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Handyman Letter - February 2004

In This Issue:

1) Changes Big and Small... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Back at ya'... in appreciation for media citations or reciprocal links!

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!

“How Your House Works” by Don Vandervort


1) Changes Big and Small... a message from the Natural Handyman

WE'RE BACK!! And though we're well into the New Year, this is our first chance to talk. I'd like to say that I spent the time since our last newsletter vacationing on a Hawaiian beach, but the fact is home repair, like dust, never sleeps! Nor does a 24-7 website that needs both loving attention and serious review from time to time.

No More POP-UPS Ever Again!

About six months ago we said goodbye to the Burst! Media advertising agency. A one-time source of solid advertising for our site, it became nothing more than spam delivered via banner ads. In spite of the fact that I had the ability to pick and choose the advertisers, it was impossible to keep the pop-ups under control. They even made me nuts when I administered the site! For what was once an up-and-coming web advertising agency, it had been years since they landed a decent home repair product or service!

We had a three-year non-competitive contract, and therefore were forced to endure their popup ads and inane flashing banners. As a visitor to our site, I'm sure you join me in saying, “Hasta la vista, baby!”

I've always believed in the “Golden Rule”... that you should treat others as you would want to be treated. Pop-ups are annoying, intrusive and, at times, computer-crashing! Even though they have been “proven” to get results, we just don't care! They're gone, that's it, good bye and good riddance!

Have a great February and a Happy Valentine's day!




We've been asked so many times how to determine the swing of a door, or its "handing", that we have finally broken down and posted this explanation. You may not need to know this now, but you'll thank us later!

More and more, we see “media rooms” in homes of all sizes and prices. They can combine video, audio and computers in a room providing warmth and escape from the workaday world. Gail McCauley from the “Paint Quality Institute” offers some ideas to make your own escape less of an asylum and more of a resort!



Dear NH,

Because I have very little room to install a conventional door (not enough space to swing in or out), I would like to install a sliding door into the wall. How do I know if the wall is thick enough?

DP from Yonkers, NY


What you are considering is called a "pocket door". A pocket door is very similar to a bypassing closet door in that it hangs from a metal track and is supported by rollers. About half the track is concealed in the wall next to the actual doorway so that, when slid to the side, the door disappears from view.

Pocket doors are ideal where no space exists for the swing of a conventional door or as a decorative and cool alternative. You can install a pocket door in a standard 2x4 framed wall.

Pocket doors are most easily installed during the construction phase of a home. To retrofit a pocket door, an opening the full width of the pocket door frame must be cut out. That means removal of the existing door and frame and building a new frame that is twice the size of the original. Extra care must be taken to support the ceiling above if the wall involved is load-bearing.

Once the new frame is installed, the walls of both rooms will need to be restored, primed, painted, moldings, etc. etc. In other words, it's a big job even for an experienced carpenter.

There are some alternatives you might want to consider. I have successfully installed bifolding doors in place of standard doors. They only protrude into the room half the distance of standard doors. However, they do take up some of the width of the doorway. Since the doors fold, you cannot put standard door knobs inside the "fold". However, there are various flat door pulls that can be used instead that allow the doors to fold fully but still allow closure from the inside.

Another option is to install double doors... one hinged on each side of the frame. There are non-mortise, surface-mounted door hinges available that can be installed without advanced carpentry skills. You may use simple door pulls instead of a normal lockset and magnetic catches to simplify the installation!

Dear NH,

I have a dual element hot water heater. It seems the bottom element wasn't heating although it did have continuity. So, I assumed it was the lower thermostat. I went ahead and replaced both elements and the thermostat.

When I turned it on, only the top element was getting power. Thinking this was not right, I also replaced the top thermostat. Now, there is power on the lower element but not the top! It SEEMS that only one element at a time gets power. Is this normal? I didn't think the upper thermostat was that "smart". Any help you can give me would be GREATLY appreciated.

G from Colleyville, TX


Actually, it is! The upper element and lower element do not typically operate at the same time. The upper element is a backup to the lower element and only goes on when the temperature in the tank gets very low, such as when you are filling a tub or showering.

Both thermostats would have to be "on" for the upper element to turn on. Normally, the lower element does most of the work, running as necessary to keep the temperature within the heater's set range. When you turned on the cold heater, the upper element would initially start and run till the upper part of the tank was hot. Then, it would turn off and the lower element would heat the rest of the water.

This stands to reason. Heat rises, so the hottest water is near the top of the tank where it is drawn off. Thus, the upper element would rarely need to turn on except under great demand... like filling a bathtub with hot, relaxing bubbles!


Dear NH,

I am redoing my boss' office while she is away. She will be back in a week so this process must happen quickly.

I want to paint her gray metal filing cabinet. I need to do it really cheaply. What is the process and can I use normal wall paint? I really don't want to spend more on special paint.

BT from Redbridge, Ontario, Canada


I assume the cabinet is already painted, but probably a little dirty and even scratched. First, remove the drawer-front hardware if possible and give all surfaces a good cleaning. A spray such as Fantastic is fine. Be sure to rinse and dry the cabinet thoroughly before painting. Then, lightly sand the entire surface to be painted, wiping all dust away. A final wipe-down with denatured alcohol or liquid sandpaper will help remove any remaining oils or grease.

Since you are looking to make time, not painting history, you can probably forego applying a prime coat to the file and go right to the finish painting, providing you don't have more exposed metal than a few scratches here and there.

I would lean towards a satin or semi-gloss alkyd finish paint, which a top quality oil-based product. A quart should do nicely. (Be sure to have some paint thinner handy for cleanups!)

I don't like using latex paints for cabinets or shelving... personal preference backed by years of experience. Especially flat! It's much too soft to use on a metal cabinet, it will get dirty quickly and isn't washable enough for constant touching.

If you want the job to look great, apply two coats with at least an overnight dry between them! Doing most of the painting with a small, 1/4” nap roller will speed things along, as well as give a spray-like finish. I like the Purdy “Crane” rollers. They are small diameter 6” rollers that are great for little jobs. However, a full-sized 6” long 1/4" nap roller will also work just fine.




Dear NH,

Thank you for your tested advice. I enjoy reading and saving it, to review when I come across a similar problem.

And thank you especially for your regular "sermon" heading up each newsletter. They almost always bring me a feeling of "oh yeah, you're right" or "yes, I wish I had thought of that." I've passed your latest on to our parish priest (with proper credit, of course) for the upcoming Epiphany.

I hope you and your elves enjoy your time of "re-creation," renewal, and just plain catching up on the home front.

CE from Holland Landing, Ontario


What goes around really does come around! I get much inspiration from my own minister, who never fails to give me fresh insights into everyday life.

And, yes, the elves and I are back, rested and ready for another year of home repair insanity! Thanks for asking.


Dear NH,

I thought your response to the question of how to fix a tank-to-bowl leak was great, very detailed and useful except one thing: a possible cause for the failed gasket was not even mentioned.

I recently had two toilets in my apartments experience literal meltdown of rubber gaskets and washers due to the use of Vanish Drop-Ins by my tenants. I not only had to replace the whole tank-to-bowl kit but even the fill valve washer, no kidding, they were all slimy and oozy only two months after the first drop-in was put in the tank.

Now I see that new Kohler toilets have a warning label saying the warranty is void if products like Vanish are used. Have you guys heard anything about this problem?

CR from Snoqualmie, WA


Have we heard about it? You bet! In the article at the website about replacing a flapper, I have a green box in the middle of the article with bold red letters that says,

“Do not use in-the-tank toilet bowl cleaners that contain chlorine... you will be sorry!!”

Chlorine destroys rubber products, which include the toilet's flapper, the tank-to-bowl seal and the gasket underneath the inlet valve. Talk about a disaster waiting to happen. Sometimes, all it takes is a little movement of the toilet tank to cause the rotted seal to break, flooding the bathroom with the next flush!

The fact that these obnoxious products are still sold without prominent warning to the purchaser gives new meaning to the phrase, “Let the buyer beware!”


Dear NH,

Hi! Wow! I'm awestruck again! A handyman who writes beautiful messages, sings baritone, encourages epiphanies and can fix things too! Someone broke the mold when they made you! Thanks again for your great newsletter. I look forward to it every month and I learn something new each time.

W from Georgia


Thanks so much for your kind words. My wife agrees. They did break the mold... over my head! Which explains at least some of my more unusual behaviors... and epiphanies! Such as performing Bobby Bare's “Dropkick Me Jesus” on guitar with our church choir last Superbowl Sunday during coffee hour!


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