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Handyman Letter - April 2004

In This Issue:

1) Of Curses and Cursing... 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!

“HANDYMAN HANDBOOK” by David Koenigsberg


1) Of curses and cursing... a message from the Natural Handyman

Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed. For the couple I recently helped in updating their bathrooms, they should have stayed in bed for a week!

First, a disclaimer. I will be mentioning a generic “home store” here. I'll leave it up to your imagination which chain it may be, but let me assure you the name has not been changed to protect the innocent. This nightmare of poor material quality and/or abusive product treatment by the store may not be typical but rather, as I allude to in the title, a “curse”. Again, I'll leave you to judge.

The whole debacle started about a month ago when I consulted on some changes the Jones' wanted made to their 30 year-old bathrooms. The jobs they needed were two new toilets, one 48” vanity with cultured marble sink/countertop, new faucet and two surface-mount medicine cabinets. We had an electrician on call to relocate an electric outlet and a plumber in case something gruesome appeared as I tore out the old fixtures!

Since one of the old toilets was not working at all, I installed them. Fortunately, the flanges were fairly rust-free and solid and the shutoffs worked. Pass the cigars.

The old vanity had been accidentally glued to the floor when bathroom tile was upgraded so I brought in my wrecking ball and broke it into little pieces... and relieved a little tension in the process! Once the dust settled, the missus and I began unpack the new vanity. She had followed my advice and purchased one with a slightly larger footprint than the original so the missing tiles were well-hidden.

I began removing the drawers and doors to lighten the vanity when... gasp... I discovered hammer-sized hole right through the middle of a drawer bottom! Oh well... at least the home store has a great return policy! She called them and they agreed to exchange just the drawer so I could continue the job. Phew!

After a while, we returned to the garage to fetch the cultured marble countertop. It sure looked good atop the vanity! But as I knelt down to begin gluing it to the vanity... gasp... I noticed a moderately sized chunk missing on the underside of the front edge. It was barely visible, but still there. Does it stay or go? Rather than call and put her husband in a gorilla mood, she decided to hold off a decision so I moved on to the two bathroom cabinets.

Sure... in my dreams! The first larger bathroom cabinet, packed in a visibly undamaged box, had doors that looked like twisted funhouse reflections the hinges were so askew. (No... they were not adjustable, they were really bent!) Thank goodness the Jones' were going back to the store anyway!

Okay, I said, let's look at the smaller bathroom cabinet. Looks good... undamaged box. Let's look inside... Uh oh! A giant crack radiated across the white finish across the center of the back. I turned the cabinet over and the crack did not appear there... only where it made a difference. Drat.... Thank goodness they were going back! I gave up and left for the day.

The weekend flew by (they always do, don't they?) and I returned to the “House of Pain” to finish up. The couple had decided to keep the countertop, which I thought could be improved with a little sanding to smooth the not-to-obvious defect.

Hooray! I glued the countertop to the vanity and installed the two new and perfect cabinets. But, when I went to install the faucet from a closed, strapped and undamaged box.... ARRRGH! The plastic gasket, an indispensable part used between the faucet and countertop, was missing. Gasp! Oh well, at least the home store has a return policy!

I left. Time passes. They exchanged the faucet and this time installation was a snap. Hallelujah!! The job was done! I had finally beaten the curse!

But, as I was walking out to my truck to complete my invoice, I heard a noise coming from the other bathroom. A swishing, gurgly sound. I called Mrs. Jones and we went into the bathroom. The new toilet was running with abandon! Taking off the top, I saw an 8” long white plastic tube shoved into the flapper seat! What the.... heck?

I pulled out the strange tube and the toilet filled normally while we both stared at the part. I almost started to sob. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of turbulence in the water. Turns out the tube was part of the factory-issue inlet valve. It was obviously defective, and the tube had detached itself from the valve to walkabout!

Oh well, at least the home store has a return policy.... EEEK! Not this time... I always have a Fluidmaster universal inlet valve handy and made the exchange in about five minutes. We secretly decided not to itemize the valve on the bill... to spare her husband another nervous breakdown over this new debacle.

What happened? Is this typical of home store products? In my experience, a sad yes though this couple was extra-cursed! After years of disappointment, I routinely open every product I purchase to look for damage, and I recommend this to anyone who'll listen.

Unfortunate, but annoyingly understandable. In the sale of inexpensive products, you can bet there are a number of workers who don't give a rat's pitootie about you, or that your time is also money. Blame is difficult to assign. Did someone at the faucet plant do his inspection with a wink and a nod? Were any of these items returns that had been skillfully “repackaged” by the home store? Caveat emptor, baby!

Lots of issues, few answers. And I don't even want to compute how much it cost my poor customers to go back again and again and again. It pains me to know this happens every day all over the country. I don't see the situation improving as long as companies continue to profit despite such inconvenience for their customers.

So protect yourself. Always inspect your purchases, especially breakables like sinks and toilets, and, if you want to take advantage of “home store” pricing, be prepared to also take advantage of their liberal return policies.

At the expense of your own time, of course.




What are you waiting for? Every year, the CPSC recommends that everyone change their smoke alarm batteries when they change their clocks for Daylight Savings Time. Even if you live outside the annual “time-warp zone”, heed the call! For more information from the CPSC on smoke alarm safety (and general fire safety), click below:

Long before pop-up ads began appearing on our computer screens (not on OUR website, thank you very much), there was another type of pop-up that caused nearly as much grief... the BATHROOM SINK POP-UP, a great invention that has not been significantly improved on in decades. But it can cause a sink to either not hold water or not drain. Rebooting won't help this pesky little beast, but you can tame it with a little help from our newly posted article...

COLOR TRENDS FOR SPRING AND SUMMER asks the question, “Can colors affect your mood?” “Yes” says Gail McCauley of the Paint Quality Institute, who offers her color suggestions for an upbeat, optimistic spring and summer mood in your home!



Dear NH,

I found your web site, with all the wonderful questions and answers regarding home repair. I have problems with a Sears garage door opener with a single Torsion spring over the top of the door itself. The door opens only 1 foot above the ground, and then stops. If I assist it as it approaches that one foot line, it will make it past that line and completely open.

Although the tension spring is literally broken in half, it was broken while the door was opening perfectly as well. It is rusted, as it is within inches of the top of the garage door--open, because I can not locate a top mounted weather strip which moves with the door up and down.

I have three questions. Can I replace the tension spring myself? Do you have a guide for tension spring replacement? And how can I make sure the rust does not recur by closing off the weather with top mounted weather strip?

RB from Ogden, UT


Conventional wisdom says replacement of a garage door torsion spring is best left to highly overpaid professionals, being too dangerous for mortal man. However, I believe that a competent do it yourselfer can be successful with the proper materials, tools and knowledge.

Obviously, there are dangers inherent in working with old manually adjustable torsion springs... a slight goof while tightening the springs can cause serious injury. (Modern torsion springs are adjustable with an electric drill... a big improvement over the primitive adjusting rod methods formerly used.)

Unfortunately, I don't currently have any information on our site at the present time, but I can give you a link to the site of Richard Kinch, who wrote an excellent article on the subject, including copious graphics.

His article is a chronicle of his research and quite a bit of philosophy as he waded into an area for which little has been written. As I said earlier, replacing the parts themselves is not risky, since the tension was released when the spring broke. The danger is in the final tensioning of the spring. Kinch compares the danger to cleaning gutters or changing a tire. Since I have made adjustments to torsion springs, I can say that with the proper knowledge and attention to the task, it can be performed safely. I place cleaning gutters quite a bit higher on the danger scale!

If the garage door was working fine with a broken torsion spring for a long time, there may be other problems with the door that have nothing to do with the spring itself, such as bad door rollers, especially the first or second top-most rollers since the problem seems to occur just as the door is turning parallel on the track.

Also, a slight adjustment in the opening force of you garage door opener might correct the situation, though it's better to repair the door. Then both the new spring and the garage door opener will not have to overcome unnecessary friction.

Regarding the rust, it would be unusual for the spring to be getting wet unless you have a roof leak, since it is located above the door frame. I doubt weather-stripping would help this problem. However, if your garage is quite damp all the time the moisture will definitely speed along corrosion on unprotected metals. I would suggest rubbing some oil or grease on the new spring to protect it from the air-borne moisture.


Dear NH,

I have a telephone line setup question. I had a business line installed in my home office, but now no longer use that office for business (the line has since been disconnected). Is it possible to get my home line to ring the old office phone? I'd imagine it's a matter of switching some wires at the junction box, but I'm not sure. Any help would be great! Thanks. (PS - Great site!)

BL from Cave Creek, Arizona


Thanks, BL and the final answer is... yes, you can! The easiest way is to reverse the wires within the telephone jack your business phone (now your home phone) is connected to. I have a brief write-up on:

There is a shortcut if you don't want to touch the wires. You can purchase a special adapter that divides a single telephone jack into three separate plugs... (1) line 1, (2) line 2 and (3) two line. Plugging your phone into the line 2 jack will give you a dial tone if the line is active. I've got a picture of this jack on this page:

One problem might be that the telephone company did not connect all four wires at the time of installation. If so, you will have to go to the main board of your telephone wiring and figure out which wires lead to the office jack and reconnect the red and black (typically used for line 1) to the correct incoming terminals.

For more information on many routine telephone connection issues...


Dear NH,

I have three garage doors and am using the same Sears garage door openers. Only one of them has a problem. It works properly when opening, but only closes if you hold in the inside garage door control button while it goes down.

If you let go, it will reverse and go up. I have tried the adjustments to no avail.

IB from Mt. Sinai, NY


The symptom your describe is familiar. Most modern garage doors have photoelectric sensors on either side of the garage door near the floor. Their purpose is to stop the door from closing if there is an obstruction under the door, which would block the light from crossing between the sensors.

It's spring, and I get lots of calls like yours. Did you do some raking this weekend? Could you have accidentally hit one of the sensors, knocking it out of position? Take a look at them... they should be facing towards each other and one or both of them should have a little green or red indicator light. If there is no light or if one is not facing the other, realign it and try the door. Also look to see if the wire to either one has been damaged or unplugged from the photoelectric sensor.

Take care,




Dear NH,

In the last newsletter you mention the use of a glass insert in a countertop as a cutting board to mask damage to the laminate. The idea of a glass insert needs careful consideration. Most of those things ruin the edge of your knives in one or two passes! Stick to wood.

It's been found that wood is the most hygienic choice for cutting boards, in that potentially harmful microbes or whatever tend not to remain on the surface where they can contaminate food. That they are apparently retained deeper in the wood fibers might
give some readers pause, but that's for another discussion.



Thanks for writing, Norm. I agree in principle, but some folks like the look of glass and hopefully wouldn't use it as a cutting board for the great reasons you cite.

Regarding wood vs. other materials for use as cutting boards, you bring up an even more interesting topic! A professor by the name of Dean O. Cliver from the University of California (Davis), a published expert in food safety and foodborne disease, published a series of articles on the bacterial dangers inherent in cutting boards.

His results surprised him. Conventional wisdom was that plastic was hygienically superior to wood for use in cutting boards. After running extensive tests, he concluded that wood was superior to plastic under everyday, normal use. Dr Cliver has given us permission to reprint his findings. Here is a link to the article:


Dear NH,

I sent a donation to your site because your site REALLY helped my husband and I install our new faucet. But to make you smile, I thought I would tell you about our "great deal faucet" that claimed "easy to install".

Even with your step by step instructions (which really helped considering the instructions from the box was barely in English and consisted of about 5 lines and some funky pictures) it took the two of us SIX hours but (whew) finally we are finished and it's only 3am, meaning the baby won't wake for another 4 hours!!

And won't our one-year be so impressed with our new faucet! HA! Thanks - without your help this project could have lasted days, or even weeks!

MJ from Eugene, OR


We received your donation! Glad your faucet installation was eventually successful. You have to love those lousy instructions, don't ya? That's why I always suggest buying one of the name brands like Moen, Delta, Kohler or Price Pfister. Installation is often easier and the instructions actually instruct, plus many of the companies have additional troubleshooting information at their websites.


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