will stick out like my sore thumb!

Oh yes, my caveat. Kitchen/bathroom paints share many of the characteristics of good exterior paints... washable, mildew resistant and just plain tough! You can consider them as an acceptable alternative to exterior latex, but as of today there are no truly"flat" kitchen/bath paints... they all have a sheen that might be undesirable for garage walls. They also tend to be quite a bit more expensive!


Dear NH,

My garage door worked fine until I installed a garage door opener. Now it doesn't seem to close all the way anymore. No matter how much I increase the closing force or the closing distance it still doesn't close flat to the floor. In fact, if I increase the closing distance it just reverses! Can this problem be fixed?

LM from Storm Lake, IA


This can be a tricky problem to diagnose, even when the door is right in front of me! Generally speaking, there are two factors at work... the levelness of the surface under the door and the adjustment of the door itself.

Assuming all the pulleys and rollers are functioning properly, most garage doors will close completely if the floor is slightly off level. However, when you attach a garage door opener it can restrict the slight sideways movement that had previously allowed the door to meet the floor. This is because of the way the opener moves the door... by pushing at the top instead of pulling.

In most cases, the culprit is friction at the contact point between the uppermost panel and the trim around the garage doorjamb. As the door moves its last few inches, the opener is pushing the top panel directly towards the upper piece of trim. The friction between the door and trim can be great enough to stop the opener or even cause it to reverse! Hence, the door doesn't close completely!

The repair is to experiment. First, try changing the position of the uppermost door roller assemblies. When you adjust them upwards, the door closes more loosely against the trim. Also, the upper rollers will provide resistance against the track so the opener's force continues downwards instead of horizontally!)

Of course, it's possible that there is no adjustment due to the installed position of the assemblies. If so, you can either (1) widen the slots to allow more adjustment, (2) shave a little wood off the edge of the trim where it meets the door or (3) take the trim off and move it slightly outward to relieve the friction.

Good luck!



Dear NH,

Some of the content on your "Business Tips for Handymen" pages seem to be missing.

DP from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada


Thanks for writing. I know most folks wouldn't have bothered so your letter was especially valuable!

I have reindexed all the "Business Tips" pages, using a list-type interface to make viewing them easier and with less confusion. (Why I didn't do this in the first place will remain a mystery, even to me! )

Anyway, the address for our business tips is:

Thanks again for bringing the problem to my attention!


Dear NH,

You saved me big time with the article on compression fittings. This was my first time at your website. I'll be back and I will be sending you a donation in the mail.

RR from Cary, NC


Thanks in advance for the donation!

The compression-fitting article is one of my favorites because it exposes the gritty underside of the home repair info industry. Let me take you back about thirty years when I first decided to try my hand at plumbing... or, as it turned out, Olympic basement swimming!

I had no soldering skills, but I sort of knew how to use a wrench. So it seemed sensible to install a new sink using ALL compression fittings... right from the water supply to the final connections under the sink. Now in those days, compression fittings were not as common as today and many faucets were installed with soldered connections to the shutoffs.

Unfortunately for me, there were no plumbing books that told a person how to recover from a poorly connected compression fitting! Sure, the books showed one how an ideal connection should be connected but absolutely no troubleshooting info. I took me days to finally stop the leaking!

Moving forward to the more recent past... in response to a reader's plea I decided to pen my own article on these sometimes nasty fittings. As I often do, I made a visit to the local book store to view the state of plumbing information. To my surprise I could not find one book that gave any real detail or "tips" regarding the use of compression fittings... aside from the minimal info I found 30 years before!

With all the hundreds of books available today, much of the information offered is really about the same as it was decades ago. Indeed, some of the books are almost cookie-cutter rehashing of the same old stuff. As best I can, I have tried to add a little more depth to the topics on our site to perhaps save someone else from the trials (and errors) I experienced myself!


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