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Handyman Letter - April 2005

In This Issue:

1) Turning off God-Mode... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Sweepstakes Central... Win great home repair stuff!!

3) News from the Basement Annex!!

4) Q&A with our readers

5) Linkmaster's Corner

6) "Pass the hammer, would ya?"... NH's readers speak out!

"Start and Run a Home Cleaning Business" by Susan Bewsey


Turning off God-Mode.... a message from the Natural Handyman

Computer and video games are one of my joys and weaknesses. Unlike books, television and other one-way media, games allow one to become both immersed in a storyline as well as a participant in the action. It's no wonder that, according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 239 million computer and video games were sold in 2003!

Over 40% of games played involve military-like and methods, varying from strategy and stealth to all out combat. Whether they are set in an urban environment, a simulated battlefield or another planet, they all require the player to somehow survive under extreme circumstances to attain a goal. Because of hostile enemies and environments, the player's character can become injured or even die. Death in a game, of course, is merely a construct and a few mouse clicks resets the game to its pre-mortem state to give us another try to get it right. If only life were so forgiving!

Of course, players are hostage to the whims of the game's designers. They set many of the game's parameters, the characters, the plots, the possibilities. Though we may exercise some free will, we are still bound by the game's rules and limitations. Well, not necessarily. At times, the difficulty of the game can get the player into an inescapable dilemma. Time to pray? No... time to become God.

Or, in game parlance, to enter "God-Mode"... a mysterious state where no amount of injury can cause death. Just think... your character can walk through a minefield without fear, drive vehicles into walls and you laugh as you brush off the dust! Of course, most games don't have "God-Mode" as a standard feature in their instructions. You need to go online and borrow the expertise of other more computer savvy gamers who really know how to play the system.

But why stop at immortality? Other game tweaks can cause weapons to suddenly become fully loaded, enemies to become weaker and even allow you to magically jump past annoying puzzles. Can gaming get any better than this?

Or worse. Could being able to "have it all" in our real lives be a bad thing? Often times, the answer is yes. Supporting this was a study published in 2004 by Greg Berns, an associate professor of psychiatry at Emory University, to determine how effort affects satisfaction. "When you have to do things for your reward, it's clearly more important to the brain," he said. "The subjects were more aroused when they had to do something to get the money relative to when they passively received the money."

Those of us laboring at our work might disagree, but there is a fundamental logic to this. Though money is surely a motivator to perform our daily grinds, surprise... even the rich work! And who hasn't either said or heard the comment, "With all his money, why does he still work? I'd be vacationing year round in Hawaii!"

This seeming contradiction is not so baffling if you can accept the theory that money is not the point of all work. Our striving to move forward makes us human and defines true success, and getting pleasure from our efforts seems to be hard-wired into us, perhaps as a survival mechanism for our species. That's why we volunteer for benevolent organizations with no financial reward. Or play golf despite the fact that we aren't very good!

If you were given an unlimited life and unlimited money, would life have meaning for you? If you could attain any goal, would there be a goal worth attaining. Being in God-Mode means being detached from real life, uninterested in Everyman's cares and woes... and perhaps dangerous! Evidence of the bizarre behavior of people running in "God-mode" assaults us daily in the news, at work, sadly even at home. Cruel employers, corrupt politicians, over-the-top judges, sleazy businessmen and wacky celebrities litter the landscape like demigods. Why do people who seem to have everything become drug addicts, abusers of other people or simply power mad? Perhaps because, in some twisted way, they are seeking relevance in their detached lives. This isn't to justify such behavior, but to try to understand how "God-Mode" is unnatural and destructive.

Power and money aren't evil. They are the lifeblood of good works, too! But when certain people actually believe they are more than just a part of a greater social order... that they ARE the social order... it's time to help them find perspective...

And turn off the power!




The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reminded Americans to change their smoke alarm batteries when changing their clocks for Daylight-Saving Time on Sunday, April 3. While about 90 percent of U.S. households have smoke alarms installed, a CPSC survey estimated millions of those households, about 20 percent, do not have
any working alarms. Make sure you're not one of these... change them today! For more smoke alarms lore, read our article at:

WHOLE HOUSE HEPA AIR FILTERS may be the solution for dust-related allergies for some people. Find out if a top-quality air filter might help your home!

IDENTIFYING QUALITY INTERIOR SHUTTERS isn't very hard... if you know what to look for...

WINDOW SHUTTERS ON A BUDGET doesn't always mean lower quality if you're a handy do-it-yourselfer willing to spend a little "sweat equity"!

We have two new and timely articles on insect pests by professional Jack DeAngelis:
1) DO-IT-YOURSELF INSECT INSPECTIONS can help you find potential insect problems before they grow out of control!
2) ABOUT WINGED CARPENTER ANTS AND TERMITES... a tutorial on the differences and dangers of these common insect pests.
Read these and other pesty topics at:

PROPRER SPRING DECK CARE can have your deck ready for summer fun!

RADIANT HEATING has benefits over other systems, especially for those colder rooms where retrofits of your old system can be really expensive!

NEED A WINDOW OR DOOR IN YOUR BASEMENT? Adding a door or window through your concrete foundation may not be child's play, but can add both health and safety value to your project... plus conform to current building code requirements!
We have two new articles on this topic:
(1) What is concrete cutting and how do the pros do it?

(2) Figuring concrete cutting into the cost of your basement renovation... a worthwhile investment!



Dear NH,

I have put four coats of linseed oil on unfinished oak chairs. They are now gummy. What can I do?

GW from Atlantic Beach, FL


Linseed oil is not meant to be applied in multiple coats. Doing so can cause gumminess since the oil may never completely dry. Linseed oil dries through oxidation... a reaction with air... not solvent evaporation, so thick coats don't set properly. A single coat gives as much protection as you can get, which is why linseed oil is not the first choice for modern furniture refinishing. It also doesn't offer much in the way of abrasion resistance.

You'll need to remove the linseed oil and start over. Try furniture refinisher, a solvent that should strip the oil off with little effort. It's applied with fine steel wool. Use eye protection, solvent-resistant gloves and, of course, read the label instructions. This is a very stinky and flammable product so it should be used outside if possible or with maximum ventilation.


Dear NH,

Do you have a solution for removing mildew from the plastic strips on motel-type outdoor furniture? I have tried baking soda, vinegar, Dutch Cleanser, ammonia, Mr. Clean pads.

BH from Hopewell, VA


Plastics have a porous surface, even though it appears to be smooth. These surface defects allow mildew to grow, causing the stains. That's why plastic cutting boards are not approved for most commercial cooking use... they are difficult to clean!

Though the cleaning methods you mention will clean the surface, they will not remove the deeper mildew stains. For that you need to use chlorine bleach. If you have a few chairs to clean, spraying on bathroom-type mildew stain remover will do the job. Because this stuff is really strong, don't leave it on more than a minute or so, followed by a through rinsing. I recommend cleaning the chairs first, following up with the spray bleach since dirt and oil can limit bleach's effectiveness.

If you have quite a few to do, you can make a batch of cleaner using a cup of chlorine laundry bleach and a liquid or powdered detergent (such as Mr. Clean, TSP, TSP substitute, Simple Green or other), mixed with a gallon of water. Look at the label of the cleaner to be sure it doesn't have a warning against mixing with bleach! Scrub it onto the chairs, let it sit for five or ten minutes and rinse clean.


Dear NH,

We are thinking about putting tile above our shower where the drywall is now. The problem is that there is some mildew and I am not sure how to deal with it. Should the drywall be cut away and patched or can it be bleached or sanded down? I am at a loss. What would you suggest?

ME from Gainesville, GA


Tiling above the top of a shower enclosure is a permanent way to end moisture problems (and the endless repainting or re-wallpapering) in that area. I've always recommended this as the #1 repair option for this vulnerable area.

You have two issues to deal with... the mildew itself and the solidity of the walls. Surface mildew can and should be removed with bleach and a cleaner. Once the walls are totally dry, apply a coat of oil-based primer sealer before installing the tile.

For a non-stressed surface such as the area above a plastic shower or tub enclosure, tile can be applied directly to the existing standard drywall as long as the surface is smooth and solid. If the drywall has become mushy from water exposure, it should be replaced or repaired. For example, if the area right above the enclosure is soft... a typical scenario since water tends to collect there... you can cut it out with a utility knife. If the area you cut out is small, you might be able to just leave it and tile right over the top provided the tile has sufficient gluing area to solid drywall. This, of course, will depend on the layout of your tiles. If at least 2/3 of the tile can be solidly glued, that should be sufficient for this situation.

Though a new installation should use the most modern material, waterproof tile backer board, this specific installation does not really need such extensive reworking. However, if quite a bit of the wall is soft from water damage, you should use water resistant "green" drywall as an easy replacement material.


Dear NH,

We're building a butcher block rolling cabinet and would like to know if yellow pine is okay to use. I've been reading that maple is the best; however we were given a huge piece of yellow pine, so being able to use this will save quite a bit of money. Unfortunately, we do not know what type of glue was used on it, so that is another factor to consider. We have done everything and are ready to apply the oil, so I hope all of our work has not been a waste of time

LS from Allen, TX


Yellow pine is relatively soft when compared to maple. That's why it is not the first choice for cutting boards or countertops... it gets cut, dented and dinged more easily. However, if you promise not to use it as a cutting board, it should offer serviceable use for many years. If it starts looking cruddy, you can easily sand the top down, reoil it and it's restored to like-new condition!

The glue is irrelevant, since you will not be eating it or preparing food directly on it. Virtually all wood-type glues, once dry, are inert and not considered a health hazard. Once you apply the cutting board oil you'll be fine.


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

Dear NH,

I have a suggestion about how to preserve paint in the can. If the can is still 1/3 to 1/2 full, hammer the lid on tight and turn it upside down. The air is now in the bottom of the can and the crust forms there. Store the can upside down and you'll always have easy access to fresh paint!

DG from London, UK


It's been a while since a new suggestion has come along that most anyone can use. Thanks for sharing your "secret" with us! Now, if the paint companies would start putting the labels on the cans upside down.


Dear NH,

I looked at your article on upflushing toilets. My problem is that I want to put in a shower stall in the basement. The drain system in the floor of the basement ties into a turn of the century "gravel pit" drain, and it has been sealed off. Can I pump the shower drain to the regular sanitary drain? The nearest deep wash basin is about 6 feet away. The height to go up is about 3 feet. I was thinking that there might be a shower stall with built in "sump pump" style pump that comes on automatically.

BJ from Oak Park, IL



I don't know of any shower stall that has an integrated pump. But if you only want a shower, try the "Sanishower" pump from Saniflo. This compact unit is designed to drain a single shower enclosure and will pump the water up to 9 feet high so you can connect it to your home's sanitary system anywhere you want

If you think you might want to install a toilet, sink or laundry facilities, you might want to also look at their other offerings that can do all this and more.

Here's a link to their site:


Dear NH,

I was a recent winner of the "Handyman Business" CD's. My son, who is very handy, loves it and with 5 children the extra money he can earn will be so helpful. Thank you!

BA from Yonkers, NY


Knowing how hard it is to find a good handyman, your son should have as much work as he can handle! Who knows... maybe he'll find the life of a handyman enough to make it his full-time career! He will be in good company. And be sure he signs up for a free listing in our handyman network!!

Take care,


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