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Handyman Letter - May - June 2006

In This Issue:

1) Take a "Renovation Vacation"... 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

1) Take a "Renovation Vacation"... a message from the Natural Handyman

Our family is like most... there's NEVER enough money to do everything we want to do! And ohh do we need a vacation to get away from the day-to-day, brain scrambling routines that rule (and at times threaten to ruin) our lives.

Alas, on the other hand are the endless unfinished "New York minute"-long projects around our house. Oh, and don't forget the larger renovations that have been put off for a long, long time!

So my wife concocted a scheme to kill both birds with one hammer. Rather than spend the kid's inheritance on a whopper of a trip, we took a "renovation vacation". I can't take credit for the concept. My wife, bless her ever-active imagination, conceived it as a way to get our kitchen updated while still having a breather from real life. Think of it as participating in a "Habitat for Humanity" project, except that you are doing it for your favorite charity... yourselves!

Our trip started by establishing some ground rules to define our renovation vacation. First, we decided that (except for emergency stuff) we would really pretend that we were on vacation. That meant minimal work (being a webmaster means some contact with the site and checking email was unavoidable), very little cooking (since we were renovating the kitchen, this was easy) and trying to do some different things.

So we went out for a few brunches, allowing us to easily skip a meal a day, and tried 7 new restaurants for dinners. We ate like royalty but nary gained a pound (something I can't say for most of our vacations!) We also spent quite a bit of time on the actual renovation, though we hit the wall on day 6 since the promised cabinet delivery didn't happen. Well, vacations don't always meet expectations, either, so we took it in stride!

The results? We have done most of the dustier work, had a great time eating out all week, and saved thousands on hotel bills, plane fares (or gasoline) and have a nearly-completed kitchen. We figure that the money saved on a typical vacation paid for over half the restoration. Not too shabby! (If I get my act together, I might share some of our experiences online!)

Now that our vacation is over, the nagging question is... will the job ever get done? Or will we need to take another vacation? Hope so!!


3) News from the "Basement Annex"

At least for the near future, we have decided to reduce the frequency of our newsletter to bi-monthly. However, if anything of special importance occurs, we may send out a "mini-newsletter" in the between months. We will be publishing in January, March, May, July, September and November... with the possibility of a "mini-letter" during the off-months. We know many of you enjoy this newsletter and we hope this reduced schedule will keep our newsletter alive! Thanks for being a subscriber!

Here are a few new articles we've recently posted:

Decorating concrete for the do-it-yourselfer

Ladder safety for Do-It-Yourselfers by Amanda Miller

4) Q&A with our readers

Dear NH,

I'm very new to working with wooden decks and need some help. I just power washed my deck. Nasty job! I sealed it with linseed oil before I found your website and your recommendation not to use it on decks. So my question is... what do I do next?

DE from Oxford, MI


Relax, it's not panic time. If you applied a reasonably light coat and the linseed oil has dried completely, you shouldn't have to worry. Linseed oil will protect the wood... it's just not my personal first choice for longevity and durability.

It is unwise to recoat it with anything (including more linseed oil) till it weathers, as it may become tacky, and stripping it is messy and really unnecessary. The linseed oil will provide adequate protection for a year, so you can recoat it next year (allowing time for weathering) with a more long-lasting sealer.


Dear NH,

Hey! I read you article on reglazing a window, thanks. I have a customer who has windows where the glazing is cracking but not falling out all over the place. Should I remove all the putty and start over?? or can I just clean it and add putty? Also I have no idea what to charge? A glass company here said $50 per pane....or about $300 per window. Any suggestions?

BR from Atlanta, GA


Cracking in glazing compound is typical as the putty ages and becomes less flexible. However, unless it is falling out a good coat of latex paint (primed with oil) will help seal small cracks and extend the putty's life.

If any putty is loose, scrape out the loose putty and fill the gaps with fresh putty. I would suggest getting a can of boiled linseed oil and a small artist's-type brush and paint a little where the old putty is going to meet the new putty. It will help the two stick together. Only do this if you use linseed oil-based putty. If you go with the latex type, I believe that you need to remove all the old putty, as the latex type will not adhere well to the old stuff.

When you are done, allow the putty to dry for a week or so and then coat with an exterior oil primer and any exterior paint. This will make the windows look uniform and also prolong the life of the job.

Pricing is very relative. Typically window companies charge more per hour than handymen because they are a "specialty" business. Why don't you agree on an hourly rate if you are going to do repairs, say $40 to $50.00 per hour? In the end, the customer will save money, you'll make money and you don't have to rush the job.


Dear NH,

Our bathroom is modern and well ventilated, both by a window which opens and by a ceiling fan in the tub/shower. I've re-grouted with Bondex tile grout where the tub meets the tile, then re-caulked our bathtub using DAP's mildew resistant caulk in the small hand squeeze tube. I've done this at least once per year since the bathroom was installed three years ago, and should have done it more often.

In all instances, the tub has been filled with water throughout the re-caulking & curing process and the end result has looked excellent. However, in one corner the tub ledge is quite flat and shower water gathers there. Within 3 weeks of re-caulking, the fresh caulk in the wet corner goes soft and bubbly and starts sliding down the tile and exposing the grouting. Then the grouting commences dissolving and it all goes from bad to worse.

Is there another tub/tile caulk product you can recommend that will resolve the problem? Or does the solution lie elsewhere and, if so, what is the solution?

DM from Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Been there, done that. The long and short of it is the caulk is not drying properly. Due to the continual collection of water in that nasty corner, significant moisture has worked its way behind the tile, dampening the wall enough to keep the latex caulk from fully setting. Thus, it only skins over giving the appearance of being dry.

Changing to an oil or silicone caulk won't help... it will just release in a clump instead of dissolving!

The solution I've used is to remove the caulk in that area (plus at least a foot on each side and vertically, too, to allow moisture to escape) and allow it to completely dry out. Using a fan or heat source will help. Loosely tape up a plastic tarp when you use the tub. I'd say give it at least a week. Then recaulk as normal.

Unfortunately, the low spot will always be a troublesome area. I would suggest drying the area after showering (a quick wipe with a towel will do). You'll find that the caulk will last much longer.


Dear NH,

We recently knocked a wall out of our living room. The problem is that our ceiling didn't turn out quite right. It is textured and when we tried to match it with the rest, it looks like we have a white beam going across the middle of our living room. How can we make it match? Also our walls looks that way as well. do you have any suggestions as to how to fix both?

KO from Point Pleasant, WV


It is not uncommon for repairs filling the transition between walls or ceilings after wall removal to be somewhat visible. Part of the problem is that the repair is usually raised slightly due to the taping necessary to prevent cracking in the wallboard compound.

If you have especially harsh lighting, the filled area may appear as a "shadow" no matter how good your repair is. There isn't much that can be done to make it completely disappear, aside from changing the lighting so it less emphasizes the raised repair area. For example, recessed ceiling lighting emphasizes wall imperfections less than lamps do. This, of course, isn't always possible.

If the ceiling repair is reasonably flat and it's more a matter of the new texture not matching the old, retexture the entire ceiling to blend the new and old areas. It's work but it will be worth the effort.


Dear NH,

Is a gas water heater supposed to heat back up in the middle of the night if the water temperature drops inside the tank? We don't seem to get enough hot water in the mornings. It has a 50 gallon tank, is only 4 or 5 yrs. old, has no visible leaks and the temp is turned up almost all the way.

RS from Riverside, CA


Assuming your system is working properly and doesn't have a large accumulation of sediment inside, gas water heaters should maintain the temperature in the tank all through the day and night. Of course, the flame will cycle on an off less during the night since you aren't draining hot water out.

The volume of hot water you can obtain depends primarily on (1) the size of the tank, (2) the temperature of the heated water and (3) how much sediment in the tank. If you have a small tank OR if someone turned down the temperature to save energy, a bath and a shower might be the most hot water you can get in a short time! Cold water entering the tank dilutes and cools the tank, and it takes a while for the water to reheat to full temperature.

Before you consider purchasing a larger water heater, increase the temperature of the tank in small increments and see if it helps. There is a knob (labeled "hot" or "hotter" and "cold" or "colder") on the heater that allows you to adjust the temperature. By increasing the temperature, the amount of usable hot water increases because the hotter water can be diluted with more cold water at the tap.

Remember... the higher the water temperature, the greater the danger of accidental burns if you touch the fully heated water. The currently recommended safe temperature is 130 degrees, which strikes a balance between preventing bacterial growth in the tank and minimizes scalding risk. Use a thermometer to check the temperature at a nearby faucet.

The flame will turn on as needed to maintain the relative temperature dictated by the thermostat. At 5 years, there are still potential problems that can cause insufficient hot water:

1) Sediment accumulation in the bottom of the tank has insulating properties and slows down reheating. Cleaning the tank of sediment can increase efficiency. I have some info at the site on this procedure, though if you feel uncomfortable doing this most plumbers can.

2) A broken dip tube can also decrease available hot water. The dip tube is a long piece of pipe that runs inside the tank from the top cold water inlet to near the bottom of the tank. it forces the cold water to enter at the bottom of the tank, so it doesn't mix with the hottest water at the top of the tank. From your description, I don't think this is your problem , since you do get enough hot water for a shower/bath.

3) Check the temperature of the water at full hot at any tap. If you have the thermostat set near the top and the temp is less than 140 degrees, you may have a problem with the thermostat.

4) Having the unit examined by a heating professional might also turn up a problem with the actual gas ignition system or its efficiency. After 5 years it's probably time, right?

More on water heaters here:


Dear NH,

Very interesting article on clay fire pots (chimineas). However I didn't see any mention on the using or not to use the wax type logs that some stores sell for indoor fireplaces. Are they too hot ?

I just got a new fire pot and was going to put it in use, but I didn't get any instructions with it from the home store. Any info will be helpful, thanks

JA from Points Unknown


You should be able to use wax logs in a chiminea without any problems. Heat is not the issue... they don't burn especially hot when compared to quality firewood. Wax logs are not recommended for air-tight wood stoves because, as I understand it, they release hydrocarbons that may be explosive in confined spaces, and they also can leave a waxy residue inside the chimney that may reduce masonry chimney life.

A chiminea definitely doesn't fit into that category!

Take care,


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