Tightening Up Your Home - Caulking

Energy prices are on the rise across the nation. As a result, heating costs will consume an increasingly larger portion of a household's energy budget. That's why it's important to check your home to insure that your heating dollars aren't being wasted. By preventing leaks, you keep in valuable heat and make your home more comfortable while keeping those escalating energy bills at bay.

Where to Caulk

Eventually, all homes need fresh caulking to fill gaps and cracks that may appear in walls and where different types of materials are joined. Checking and repairing caulk should be one of those maintenance projects that get done around the house every year or two. It not only saves on heating and air conditioning bills, it prevents moisture and even insects from entering your walls.

Caulk is a pliable sealant that comes in large tubes that can be purchased at most hardware stores. Once the caulk is applied, it solidifies in the air to fill gaps, cracks and spaces at joints and connections all around your home. Some caulks don't turn hard but remain pliable like a rubber.

Look around the outside of your house for places that need to be filled in. If your heater is on, you may be able to feel drafts where heated air is escaping from cracks. In particular, look for gaps and holes around door and window frames, wall and roof vents, and skylights. Examine around outdoor faucets and where the gas pipes and electrical lines enter the house. Check the joints where siding joins at corners and where it meets the roof and the foundation, or where it meets the fireplace chimney.

Prepare the Surface

Before you begin, the surface you are caulking should be relatively clean. Old caulk should be stripped or scraped out of the gap or crack. It's best to not wash it or pressure wash the area because water may be forced through the crack and could cause some damage.

Wipe down the surface with a damp cloth to remove any residue or dirt. Make sure it is clean and dry before beginning to caulk.

How to Caulk

There are caulks made specifically for concrete, for brick, for wood, and even for glass and metal. Caulking can be made of pure latex, siliconized latex, polyurethane and other modern materials. Choosing the proper one for your task from the array of choices can be a daunting task. Ask someone at the hardware store for advice.

Important qualities to look for when choosing caulk are life expectancy, how much it shrinks over time, whether or not it can be painted, and if it cleans up with soap and water or needs a solvent like paint thinner.

For most exterior uses around the house, you can use polyurethane caulk. It sticks to just about everything and doesn't totally harden, but remains flexible. For that reason it tends to last longer, and it doesn't shrink as much as some other types.

Caulking guns use a ratcheted plunger to force the caulk out the tube when you pull a trigger. Some caulking guns are made of metal, while others are manufactured from fiberglass and nylon, or even ABS plastic.

To load a caulking gun, pull back on the plunger, and then drop the new tube of caulk in the barrel, rear end first. Pull the trigger or push the plunger until it contacts the rear of the cartridge.

Trim the nozzle of the caulk tube. It's best to cut it on a 45-degree angle. Break the seal on the tube by inserting a nail or small screwdriver into the nozzle's opening.

Now, by squeezing the trigger, you can force caulk out the end of the nozzle while you move the tip of the nozzle along a seam. You can either push or pull the caulk into a seam, but pushing forces the caulk into narrow seams more effectively. By moving the gun slowly and evenly, you'll get a clean, professional job.

To stop caulking at the end of a seam, simply push the nozzle into the corner to cut the strip of caulk. Twist the nozzle and lift it away.

You don't need to smooth caulk after it is applied, except for the sake of appearance. Latex caulk can be smoothed with a finger dipped in water. You can also use the back of a spoon to produce a smooth finish. Smoothing should be done soon after the caulk is applied, however - smoothing caulk as it dries sometimes causes it to crack.

Most caulk works best on cracks that are less than half an inch wide. Wider cracks can be sometimes bridged by two strips of caulk applied side by side. Try filling deep cracks with wadded-up fiberglass insulation or some other backing material.

Always pry out any old caulk before you install new caulk, and be sure the surface on which you're working is clean and dry.

There are additional ways to tighten up your home. Click here to learn about weatherstripping or click a link on the right.