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February 28, 2004

Ask the Builder Newsletter

This is the first issue of the weekly Ask the Builder newsletter that is now going to be part of my RSS feed. I just thought of doing it moments ago. This newsletter went out via email yesterday. Here is the newsletter:

Several times a week I get emails from very polite people who ask me if it is okay to create a link from their website to mine. Frequently these people are employed in the real estate industry. These professionals tell me the reason they want to add the link to their website is they want to help their clients after the closing. The real estate agents recognize that home ownership involves care and maintenance of the property they just sold.

My response is always the same. I tell them I am indeed honored and appreciate the link. At the end of my Thank You! email I add a quick comment that I know how tough their job can be as I have been a licensed real estate broker in the state of Ohio for nearly 15 years. I first got a sales license in 1975 to help me save money as I bought and sold old homes during the rehab boom of the late '70s. The reply email I get back from the agents and brokers usually makes me laugh as the folks say, "What don't you do?"

To be honest, these days I don't practice real estate at all. Getting a broker's license requires lots of extra education and work and I am very reluctant to let it lapse. My license is kept active by taking continuing education classes every three years. The license will come in very handy when my kids decide to buy their first home.

If you want to create a link from your website to mine, I would appreciate it. I can provide you with a cool small photo of me dropping a plumb bob into the camera lens if you need an image. In return, I will *gladly* add a link back to your website on a special page on my website that I will title: Ask the Builder Friends.


Each week I also get new product news. Some of the press releases make me yawn. But more often than not my reaction is, "Hey, that is a great idea!" Three weeks ago I got an email *out of the blue* from Ed Littell in Arizona. He sells these very unique and colorful panels that transform your standard 2 foot by 4 foot fluorescent office lights into skylights! No, you don't cut a hole in your roof and create leaks.

Ed sells diffuser panels that replace those yellowed and cracked clear diffusers that came with your lights from the factory. These durable diffusers allow all the light from the fixture to stream into the room. But they change the look and feel of the room dramatically. Your light fixtures look like the sky when you lay on your back on a blanket. There are six different scenes and the one with the palm tree fronds reminds me of being at the beach.

You MUST go to Ed's website and see these things. Ed sent me a few to make sure I was satisfied with their quality. These diffusers are top notch in my opinion. I guarantee you these panels will generate lots of interest and put everyone in a better mood in your office or finished basement. I don't get a sales commission from Ed. I just want you to be aware of a cool product! Be sure to click the "Catalog" and "Pictures" links on the top navigation bar. If you are a dentist, these things are a MUST in the rooms where you treat patients!


<<< Toilets are Getting Better and Better >>>

DEAR TIM: I am looking at toilets for my new bathroom. Our current toilet measures 23 inches from the back wall to the front edge of where the toilet touches the floor. Many of the measurements in brochures seem to start at nearly 27 inches. Space is valuable in this small room. We also have a flushing problem with our current toilet. It seems to always require two or three flushes to rid the bowl of waste. Karen N., Williamstown, NJ

DEAR KAREN: I don’t think you are comparing apples to apples. You measured the foot extension of the toilet. The foot is the actual surface dimension and shape of where the toilet bowl base contacts the floor. Bathroom planners and plumbers are rarely interested in that dimension. The most critical dimension is the distance from the front of the bowl where the toilet seat contacts the china bowl to the back of the toilet. My guess is that if you measure your existing toilet, you will quickly discover it extends 27 or even 28 inches from the back wall.

An often overlooked measurement is the rough-in dimension of the toilet bowl. This measurement is the distance from the back of the toilet to the center of the waste outlet hole on the underside of the toilet bowl. The most common dimension is 12 inches. But many toilet manufacturers also offer two other sizes in case mistakes are made during construction or a pesky floor joist gets in the way. It is not unusual to find toilets with a 10 or 14 inch rough-in dimension. Be sure you purchase a toilet bowl that has the correct rough-in dimension to match your current drainage pipe location.

Toilet technology has made significant advancements in the past seven to ten years. In fact, certain manufacturers continue to devote significant research and development resources to toilet design and functionality. There are millions of consumers who are disappointed with the performance of toilets since the low flush water savings law was enacted in January of 1994. You are a perfect example of how that law has backfired. The intent was for toilets to save water by using less water per flush. But if you flush twice or even three times, you may end up using even more water than with an older 3.5 or 5 gallon per flush model.

Flushing toilets is all about physics and stored potential energy. The water that is at rest in the tank just before the flush has the ability to do work because of its weight and the pull of gravity once the flush handle is activated. For the flush to be complete, this water needs to enter the bowl as rapidly as possible and encounter as little friction as possible as it leaves the bowl on its way to the drain. You can buy toilets that have enormous three and one-quarter inch flush valve openings at the bottom of the tank. These same toilets have fully-glazed trapways so the water and waste slips through the toilet with minimal friction.

Certain toilets are so well-engineered they can flush solid waste with just 1.4 gallons of water per flush instead of the industry standard of 1.6 gallons of water. This small savings per flush can add up to big savings over time. A family of four using one of these toilets can save nearly 2,000 gallons of water per year. Imagine how much water could be saved if an entire subdivision or city used these toilets.

The advancements in toilet design do not stop at the toilet bowl. You or your plumber can now buy new toilets that take the hassle out of connecting the tank to the toilet bowl. In years past, I and many others struggled with bolts and washers that passed through holes in the bottom of the tank. Tighten the bolts too much and you risk cracking the china. If the bolts were not tightened enough water would leak through the bottom of the bowl.

A new tank design eliminates these holes by using a hidden steel plate on the underside of the tank. The bolts lock into the steel plate and then pass through the holes in the back of the toilet bowl. It is an ingenious concept that will save both time in installation and service calls created by leaks.


Low quality toilets can have a hidden defect that is often very hard to see. Toilets have a colon inside of them that is simply the path of the trapway. The trapway is the internal sealed tube that connects the bowl with the drain exit hole at the base of the toilet. It serves the same purpose as the trap drains one sees under a standard kitchen or bathroom sink. This colon used to be hidden on many older toilets but it is now common to actually see the convoluted pathway the water and waste takes as it travels from the bowl to the drain hole in the floor.

Toilets that are hard to flush or that clog on a frequent basis may be the victims of poor colon design. The bends within the colon may be too tight. The actual interior size of the colon may be small. Try to buy toilets that have a two inch minimum trapway/colon or those that have even large diameter colons. Ask the plumbing supply sales person to show you different toilets with exposed colons so you can see how some have better streamlining than others. (Photo at the website column shows an exposed colon toilet. I *urge* you to click the link above to see it.)


You should consider getting a great new magazine - Extreme How-To. I am the Editor-at-Large of this publication. Getting in on the ground floor of a new magazine launch is very exciting. You should come along for the ride! Click this link:


Dear Tim,

I recently had to replace the shower handle body of my shower. I cut the copper lines and re-soldered a new shower assembly in. This was my first time to ever solder anything and everything appeared to be OK. Well, until we tried to use the sink in the same room. When I turned off the water at the main, I would leave the sink on so as to help drain the water and to verify it being off. But when I turned it back on, it was very low pressure, then nothing no air no water. Later as I repaired another fixture, I turned on all faucets before turning on the water. I systematically turned each one off and I got water to return to the sink but it is still very low pressure. I have verified that the main meter was turned on fully. Any other ideas as to what happened and how to fix? I greatly appreciate any help you may offer

Kenny Anderson

- - -


Whenever you or someone else works on water lines in a house or out in the street, pieces of sediment get knocked loose off the sides of the pipe when the water rushes back into the pipes after the repair. The flow restrictors in the tips of faucets as well as the cartridge bodies themselves in the faucets can get clogged with these fine pieces of rock, grit and sand. Soldering flux also makes a mess of the faucet aerators and flow restrictors.

The first thing I would do is just take off the aerator tip of the faucet and turn on the faucet. Be sure you get the rubber washer out of the faucet body before you turn the water on. If you have lots of water exiting the faucet, you know exactly where the problem is. Start to carefully dis-assemble the aerator and you will find the flow restrictor and a fine mesh screen. Clean all of these components and put everything back together again. You should be back to normal.


Posted by Tim Carter at 8:34 AM

February 26, 2004


Plywood is on its way out. Oriented strand board, commonly referred to as OSB, is replacing plywood for any number of reasons. I am not happy about this transition.

This is a battle I can't win. The huge lumber mills control what happens to a large degree. The growing population consumes more resourses. Wood is a wonderful renewable crop resource, but plywood devours entire logs while OSB and different fiberboards eat chips and sawdust.

But in my humble opinion, plywood works better for many things. I love it for storage shelves and subfloors. It has a smoother surface than OSB. Plywood seems to hold screws better, but that may be my partiality showing.

All I can say is that if you are like me, keep buying plywood. If the mills see a demand, they will continue to make it. Economics 101 dismissed.

Posted by Tim Carter at 2:47 PM

February 22, 2004

Big Sky

Two weeks from today I will be driving across Idaho on my way to Big Sky Resort. As many of you know I am a powder junkie - not the bad type of powder, but the cool powder that falls upon the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. I will be skiing Big Sky on Monday March 8th and Tuesday March 9th.

The mountain at Big Sky is one of the best out West for several reasons. It is by no means the oldest ski destination west of the Mississippi, as it opened for business in 1973. The resort was the brainchild of Chet Huntley, the deceased NBC nightly news announcer. He came up with the idea and was a key player in making Big Sky a reality instead of a dream. Skiing magazine lists Big Sky as the 7th best ski resort in the USA.

I urge you to call in sick to work or burn up a few of your vacation days to come out and ski with me. Late winter snow conditions can be fabulous at Big Sky and I doubt there will be anyone at the bottom of each run watching the bull wheel spin at the lifts. After all, Big Sky has 3,500 acres. That is one enormous place to ski.

If you want to meet me at the base of the hill, you better email me soon so we can hook up. Do you need lessons or equipment? Neither are a problem. Big Sky has those and much, much more. Email me at:

Posted by Tim Carter at 1:38 PM

February 17, 2004

The Table

Five weeks ago I was sitting at a conference table in an attorney's office with my wife Kathy. No, it's not what you might be thinking! We were signing new wills, trust documents and powers of attorney papers. It had been many years since we had revised our wills and with the kids being older, things needed to be changed.

At the conclusion of the signing process, the wonderful woman attorney who prepared the wills asked me a question. She had an upcoming party and needed a dining room table. As soon as she described her dilemma, an idea popped into my head. You must read about my solution. It is a perfect example of how my weekly columns start and typically end.

Posted by Tim Carter at 9:45 AM

February 11, 2004

Ursuline Academy's Lions Roar

Today I gave a speech at Ursuline Academy(UA). My wife Kathy graduated from UA years ago. My oldest daughter also graduated from this great institution two years ago and two years from now my youngest daughter will hopefully attend UA.

The teacher who moderates the school newspaper asked me to speak to the group of young women who produce the UA school newspaper. I was flattered.

During the first few minutes of my speech, I asked the group to ponder for a few moments and think of things they would like me to talk about. "I can talk here for hours even though I only have 45 minutes. I want you to leave with information that is important to you," I said. Several minutes later one young lady raised her hand and said, "What impact has the Internet made on writers and what will it do in the future?" She actually stole my thunder as I was segwaying into how the Internet turns writers into instant publishers.

One thing led to another and I asked these energetic and attentive students about blogs and wouldn't you know it that 50% knew about them and I believe 4 out of 30 had their own. I congratulated these forward thinkers.

I then tried to motivate the rest into action by saying, "Take out a piece of paper and write this down: Go there as soon as you get home and buy your actual name. You must get this undeveloped piece of real estate on the Internet. Later you can decide what to do with it."

A URL is just that - a piece of real estate in the vast Internet. One of the young women in that room today might turn out to be one of the best writers of the century. If she buys her name tonight, she will have staked a claim that could yield enormous riches in the future.

What? You haven't driven your stake into the virtual ground yet.....?

Posted by Tim Carter at 8:49 PM

February 2, 2004

Skiing at Perfect North Slopes

Last Friday I spent the day skiing with my dentist who is a grade school buddy of mine. We went to Perfect North Slopes in southeastern Indiana. It is the best we can muster around here in the Ohio Valley. The hill only has 400 feet of vertical fall.

To put this in perspective, most ski resorts out West have between 1,800 to 3,500 feet of vertical fall. Expert skiers laugh at places like Perfect North. Most could probably, no actually, ski down every run at Perfect North backwards.

I went to Perfect North to start training. In five weeks I will be with Michael at Big Sky Resort in Montana. It is important for me to get my ski legs back and be in as good of condition as possible before heading out to Big Sky. Each day I am doing some vigorous hiking in the woods around my house. I am starting to jog up and down some of the wooded hills to get my leg muscles ready for the workout Big Sky will undoubtedly deliver.

Skiing is so much fun. If you dress correctly you don't get cold. Last year I skied out West on two different occasions. The views from the slopes is unbelievable. It is an amazing experience that I hope one day you can also enjoy.

Posted by Tim Carter at 9:44 AM

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