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Handyman Letter - November, 2003


1) The “Peter-Out” Principle ... 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!




The “Peter Out” Principle... a message from the Natural Handyman

Have you ever worked for someone who seemed to be a little over their head? Have you wondered how people get into dead end jobs with no escape? Why does the contractor you've hired not meet your schedules... or expectations?

Welcome to the “Peter Principle”, an oft-quoted philosophical hammer from Dr. Lawrence J. Peter regarding the burning question of why there is so much incompetence in management. Over 25 years ago, Dr. Peter succinctly summarized everything you ever thought about that boss from hell... “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

In short, successful people tend to be pushed and promoted more than unsuccessful ones. This upward pressure continues till they finally are forced into jobs that they are incapable of handling. These employees may tread water for years till they are either downsized out, retire or quit from the unrelenting pressure of their employer's unfulfillable expectations.

Though Dr. Peter's sphere was corporate structure and politics, this effect is hardly limited to the white-collar crowd. Even your local carpenter, plumber and handyman feel the stresses of unrealistic expectations. Note the high rate of bankruptcies among small builders, or the number of jobs that are walked away from every year by small contractors and tradesmen.

Often, people mistakenly view self-employment as synonymous with worker freedom. Hardly. As in the corporate environment, client relations can be politically charged dances where constant negotiation is the rule rather than the exception. Even in the smallest home repair, such as the location of a curtain rod or toilet paper holder, the aesthetic concerns of the customer must reconcile with the practical concerns of the job AND the abilities of the handyman to make it so. Aesthetics, practicality and ability... these three factors interlace to yield the perfect result... satisfaction all the way around!

Unfortunately, too many carpenters, plumbers and other tradesmen accept jobs that they are woefully unprepared to handle. Instead of dealing honestly with their customers and laying their “limitations” on the line, they nod their heads like bob-headed dashboard hula dancers at the scent of a big or complicated job. Soon, though, they find the demands of the work exceed their abilities and they unceremoniously try to escape. Hiding is a popular option (not returning calls is a method of choice) or making continual excuses why a two-week job has dragged on for six months!

Honesty... that's what's lacking! In working with clients for over 30 years, I have learned that it's better to disappoint a little now than alot later. Even my best, longtime clients know that I will often refuse work if I don't feel I can do the best job possible. I never hesitate to give a referral to another competent tradesman, either, since my self-image is not tied to any delusions of do-it-yourself omnipotence.

Whether in the corporate world or on a stepladder, all anyone should be expected to do is the best they possibly can. But it is up to you... the master of your own life... to find the boundaries of your own abilities and experience, use your skills to the fullest...

And know when it's time to fold up your own tent and call in the reinforcements!




Dear NH,

My contractor did a major remodel of our house this summer and it is fabulous! He and his crew were gentlemen at all times and the quality of the work was way beyond our dreams. However, they have moved on and we are left with one little job...hanging the house numbers and the mailbox. We are both clueless about how to do this. The house numbers were made for use by a local potter and it is a ceramic tile piece and the mailbox is copper. How do we affix them to the concrete retaining wall?

SP from La Grande, OR


Nice to hear some positive words about a contractor, especially when most of what I hear are complaints and gripes!

Ceramic mailbox numbers are a little tricky to install because they are so easily broken.
In following the tips below, don't purchase screws that fit too tightly into the holes in your numbers... you want a little wiggle room to minimize the chance of breaking or chipping them.

Regarding installation on your mailbox, use stainless steel or brass machine screws and nuts, with a thin rubber washer between the numbers and the mailbox. Be sure to locate the numbers on the flat part of the mailbox, and make the holes half again as large as the screws to allow some play. Tighten the bolts just enough to slightly compress the rubber washer... this will help to keep the nuts from loosening.

On a concrete wall, you will have to drill holes with a masonry bit for plastic anchors. Get matching screws and anchors at the hardware store, again either brass or stainless steel. Be sure to drill the holes deep enough for the anchors. The screws should go into anchor at least 1/2 of the way for a solid installation.


Dear NH,

I recently had an up-flush system put in my basement and it seems to work fine except we have a terrible smell that seems to emanate from the holding tank itself and never goes away. The smell also seems to come up from the bathroom sink. If you could suggest a possible solution it would be appreciated. Right now, the odor renders our basement unusable.

KR from Utica, NY


If the holding tank is properly closed and sealed, there should be no odor whatsoever. It sounds like it could be a venting issue.

All plumbing systems need some sort of venting to allow air into the system to replace the liquids when they are pumped. Without such a vent, the water in the sink trap or toilet bowl would be sucked out, allowing odors from the holding tank to enter the living space.

Even though some upflushing toilets and sewage pumps have check valves to prevent effluent from flowing back, this does not eliminate the potential for odor in the pipes between the check valve and the sink.

If your unit is vented by means of a mechanical vent (a spring-loaded valve that opens on demand), be sure that it is closing completely when not in use. There may be some maintenance that can be performed on it, or it may need replacement. The manufacturer should have this information available for you if it is part of the unit you installed.

You can check if the water is being sucked from the sink trap. First, pour a few cups of water into the sink... not enough to activate the pump. Then flush the toilet. When the pump activates, listen closely at the sink. You should be able to hear if the water in the trap is sucked out. If you are unsure, remove the trap and see if there is any water in it. If not, this reinforces my belief that the venting in your system is faulty.

Take care and good luck,




Dear NH,

When I click on the article about door repair, the link goes to a blank page!

MC from Winter Garden, FL


Thanks for the heads-up! The problem turned out to be one of those little glitches that happen when a handyman tries to be a webmaster! The article was really long, and there seems to be a limit on page length at my server... probably related to my use of Microsoft FrontPage extensions.

I cut it into “byte-size” pieces and reposted it at this url: 


Dear NH,

Hi, your site is very helpful for our chiminea we just bought. The directions that came with it said to use Future Floor WAX.........but all we can find is Future Acrylic Floor Finish... is this the same?

Also, your website said we could use Thompson's Waterseal.... but on the container it says it is Combustible and to keep away from heat or open flame. Wouldn't this be dangerous to use to seal our chiminea?

We bought a product called Seal Krete, its an acrylic water-based application, and does not have any warnings that it is combustible. It says it is a product that is used on "vertical" surfaces (not horizontal) such as brick, masonry, cement block, and adobe. Is adobe the material that chiminea's are made from?? Would this product be ok to use to seal our chiminea??

JH from Somewhere in OH


The author of the instructions must have misread the package. There is no such product as Future Floor “Wax”, it is Future Acrylic Floor Finish from "Johnson Wax".

Regarding the Thompson's Waterseal, it is only flammable when wet. Once the solvent evaporates it is non-flammable.

The Sealcrete may or may not be OK. I don't know how much it will darken when subjected to heat... I know the Future will not darken very much as I have used it personally with good results. However, any coating will tend to affect the appearance of the chiminea somewhat.

Chimineas are made from baked or “fired” clay, like flower pots... not adobe. Adobe is an ancient construction material made from clay, soil and sometimes a little Portland cement... there are many recipes. However, adobe is not “fired” in an oven; it is formed into bricks or blocks and allowed to dry naturally.

Take care.


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