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Handyman Letter - September 2004

In This Issue:

1) Healthy skepticism... a message from the Natural Handyman

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


1) Healthy skepticism... a message from the Natural Handyman

A few months ago, an article in US News and World Report caught my attention. It was about stretching... the slow bending and twisting motions that are supposed to make us more flexible and healthy. I'm no stranger to stretching, having studied Tang Soo Do Korean karate for a number of years. Yep, I used to do a great imitation of a pretzel... without the salt!

Entire books, careers and fortunes have been made around the stretching-for-health mystique. We have been told for over 25 years that stretching before exercise is essential for muscle, joint and tendon health and protects us from athletic and training injuries. In common language, if you didn't stretch before exercise you were a self-destructive jerk!

Apparently not. More and more exercise specialists... not “trainers” but doctors and physiologists... are backing away from cold stretching as a “must-do” for both fitness buffs and athletes. According to recent studies, it appears that stretching may offer little protective value and in fact may help lead to injuries. As any women's basketball fan knows, knee injuries plague these athletes, and stretching may be causing already loose knees to become dangerously unstable. Marathon runners of all sexes who stretch prior to races have more injuries than those who don't.

Furthermore, stretching before exercise may actually decrease performance. Stretching causes tiny tears in the muscle, so a stretched muscle produces less force. Bodybuilders for years have known that stretching before weight lifting may be counterproductive.

Not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, the author concludes that stretching does have a place as part of an active “warm-up” to help the athlete attain the range of motion necessary for the sport. For example, light swings with a golf club or baseball bat warm muscles for the explosive movements of the sport. Also, stretching after exercise when the body is thoroughly warm is less damaging since it will not contribute to injury during exercise.

Are you surprised? I was. But we shouldn't be. Medicine is not neat and pretty, and upon closer examination, there are very few “sure things” other than death, taxes and spam, especially when it comes to our bodies and health. Have you heard that coffee is bad for your health? Then you probably have also heard that it isn't. Millions of adult women were urged to use hormone replacement therapy. What was helpful, safe and necessary THEN is now optional and possibly dangerous. Children were given antidepressants to ease them through tough experiences and trauma. These same drugs will soon carry warning labels because they have been implicated as a factor in youth suicide.

Years ago, we were told to get out and “run for life” by exercise gurus! Now, many former runners (including myself) suffer with permanent knee, back or foot problems because... surprise... many of us are not genetically designed to run long distances without wearing out! Indeed, I often wonder how many prescription orthotics for “Morton's toe” have evolved into expensive doorstops?

And don't get me started on diets! Low fat, high fat, low carb, no carb... How can so many doctors, dealing with the same human body, come up with so many solutions to the same problem? Let's face it... we are a population that is overweight because much of our social activity and personal comfort includes eating or drinking. Eating in fun and feels good. And, in our wacky world, things that are fun and feel good are usually illegal... or fattening! The solution seems simple... eat no more than your body needs. Yet most people can't seem to get it right. Could the doctors be wrong again. Could the “numbers game” of body mass indexes and cholesterol numbers be missing the point, increasing the pressure to lose weight to a level that turns people off from both doctors and healthy eating? Could there be a “cause and effect” that they are missing? Based on medicine's history of stubborn arrogance followed by sudden spurts of knowledge, I can only conclude the truth may be out there”... but will anyone every find it?

The person who said “Whenever I want to exercise, I sit down until the urge passes” may have been onto something, though perhaps he should have said, “Whenever I want to exercise, I sit down until the “over-enthusiasm” passes... then I get up and do it right!”

Right? Unless what's right today turns out to be wrong tomorrow!




POWER SURGES were a yawner before we became so dependant on “delicate” electronics. From computers to refrigerators, from telephones to microwaves, our homes are loaded with devices that can be destroyed by voltage jumps! Here are a few articles, contributed by STATE FARM INSURANCE, to help you understand and combat power surges:

“Facts About Power Surges”

“How To Choose Surge Protection”

SELLING YOUR HOME? We have two new articles on getting the best deal! Click below to visit our new page of home sale articles.



Dear NH,

I built a new home and am getting ready to put in hot water baseboard heating system. I would like to know how many baseboard radiators I would need for each room. Someone told me there was a formula for figuring this. Can you help me?

MS from Burke, NY


Because there is virtually no market for the installation of do-it-yourself baseboard hot water heating, there are few resources available for the amateur. There are "professional-oriented" books and software programs, as well as professional courses available... primarily to plumbers-in-training., for example, doesn't seem to have anything relevant to your needs but some of the plumbing sites have relevant titles.

Online sources also seem to be minimal. I have found one site,, that has an online calculator for heating and cooling loads, but not specific information to design a system. You can access their software program by registering as a “student”. I checked with them and you don't really have to be a formal student at a school... just eager for knowledge!

You might also want to contact the support people for the furnace brand you are buying. They may have resources available to help you design your system, especially if they sell a significant amount of product to nonprofessionals.

Dear NH,

We have nearly three dozen Hi8 camcorder tapes that appear to have been slightly damaged. A friend tells me it is because they have been laying on their side for a few years, instead of standing upright. They are fairly clear, except that they seem to be running a little faster than normal. Also, they "skip" every 4 seconds.

He suggested running them fast-forward to the end, and then back to the beginning a few times. However, there was little or no improvement.

It seems odd that they are all damaged in this similar manner. Are these
repairable? Is there anything we can do to fix these?

RS from Albrightsville, PA


If there is truly physical damage due to improper storage, I don't believe there is any way to repair them.

Sometimes, though, erasing tapes with a “bulk tape eraser” can work wonders, especially when the tape is used in different machines. For example, some people find that old VHS tapes will not play properly in a newly purchased VCR. Due to differences in the head alignment, the new VCR may detect embedded commands (such as to change tape speed) because they are not completely erased when the tape is overwritten by the new machine. I use multiple VCR's in my home, and I always use a bulk eraser before reusing a tape to avoid the aforementioned problems.

Perhaps your local audio-video store will let you “test erase” one tape to be sure it will help, rather than purchasing a bulk eraser without knowing for sure if it will work.


Dear NH,

We have a fixer-upper house. All the wiring, plumbing etc. runs through the attic of the home because there is no access under the house. The electrical bills for air conditioning are about to put us in the poor house and we think attic insulation would help considerably. I suggested having insulation blown in, but my wife is concerned about the need for repair people to go up there to check wiring and plumbing etc. and thinks blowing in the stuff is not wise. Can you help us with some options that you believe are more appropriate

RN from Annandale, MN


Attic insulation will definitely help to improve your cooling and heating efficiency and lower your heat-related electric bill! And blown insulation is the easiest and cheapest way to do it since labor cost is minimal.

The problem with blown insulation, especially in an older home, is there may be fixtures in the attic that are not designed for “zero-clearance”. In other words, some light fixtures and exhaust fans require air space around them for safety reasons. Regardless of the type of insulation, this space must be maintained by keeping the insulation from making contact. So to take advantage of blown insulation, you should first map out the locations of all such fixtures. Then, after the insulation is blown in, go up into the attic and rake the insulation back from the fixtures. You can also construct an open-topped wood “box” to keep the insulation away. Cover the top during the spraying and remove it after the insulation is installed... thus maintaining the air space permanently.

If you have certain other connections in the attic that you think you may need access to such as shutoff valves or switches, they can be similarly protected. Modern electrical wiring and plumbing should not be adversely affected by blown insulation. If you are in doubt about the quality or safety of your wiring or plumbing, have a pro come in and take a look before you proceed.

Regarding maintenance, though contractors prefer insulation bats since they are more easily moved, blown insulation is workable and can be “raked” aside when necessary. Unless you have something in the attic that will require regular maintenance, using blown insulation should not cause any significant maintenance problems.



7) PASS THE HAMMER, WOULD YA? ... NH'S readers speak out!

Dear NH,

It might be helpful for you to add a comment on your “Muriatic Acid article on how to dispose of unused acid.


Dear BT,

Thanks for your observation. I had acid disposal and cleanup information elsewhere on our website , but never incorporated it into the muriatic acid article. Though our website has many pages that show up high in search rankings, some of our information tends to get lost, even in our own internal search!

After rereading the article, I also realized that it needed some serious “tweaking” for readability, plus added information on cleaning up small muriatic acid spills.

As always, input from attentive readers helps us keep our website as accurate and current as possible. All your suggestions were and are appreciated!

Our muriatic acid article is at this url:


Dear NH,

No question--I just wanted to thank you for making it so easy to find out how to remove a Molly anchor. This page was excellent!

PM from Urbana, IL


The pleasure is all mine! I especially enjoyed writing that article, since much of the information was not easily available elsewhere. Glad you found it and, as always, glad our website was helpful for you!

Dear NH,

You referred to WD-40 as a lubricant in one newsletter. I've heard WD-40 is a penetrant, not a lubricant. It unsticks things by drying up water.

TH from Sacramento, CA


It's definitely a penetrant, but also a protectant and a lubricant... though not the best lubricant in many situations. It's original purpose was to protect the metal skins of missiles from damage during launches! Around the house, I use it to inhibit rust on metal parts, such as on wheelbarrows stored outdoors all year. (No, I don't own any missiles!) Read my article on WD-40 for more information:


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