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Handyman Letter - October 2005

In This Issue:

1) The Informational Blur ...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


The Informational Blur ...a message from the Natural Handyman

We all have “pet” techniques in our home repairs. And we're rightfully proud of ourselves when we find a new, easier solution to an old problem. It's “Miller Time”... high fives, chest bumps and all that!

But amidst the celebration, it's easy to forget that virtually every problem has many right solutions. Some take longer, some require more physical effort, some require special tools, and some just need a beating with a hammer! I fondly remember a discussion with a saleswoman at a local paint store. She proudly proclaimed that she found the secret of bathroom painting... the Purdy Crane roller. If you aren't familiar with this product, the “Crane” offers standard roller naps on a thin 6” roller cover using 1/4” bent steel rod instead of a frame. Its low profile allows rolling paint into close, cramped areas standard rollers can't reach such as behind toilets, heavy furniture or plumbing.

Okay, it's a great tool... but to do an entire large bathroom? At first I was a little surprised and smug, but then had an epiphany. As a pro, my mind was in a different place than hers. She admired the tool for its ease of use and light weight. I also liked the tool, but always had a standard roller wet, too. In my myopic view, I only saw how much longer it would take to get the job done! Same results, different methods. The conclusion became obvious... if you reach the same destination and find pleasure in taking your time, does it really matter what's “right” or “wrong”.

So goes real life. Politically, religiously and socially, we can make the mistake of assuming what we believe is the only possible way to view the world. That's as wrong as using a screwdriver to open a paint can... despite the fact that it feels comfortable and often works!

It would be more honest, albeit difficult and transformational, to say we hold onto rigid ideas because they makes us feel comfortable. News flash! It's no secret that there is a downside to having too many choices. I know when I go shopping, the hardest task is eliminating choices based on qualities I DON”T WANT, not by the qualities I want. I don't like bright yellow shorts, patent leather does not work with coveralls, and wearing a hat that says “I voted for Stupid” doesn't give my customers much confidence in my mental stability!

Make no mistake... a rigid philosophy has its advantages. Life's easier to navigate when you no longer have to evaluate what you see, read or hear. You can just measure it against what you firmly believe... cheer when your ideas are supported and snigger when contradictory or conflicting ideas are presented. Life may seem simpler with all that danged thinkin' removed from the table!

That's the trap... judging everything else by what we know already. Easy, yes, but a huge dimension of life has been stripped away... the creative and innovative force that pushes all human advancement. Most true creativity requires one to take a leap away from conventionality. Though most visible in the arts where sudden shifts in musical styles or artistic boundaries can define an era, these sudden changes take place in many fields, from the rapid rise of the cellphone and the Internet to changes in attitudes towards eating, drinking and definitions of human relationships.

Or men wearing makeup, coloring their hair and women wearing men's underwear.

Does this mean I need a vacation? Go figure!




With all that wood, you'd think termites and carpenter ants would be ringing the dinner bell, right? Not necessarily. In fact, log homes may offer the homeowner less in the way of hidden insect problems compared to typical “stick” construction.

These beautiful and stylish sinks are the finishing touch to a top notch bathroom decoration project, but they can be expensive and tricky to choose. And, frankly, glass sinks aren't for everyone! Let Valerie Mason guide you through the thorny world of vessel sinks! 

SELECTING FIREWOOD is both an art and a science. Choose correctly and you'll get the most burn for your buck!

ELASTOMERIC PAINT has properties that make it ideal for painting exterior masonry surfaces. It's stretchy and waterproof yet allows vapors to pass through. Sounds good to us... read more here:



Dear NH,

You have a great site but the information on tub and tile caulking overlooks the issue of acrylic fixtures. For example, GE Silicon II says it bonds to plastic. It fails to tell you that it is worthless when it comes to acrylic. I thought acrylic is plastic! It has taken me a while to discover this problem and I'm somewhat frustrated with Kohler Company because they have not been able to suggest a specific product for this job.

TW from Brookline, MA


I can't speak to Kohler's lack of help. One possible reason might be that some acrylic fixtures have a slight amount of almost undetectable lubricant on their surface when removed from the box, a residue from processing. They should be cleaned with soap and water prior to caulking to insure adhesion. (This is actually a good idea with most surfaces prior to caulking.)

That being said, any non-silicone bathroom grade caulk should adhere to clean acrylic products. If you've read any of my other comments on caulk, you'll see that I am not a big fan of silicone caulks, at least for indoor applications. In fact, I can't think of an interior application where silicone caulk would reliably outperform latex caulk, so I don't recommend using it unless the manufacturer of the item specifically demands it.

Acrylic, by the way, is a “plastic”, but the term plastic is a catchall for many products derived from petrochemicals. The variety in plastics is such that no adhesive is truly universal. Many plastics cannot be glued successfully unless the correct adhesive is chosen. With thousands of types of plastics (and more formulations every day), no product label could possibly list the exact types it can stick to, except for industrial or commercially-labeled products used under stringent conditions.

Latex caulks can seal effectively on a variety of materials, including many plastics, but may not be adequate for gluing purposes since the surface adhesion is good but not extremely strong. Since caulks are supposed to be removable (especially in bathrooms where they need to be renewed every few years due to mildew staining), this is a positive, not a negative.


Dear NH,

In your article on roof ice dams, a reader suggested using calcium chloride in pantyhose to help melt/prevent ice dams. Would calcium chloride filled pantyhose lined up in the gutter help by allowing melted snow/ice to drain ?

GL from Albany, NY


I don't know anyone who has tried it, but my first instinct is it may have minimal or even negative effects.

Since ice dams begin forming on the roof, not in the gutter, placing the tubes in the gutter will not have the desired effect which is to inhibit ice formation on the roof. Remember "Ice Dam 101"... ice dams can form on roofs without gutters, too!

As a second thought, the calcium chloride will probably dissolve faster since it will be submerged during heavy rain and may also cause the gutters to overflow.


Dear NH,

I am replacing old double hung windows with double paned windows so I will need heavier weights. Do you know who manufactures heavier weights? These are large windows so I suspect I have the heaviest weights made at that time (1908).

JL from Berkeley, CA


Old-style one-piece cast iron counterweights have, amazingly enough, entered the twenty-first century with the rest of us! The Kilian Hardware Company of Philadelphia, PA carries a line of replacement, interlocking counterweights in 10, 5 and 1 pound weights so you can balance most any window. Here's a link directly to their counterweight page:


Dear NH,

I have a light box that my customer wants to put a dimmer switch on. The fixture is fluorescent. I have been going around with the manufacturer trying to get the kind of ballast inside the light box, so I can order the correct dimmer.

Before I take the next step and take apart the light box (to get the info I need), is it in fact possible to put a dimmer on a fluorescent fixture??

DL from Orlando, FL


Dimming fluorescent fixtures have special ballasts designed to work with special dimmer switches. The ballast of the fixture must be compatible with the dimmer or they will not work together.

Standard fluorescent fixtures will not fire properly with a dimmer switch installed, so I wouldn't waste your time unless you know for a fact that the fixture is designed to dim. (Very few fluorescents are.)

If you remove the ballast cover on the fixture, it will be prominently labeled as "dimming". If not, you may be able to purchase a dimming ballast, though the cost of the ballast (around $50.00 for a two-40 watt bulb fixture) plus installation may be more than a new fixture, unless the fixture is very classy (or has sentimental value).


Dear NH,

Help! I have 2 hard-wired smoke detectors that came with the house. They have been beeping even without the batteries in place. We removed them both to be able to get some sleep. The beeping sound is still happening and it is coming from inside the wall. It must be from the wiring in the wall. What do we do?

RJ from Houston, TX


I'm guessing that the sound is still coming from the smoke alarms, but because of the frequency of the sound it just appears to be coming from inside the wall.

Some hardwired smoke detectors beep as a warning that the batteries have been removed or are dead... both true in your case. Putting in fresh batteries should solve the problem. If replacing the batteries doesn't help, they may have become defective and need replacement. The recommended maximum use is ten years, though they can fail before this! We have more on smoke alarms at the website:

Take care,


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