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Handyman Letter - September, 2003


1) Never forget... 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!

“Woodworking With The Router” by Bill Hylton and Fred Matlack


Forgetting is easy. I wish I had a dollar for every time I had to drive home because I forgot an important tool or a desperately needed part for a job. And keys? Puleeeeeze! If I hadn't trained my self to leave them in one of three places- oh boy!

It's also too easy to forget pain, not just the physical but also the emotional. Though the hurt of loss seems eternal, fade it will. Perhaps we're designed to become numb over time before we destroy ourselves, just as callous forms on a builder's hands to protect them from hard manual labor. How tricky is our memory that it can soften deep sadness and distort memory, given enough time. The faces of our lost loved ones become blurry as the once-sharp pain of their passing becomes a dull yet oddly-manageable ache.

Some things, though, should never be forgotten. They must be relived now and again to remind us how lucky we are to be alive, and how we must guard our lives jealously and tirelessly.

Let's not forget the images of family members with photos of their missing loved ones pinned to their shirts, hoping for words they might never want to hear.

Let's not forget the sight of two massive skyscrapers crashing to the ground with thousands of our brothers and sisters inside... innocents whose only crime was going to work.

Let's not forget the shock and pain on the faces of people across the nation and the world as we shared, if only for a brief moment in time, the realization that none of us are safe from madmen.

And most important, don't forget your own personal shock and pain. Don't categorize it, analyze it or homogenize it... just relive it. Yes, continue your life. Yes, hug your friends, partners and kids like there is no tomorrow. But never forget how WE felt on that day.

Most of us are well past the paralytic anger we felt when those twin towers fell. But it's important to retouch those feelings every now and again, especially when you hear people in the media talking as if 9/11 is now an inconsequential event, a “learning experience”, and that somehow our actions against terror are unmeasured or insincere. It takes a “nudge” to bring back the feelings that have driven our country to war.

I have listed below a few of the hundreds of websites dedicated to 9/11. You may learn something new, be reminded of things you may have forgotten, or simply sob as I did, reliving for a few moments that horrific day and its aftermath.

Or you can look away.

In either case, consider yourself nudged.



Carbon monoxide is a silent killer... and it could be lurking in your home. Please read this informative and important article provided by Quinstreet Publishing.

Our friends at STATE FARM INSURANCE have come through for us again with a great article on water leak detection systems. These simple-but-effective systems are designed to stop a water leak before it floods your home. Many are wireless and most do-it-yourselfers with moderate plumbing skills (pipe sweating especially) can tackle the installation themselves. Just don't cause a flood doing it!

A list of manufacturers follows the article!

Seasons change, and so do the styles and colors that reflect them. Read Gail McCauley's article on using color to bring the seasons into your home.


Dear NH,

I have an electric water heater in the mobile home I recently purchased and the monthly electric bills are very high. Can I put an automatic timer on the line to turn off the heater during the night when the heater is not in use? I realize that I need to put an insulating blanket on the heater and drain the sediment out regularly.

GH from Chico, CA


Installing a timer on your electric water heater is one of the best ways to save big bucks on your electric bill; that is, once you take care of the "simple" methods such as adding extra insulation to the tank and lowering the water heater temperature to 120 degrees.

Using a timer is simple... the more continuous time you have the water heater turned off the greater your savings will be. Be sure to get a timer that offers multiple on-off times. A typical time schedule might be on at 5 am (for showers starting a 6am), off a 7 am (when everyone is off to work or school), on again a hour or so before the first people arrive home and off before bedtime. There will be a reservoir of warm to hot water available all the time, even after the unit is off for hours, provided your tank is properly insulated.

And, if you are desperate for a 3AM shower or get the urge to do laundry after Letterman, just turn the timer on and clean up!

Of course, a timer is not for everyone or every family. If the people in your household are using hot water 24/7, it might be impractical. Having the timer turn off the heater for less than three to five hours at a stretch probably is not worth the expense.

You should visit our collection of water heater articles, which include articles on lowering your thermostat and other energy-saving tips. The url is: 

Dear NH,

In our new house, the clothes dryer vents into the crawl space. To blow the exhaust the crawl space window, we have to attach dryer tubing to a PVC pipe that's about 20 feet long, impossible to clean of lint. The previous owners had duct-taped a pair of old pantyhose to the dryer pipe to collect the lint! (I thought it was pretty creative, actually.) Any suggestions?

V from Lexington, KY


Aside from the lint catcher built into your clothes dryer, you should not use any other filtering medium. The panty hose idea might seem practical at first blush, but it would need to be cleaned frequently. Backpressure and the resultant overheating due to blocked ducts is a major cause of clothes dryer-related fires! At the very least, you might scorch your clothes!

Due to the moisture buildup, it is unwise to release dryer exhaust into a crawlspace unless it is well ventilated, so you should vent through the window if there is no other rerouting option for the hose.  Also, if you have a natural gas or propane clothes dryer, the dryer exhaust also carries the burning byproducts including carbon monoxide, which can be a health hazard.

Unfortunately, dryer manufacturers do not recommend more than 10 feet of hose, which you exceed with a bullet! Smooth-walled metal pipe or PVC offer the least resistance to air flow, so you can get away with longer lengths than expandable-type hoses provided you don't let too much lint build up in the pipe.

Regarding cleaning lint residue out of the duct, there are special brushes available with long handles. Basically, they are similar to chimney cleaning brushes, but of course in smaller diameters for dryer ducts (usually 4"). These brushes will only work on rigid or semi-rigid ducting, not on light-weight "accordion" hoses... it will rip them to shreds!! Though there are professional duct cleaning systems that are gentler, they are also too expensive for occasional use.

To jump-start your shopping, try the RUTLAND PRODUCTS website. RUTLAND manufactures products for chimneys and stoves, but also carries a line of 4” dryer vent brushes. Their products are available in many home and hardware stores. 


Dear NH,

My toilet of 15 years is now tipping forward. Could this be caused by the original plumber's putty missing in the front of the toilet? The bolts appear to be on tight as we cannot move them. We stacked 2 pennies together in a couple of places and that seems to stop the tipping. Can this be used as a permanent solution? If the flange is damaged, how would we know it? There doesn't appear to be any leaks around the toilet or in the basement ceiling under it. We really don't want to reinstall the toilet or have a plumber do it if the pennies will work.

KS from Kansas City, MO


Usually when a toilet starts moving after years of stability, my first instinct is to consider hidden leakage that has started rotting the floor or rusted through the flange. However, if you have thoroughly examined the flooring underneath the toilet from your basement and find absolutely no evidence of moisture, I would say that you just need to stabilize the toilet.

Now, there are two ways to approach this, the professional way and the cheap way. The professional way would be to disconnect the water supply and attempt to tip and/or lift the toilet. If the flange is sound and the toilet firmly attached, you should not be able to lift it. Then go on to the next paragraph. If it can be lifted, the toilet must be totally removed and the flange examined for breakage.

However, with no evidence of leakage you can probably suffice with stabilizing the toilet. Once the toilet no longer rocks, the chance of damage to the seal is virtually zero. Your solution of the pennies as shims is on the mark... sort of. You just need to spread the load a little better to minimize the chance of cracking the bowl.

So remove the pennies and replace them with thin shims (preferably plastic), making sure that they do not protrude beyond the underside of the bowl. Then fill any gaps around the base of the toilet with a quality mildew-resistant latex bathroom caulk. (I wouldn't use silicone since it is too flexible and doesn't stick as well.) First, clean the area at the base as best as you can with denatured alcohol allow it to dry five to 10 minutes before applying the caulk. Use your finger or a damp sponge to force it between the toilet and floor and to make a neat appearance.

Let the caulk dry for 24 hours before use and you should have a stable throne fit for a king... or queen!



Dear NH,

Last year I sent an email requesting your help with our ceiling fan, which turned itself on at random times of the day. Although your response did not provide the solution, it did push me to find an answer that was simple and easy to fix.

As it turned out, ceiling fans that come with a remote control all have programmable security codes. Our installer did not change the code, as recommended by the manufacturer. It has been 7 months since I changed the code and there have been no further problems.

I hope this information will help someone in the future.

SW from Las Vegas, NV


Glad to hear you solved the mystery. Had you mentioned in your original letter that you had a remote control fan, I might have deduced the answer, though 20/20 hindsight is always clear!

Interestingly enough, I looked through a few instruction manuals for garage door openers (all of which use remote controls) and none of them suggest resetting the codes after installation. I did so because I have personal experience with a similar event. A group of garage door openers, same brand, were installed in a series of eight attached garages. Two of the eight shared codes and were opening each other's doors for weeks till someone noticed what was happening and called the installer! Of course, changing the codes did the trick.

I think resetting the remote control code is a great idea for any remote control device that allows it. It only takes a few minutes and offers immeasurable security. After all, who knows how many or few "standard" codes the manufacturers use in their off-the-shelf products! Thanks for the help!

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