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Handyman Letter - October, 2003


1) Bring on the new season... 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!



There's a small general store just a mile from my home on a two-lane very rural stretch of highway. It's a quaint, ancient-looking building with a rusty metal roof and way beyond needing paint. A bustling center of agricultural activity at the turn of the last century, the area is now little more than a sleepy suburb of Hartford. And, like many others of its ilk, this general store's survival rests squarely on the benevolence (and hunger) of the local residents and tradesmen who pass during the day.

I don't usually stop there for my morning pick-me-up, but it's location next to my church made it quite convenient this day. I needed to drop off a doubled grocery bags full of used books for the annual “White Elephant” sale, which runs in conjunction with a “Chicken Pie Supper” our church has hosted for over 200 years. It gave my wife an excuse to do a little reorganizing... and an opportunity to drain the flood of paperbacks that swamps our home every year.

The early October weather has gotten a little sharp with autumn's advent just a week past. After begrudgingly mixing half-decaf into an otherwise great cup of java, I traded niceties with the woman at the register. I offhandedly said, “A little chill in the air today, eh?”

Her reaction? “It must be fall... people are starting to complain about the weather already!”

Right. Though I was hardly looking for sympathy and didn't need to button up my threadbare flannel shirt just yet, I got the point. She must hear similar platitudes all day. I've spent a few tours in the retail service and know how repetitive and mind-numbing weather conversations can be. We nodded to each other, secretly knowing we had shared one of life's fundamental truths... we love the excitement of change but bemoan the consequences!

People who leave New England for more temperate climates rarely seem to miss the inconveniences and risks the snow and cold of winter bring. What they do miss is the changing of the seasons. I, for example, enjoy the first snowfall immensely, reaching back into my childhood to relive the joy of snow days and sledding on the old golf course (that's becoming a shopping mall as we speak). That is, till my freethinking Chevy van decides to perform a low-speed tailspin on black ice that would make the fiercest insurance adjuster flinch!

Each season seems to start with a thrill and the occasional chill and end with a gasp of delight. It is as if we are designed to be uncomfortable with constancy. Even the “snow birds”... our fond nickname for locals who fly south around Thanksgiving and return with the robins, rarely leave before Mother Nature's show of fall foliage is at full splendor.

Maybe a yearning for change is bred into us, as if somehow our maker knew we would stand a better chance of succeeding in our short lives if only we accept the challenges change brings, keep moving, keep growing and keep learning.

Or maybe it's something more simple... more basic. A properly used leaf rake or snow shovel can be fine substitutes for a trip to the gym!




The “US Consumer Product Safety Commission” and the “Window Covering Safety Council” have named October “Window Treatment Safety Month”. Are your window shades or curtains child-safe? Maybe so, but wouldn't you like to be sure? Click below for more information:


Ever get home, find the power is out and you can't get into the garage. There is a simple way to get into your garage by releasing your garage door opener... from the outside! Curious? Visit our garage door and opener archives:


Dear NH,

We want to put a toilet, sink and shower in an out building that is over 100 feet from a sewer connection and is a foot lower in grade. The building department requires the waste pipe be buried 18 inches. What to do?

MP from Pasadena, CA


This is not a desirable problem but hardly unusual. In my hilly neighborhood, many homes are built on mountainsides with the septic tanks and/or fields located uphill. You will need to install a sewage pump, in coordination with a sump, to move the waste up to the sewer line.

There are a few manufacturers that produce these products. Visit the Zoeller Pump Company site to see the types of pump kits available.

Of course, your pump must be sized to move the waste the distance necessary. Also, check valves (also know as "backflow" valves) must be installed to keep sewage from reentering the sump and the building.

As to where the pump should be installed and the precise specifications for pipe depths and the check valves, you need to get some help from a local plumber or the building inspector. Depending on your local plumbing code, you may even be able to do this yourself with proper permits.


Dear NH,

I'm looking for bottom weatherstrip for my front door. It is 20 yrs old and worn out. My problem is that the metal clad door, has one channel in the bottom of the door, for the weather stripping to fit up into, not 2 channels as most of the replacements I see. Is it possible you know a supplier for such an item ? Thnx so much

JS from Palmer, AK


Try contacting Aubuchon Hardware. They are online at

They have bottom weatherstrips for Ceco, Johnson and Stanley doors. The problem is that they do not have graphics for the Johnson and Stanley doors. Perhaps one of them has the single channel you mention... I am unsure since I have rarely replaced them for anyone.

Hopefully they can help you either by email or over the phone. Phone is probably better since email is so sketchy these days! (Hooray for "800" phone numbers!)

Your other, less desirable (but probably workable) alternative is to install a generic weatherstrip on either the inside or outside of the door, depending on the height and width of your threshold and, of course, the height of the inside flooring or carpet. If the threshold isn't sufficiently raised to allow you to install a stationary weatherstrip, there are a few types that have automatic actuation... they raise up when you open the door and drop to press against the threshold when the door is closed.



Dear NH,

You said not to use latex glazing in a caulk tube. Why? I have used DAP33, and I hate it. It takes forever to develop a skin so it can be painted, and even longer for it to harden enough so it doesn't dent when even slightly touched. I used it on a window last fall, and when I removed it this August, it still wasn't hardened. A DAP representative suggested the tube. Is there another brand that's easier to work with and will harden more quickly?

I would appreciate your help ASAP as I need to start glazing immediately. I have an 8-paned sash and a plain sash to do before it gets cold in Illinois. Thanks.

CK from Kankakee, IL


You can use the latex glazing product if you want to experiment. I have just found it to very sloppy, sticky and difficult to work with. However, if appearance is not as important as drying time, the latex glazing products win hands down!

Lets talk a little about window putty. First, regarding window putty drying time, it is definitely VERY slow drying. Even after weeks of remaining unpainted, putty in a cool, shady area will remain soft. However, believe it or not, this is a good thing!

Glazing putty is a mix of boiled linseed oil, calcium carbonate and probably other additives that remain the secret of the conspiratorial, world-dominating putty industry. It is mixed at the factory to a consistency that can be worked to a smooth surface without excessive sticking to the tool, or putty knife. Other putties, such as painter's putty, are chemically similar but often have a creamier consistency more suited to exterior hole filling. They are more sticky and thus are difficult to use for window glazing.

Predating caulk by decades, window putty was designed to make a seal between dissimilar materials... glass and wood... to remain flexible for a long time and to be paintable. A tall order, to say the least!

Putty's slow drying time is a byproduct of the way it dries... oxidation. The linseed oil reacts with oxygen in the air to harden the putty. Once the surface hardens slightly, called “skinning”, the rate of drying decreases as the source of oxygen is diminished.

You mentioned that the putty took “forever” to skin over. Skinning is in the eye of the beholder. Skinning is surface hardening, not the type of rubbery layer that is typical of caulk. Skinned putty will no longer stick to the fingers , even though it may still be soft to the touch.

Putty that is painted very quickly, say within a day of application, may take years to harden since the paint (oil only) will further diminish the supply of oxygen.

Putty is not an adhesive, but does exhibit adhesive properties for much of its useful life. Then, as it becomes totally dry, it cracks and loosens, needing either touching up or replacement.


Dear NH,

I typed "Handyman" into Yahoo and it gave me your site at around number 7 or so. Great explanations on your information! I am a handyman and have no trouble understanding your explanations. You deserve a "pat on the back", a cold beer, and a great big steak!!! Money would be next. Thanks !!!


Dear Anon,

Be over later for that steak! Medium rare, please!


Dear NH,

There was a bad piece of advice in your last newsletter. I am a home inspector, and one should never under any circumstances caulk around a toilet base---you need to have the moisture run out in case the wax seal or something else breaks--otherwise you rot the sheathing and grow strange critters!!!! I'd like to hear back your comments on this!



Your concern is well based, and if a leak occurs under the toilet there will be moisture related problems. But "silent" leaks can occur under any toilet. I have seen countless rotten floors where water has leaked from a toilet underneath vinyl flooring, with no caulk in sight! Leakage can be caused by loosening of the toilet over time or just poor installation practice. Also, many slow toilet leaks never appear till severe damage is done to the subfloor. Moisture takes residence under the finished flooring, be it vinyl or ceramic tile, and does its dirty work in secret.

To make the blanket statement that caulking is an absolute no-no needs some clarification and, as with most home repairs, needs to leave some room for a little improvisation.

Caulk around the base keeps water from getting under the toilet. Once such source of moisture is dripping from tank condensation, when humid air liquefies as it touches the cold toilet tank. In this circumstance, judicious application of caulk can actually protect the naked wood under the toilet from damage!

Using grout, caulk or even using plumber's putty around the base of a toilet to stabilize it is common practice precisely because it is not always practical to rip up a perfectly good bathroom floor and replace it just because the floor is not perfectly level. Though shims alone can stabilize a toilet, they also cause pressure points on the porcelain which can lead to cracking or breakage.

So let me clarify. I do not recommend that anyone routinely caulk around the base of an otherwise stable toilet. However, if a toilet rocks severely due to a poorly leveled floor, partial or complete caulking can be helpful, along with appropriate use of non-rotting shims for the initial stabilization. Also, if there is severe condensation-caused dripping off the tank, partial caulking at the bowl-floor seam may be helpful in keeping moisture from seeping under the toilet.


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