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Handyman Letter - June-July 2005

In This Issue:

1) A prime reason to prime... 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!


It's Home Repair Time! ... a message from the Natural Handyman

Wow! Spring sure has sprung! Out here in New England, we've just come out of a record-breaking heat wave and everywhere you look, indoor and outdoor do-it-yourself projects are blooming like dogwoods. I understand home construction is at record levels (along with home prices) and the ka-ching of home and hardware store cash registers is like sweet music.

Even around our house (the last place you'd usually find this handyman working) little piles of sawdust, half-used paint cans and partially crossed-off lists lurk around every corner. It has always amazed me how we, like our plant and animal brethren, seem to blossom as we come out of winter's hibernation, knocking the dust off our garden implements or toolboxes and setting off to conquer our little slice of the world!

Despite our seasonal enthusiasm, it's wise to remember how the wonders of home repair need a healthy, whole person to enjoy them to the fullest. Even the simplest home repair projects have their element of surprise, and the unexpected can and does happen. Flammable or toxic chemicals, outdoor use of electrical equipment and ladders all contribute to the unavoidable dangers we do-it-yourselfers face. Though fate is often the culprit, many of these situations are of our own making.

I know for myself that I'm most likely to get into trouble when I feel pressured to rush a job or work beyond the point of exhaustion. I'm sure you know exactly what I mean, regardless of whether you make your living with your hands, your mind or a little of both. We all have a “tripping point”... a time that varies each day but inevitably sneaks up on us. It is as much a mood as a physical feeling that we aren't quite right; that we have crossed some daily milestone past the time where things tended to go well. We've entered an alternate universe, a “Twilight Zone” where it seems that little goofs and missteps become more common. A well-worn key combination that usually inserted a Word macro suddenly crashes your computer. You've been hammering nails into your deck all day and around 5 P.M. you smack your index finger a good but recoverable blow! You find your back stiffening up as you wipe the dirt off your kneepads and dump the wheelbarrow for the umpteenth time.

Whatever the signal, listen! Granted, sometimes fate's freight train rolls over us... but more often there is a warning toot or two of its hushed, persistent horn. Most projects or problems look better in the light of morning. Knowing when to call it quits for the day will not only make your work better but give fate's hand less of a say.

Be safe as you enjoy the wondrous freedoms of spring, stay healthy and don't forget to stop and smell the sawdust!




We won't be publishing this newsletter in July. We try to publish 10 times a year, taking off January and one month in the summer. But never fear... NH is still firmly chained to his desk trying to catch up on about a hundred projects that have been piling up. And a few other things, too. Read on...

Though they work quickly, insecticide sprays aren't always the best (or safest) way to eliminate ants. Use bait traps to get to the root of the problem!

Relax... it's not as hard as you might think and you could save loads of money! Here's a great tutorial that covers all the basics.

Choosing the right driveway sealing products keeps getting more complicated. Read this article to help you decide which type is best for your driveway and your budget!

If you've done drywall repairs, you probably have some of these simple tools. If not, learn the tools that will make your drywall repair or taping job as easy as possible!

Find a pretty piece of land you'd love to build on? Read this first... before spending your hard-earned cash on a pretty view that might be unbuildable!



Dear NH,

My yard has a large number of mature oaks, and the gutters have started to sag in a couple of places. Though I clean the rain gutters several times a year, leaves and debris from the trees get caught in the gutters, causing the water to pool. The pooled water slowly drains onto the siding, causing it to rot. A friend suggested that, rather than repairing the gutters, I remove them completely since they seem to be more trouble than they are worth and because the house is mostly stone. Your opinion?

ML from Sand Springs, OK


I've seen homes without gutters and there is no reason why you can't remove them provided the design of your home and your landscaping permits it.

Gutters do more than just catch water... they redirect it. So you must look at not only what is happening to your home but also what WILL happen around your foundation if the gutters are removed. For example, if your home is two stories tall, the water will be dropping quite hard during heavy rains in a distinct line around the foundation. This will erode grass, soak the soil and even splash dirt back onto your home, so you might need to put gravel around the foundation. Also, the water dropping near the foundation will increase the chance that you will develop leakage into your basement, since the gutters will no longer be directing the water away. There is no way to know for sure the effect removal of your gutters will have on the drainage around your home... before you do it.

Some of these problems can be addressed by replacing the gutters with a product called the "RainHandler", which disperses the runoff into less damaging droplets. It's mounted on the fascia board where the gutter was.  These don't work for all situations, especially if you must move the water more than a few feet from the foundation.  Also, unless your home has a soffit overhang, you might find the water damaging wooden windows/frames.

Another common problem of homes lacking gutters is water dripping... or pouring... where you don't want it. For example, remove a gutter above an exit door (or garage door) and you will have to walk (or drive) through a sheet of water to leave, even during light rains No fun! To combat this, diverters can be installed on the roof. These are long pieces of bent aluminum angles that are nailed onto the roof to redirect the water away from specific areas, such as the aforementioned exit doors.

Removing the gutters in only one option. There are also various types of gutter guards that can be installed to keep the leaves out. Unfortunately, despite the advertising of some of the more pricey ones, cleaning will eventually be necessary though with far less frequency. Virtually any gutter guard will protect you from those large oak leaves. In my own experience with gutter guards, a few small leaves or tiny sticks get through causing a little dam over the downspout. The gutter, though mostly clean, will nevertheless fill with water and drain slowly. However, you might only have to clean them every few years and the job will probably be minimal, such as removing small blockages near the downspouts.

There are many types of gutter guards available. As a general guideline, I would advise you stay away from flexible vinyl mesh, purchased in a roll. Though somewhat easy to install with nothing more than a pair of strong scissors, it tends to collapse under the weight of springtime tree debris or heavy leaves. Only choose a guard that has some rigidity, attaches to the gutter, either with screws or snaps-on and (optionally) slides under the bottom layer of roof shingles.

Lastly, since you will eventually have to do some cleaning, the pieces should be removable when necessary.


Dear NH,

I just recently had a deck built by a friend/handyman. Three 6'X6' posts support it. He told me that he had to cut 10" off the bottom of all three PT posts (because of a mistake), but he still buried them without resealing the ends.

Is this OK? From what I have read it seems that the treatment has been cutoff and will allow the post to rot? How long before the end of the posts rot?

TH from Leesburg, VA


Pressure-treated posts do not have the preservative completely through to the center. Therefore it is usually recommended that cut ends that are in ground contact have additional preservative put on them.

I can't predict if the lack of preservative will be a problem in your case. That would depend on factors such as the drainage around the posts and the depth the preservative reached during the treating process. Your particular posts might not rot for 20 years or more if the conditions are right. Then again, if ants get into them... a fatal factor in buried post failure since ants are attracted to soft wood and destroy more wood more quickly than rot... you might have a problem in a few years. Who knows! To add to the uncertainty, even if ants weakened the center inch or two of the posts there would still be a lot of strength so it would be hard to know if ant damage would cause the posts to collapse, even after decades!

My personal opinion (as if it were my home) would be to retroactively preserve these posts. This can be done by exposing them, one at a time, and jacking up the deck slightly to take the pressure off the post. Then, form a tray underneath the bottom of the post with aluminum foil or even a throw-away aluminum lasagna pan or similar. Fill it with underground-rated termite/rot resisting preservative and let the post soak it up at least overnight.

Lower the deck and re-bury the post... and do the same with the other one. Then you can sleep at night!


Dear NH,

How do I know if my driveway needs to be resurfaced or completely redone? I am getting two different opinions from my local paving contractors and want to make sure that I am doing the right thing. My driveway currently has numerous cracks through out and some uneven patchy areas that need to be leveled out.

OT from Niskayuna, NY


It's hard to know for sure, but typically if the existing driveway is the "original" one, you are probably better off having it removed, the earth underneath reworked and a new one laid. This is because many "original" driveways are rushed jobs with insufficient site preparation, leading to sagging and cracking over time. Though most driveways, even poorly laid ones, will have a useful life of decades, this is not due to quality work but more due to light use. Driveway-quality public roads wouldn't last a season!

Laying a coat of asphalt over the existing driveway will most likely lead to reoccurrence of cracking in the same locations and might also lead to sagging in the same places, too, since the causes of the cracking and sagging can't be remedied without removing the old asphalt.

So you see the decision is tough... especially if the cost differences are large between new vs. recoat. One factor that might influence your decision is the length of time you plan on staying in the house. If you see yourself out within the next 5 years, I would say a recoat would be the more economical choice. However, if you are there for the long term... ten years or longer barring unforeseen events... getting an entirely new driveway would be the better choice because it is more likely to last that long!

Take care,



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

(Must be that hot spell we had earlier in the month, but we received lots of questions regarding our article on attic exhaust fans!)

Dear NH,

I read your article on attic fans/whole house fans. I have a stupid question. Why don't we just turn the fan on our AC to the "On" position and open up the windows. It is my understanding that as long as the thermostat is in the "off" position it is not doing anything except spinning the fan in the air handler unit. Does this not do the same thing in regards to bringing the cool air in from the outside?

Also, if I decide to get the whole house fan, how can I convince my wife it's worth the $500.00?

SB from Denton, TX


Central heating/ac systems do not typically bring in outside air, so the only thing you would be doing is creating a breeze with the warm air in your home (and wasting electricity). This might feel a little cooler if you are in front of a vent, just like having a fan blowing on you feels cooling. However, this will not lower the temperature of the air in your home. As soon as you move away from the breeze you will feel as hot as you were before.

Likewise, opening some windows can be helpful to cool the home if there is enough of a natural breeze, but comparing that to a whole house fan is like comparing a tack hammer to a jack hammer. A whole house fan can lower the temperature throughout your home in a matter of minutes provided you selectively open windows to give the best possible air flow.

Regarding the cost, I can cite my own experience. When we moved to our most recent home, my wife insisted that the second project I complete was the installation of an attic exhaust fan. (The first was installation of a vented exhaust hood over the range.) We like the fresh air and neither of us really enjoy AC, even though at times it is almost a necessity.

We've had attic fans in two of our homes and, with the exception of a handful of days each year, we rarely use air conditioning. Your area of Texas is usually hotter than we are here in CT, but you do have relatively cool evenings, meaning you can have the AC off from early evening till mid morning. That nice breeze is a real treat at bedtime!


Dear NH,

I have a 2000 sq ft colonial. I would like to know how many windows to open upstairs and downstairs to gain the maximum efficiency from my whole house fan.

MS from Grosse Pointe Woods, MI


There is no exact answer to your question, as least as you pose it. Rather than “maximum efficiency”, you probably are seeking “maximum comfort”. Movement of air is cooling to the skin, which is why these fans are a great and relatively inexpensive alternative to air conditioning... at least in areas that cool down in the summer evening. However, too much air flow can be positively chilly... or even annoying.

So the answer depends on what you enjoy. The more windows you open (and the more fully you open them), the less the air that will move through each one. Also, the more you open a window, the less the air "speed" so the perceived draft lessens.

In my own home, the fan louvers are located in the center of the upstairs hall ceiling, so each bedroom gets about equal flow with the windows open. Downstairs, fresh air enters through a sliding screen door in the den, which is furthest from the fan. The cool air travels through the entire downstairs, up the stairwell and out the attic. Opening the sliding door fully cuts down dramatically on the air flow into the bedrooms. Closing it completely, though, causes sheet popping hurricane-force winds upstairs and draws air from the fireplace or furnace chimney into the house, with the possibly introducing carbon monoxide into the house should the furnace be running! (Be sure your CO detector near the furnace is working!)

In short, experiment with different window-open combinations to find the balance which moves the air as completely as possible through your home to give you the comfort level you desire.


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