Caulking: Where & How To Apply It
A maintenance project that should be performed each summer or two, and that is guaranteed to prevent a home-sized heart-ache this winter, is exterior caulking. Caulking is a sealant that is applied at joints and connections all around your home to prevent air and moisture from getting inside during the wet season.
Caulking is available in small, 10.5-ounce tubes and larger, 29 ounce tubes, with the small-size being the one that is most readily available. So, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out why we strongly recommend purchasing the smaller gun. Some caulking guns are made from metal others from a combination of fiberglass and nylon and some are actually made from ABS plastic. We like the ones that are made from fiberglass and nylon. They are light in weight and durable. Unfortunately, they aren’t available everywhere, so our second choice would be metal.
All caulking guns have a trigger and a plunger. Pull the trigger and the plunger pushes the caulk out of the tube. There is a relationship between the distance that the trigger is pulled and the corresponding distance that the plunger moves. We refer to this as the trigger ratio. If the trigger is pulled all the way and the plunger moves a long distance the ratio is low — 6:1 for example. If the plunger moves a short distance the ratio is higher — 18:1 for example. If the ratio is high the gun will not dispense as much caulking per trigger pull, but the trigger itself will be much easier to pull. If you have arthritis or another physical impairment, the high ratio gun is the one you should be looking for. Also, guns with higher ratios are easier to use when the compound being pumped has hardened slightly — as many caulks and adhesives will do with age. Faster applications result from a lower ratio.
More important than the caulking gun is the type of caulking and how and where it will be applied. Don’t be overwhelmed when you go into the store and discover that there is a caulking made specifically for use with concrete, another for brick, another for wood, another for glass and yet another for metal. In fact, if you look closely you will probably discover that there is a caulking made specifically for use with just about every building material known to mankind. Oh, aren’t you glad you picked up the newspaper today!?! Now that you know about what’s available, how about we tell you what’s good. For sealing up the exterior of a home try polyurethane caulking. It sticks to just about everything, it doesn’t harden, and it lasts far longer than common siliconized latex caulking. Polyurethane costs a little more, but remember caulking is a very labor intensive task and the longer the caulking seals the less expensive it will be in the long run.
Once you are outfitted with the proper caulking gun and about 12- to 20-tubes of caulk (one tube will do 2-3 average windows or doors) then you will need to remove debris and scrape the old caulk out of the joints, cracks and crevices that are to be sealed. Remember: it will not pay to purchase polyurethane caulking if you intend to apply it directly over joints filled with old caulking. As soon as that old caulking decides to peel away, the polyurethane will separate right along with it. Sorry, the new caulk will not hold the old caulk in place. Nice try though.
Opening a tube of caulk is not rocket science, but there is a right way and a wrong way. A close inspection of the business end of the tube reveals angled lines surrounding the tip that are actually molded into it. Cutting the tip off with a knife at the line farthest from the end will allow a large bead of caulk to be ejected from the tube. Cutting the tip off at the line nearest the end will allow only a small bead of caulk to be ejected from the tube. We suggest that you cut the tube on the line nearest the tip and start with a small bead. And remember: caulking is not made to fill 1/2-inch gaps. Therefore, wide gaps should be reduced to no more than 1/4-inch in width by nailing, screwing and/or shimming before caulk is applied.
Caulking can help to reduce wind infiltration making your home more comfortable year round. And as we mentioned earlier it will also help to keep your home dry during winter months. It also is important to consider aesthetic value. Caulking seals gaps that can be painted resulting in a neat uniform exterior finish. On the other hand, a sloppy bead of caulk can ruin the appearance of a window, a door or even the exterior wall covering. Be careful here. Start by applying small beads — until you feel more comfortable with the task and the tool. Use your finger (where it is safe — you don’t want to end up with a torn or splintered hand) to press the caulking into place. Scrape excess away and don’t forget to touch-up paint.
Caulk along seams of inside and outside corner moldings, where the siding meets the foundation, between window and door trim and siding and don’t forget plumbing and electrical penetrations. And, good luck!