Caulking is a skill every homeowner should develop. Knowing how to caulk isn't as obvious as learning how to paint a room or your entire home, but it's actually more important. Caulking is the application of a flexible sealing compound to close the gaps in your home against water, air and if that's not important enough, insects!
Maybe you've noticed cracks where your windows don't quite meet the walls or in my house, there are gaps where the baseboard trim doesn't meet the floor and it's noticeable when going up the stairs. Hmm, maybe I should get out my caulking gun and fill those gaps? Well I have to admit, it's just not at the top of my priority list but first let's start with the basics.
Buying a Caulking Gun
Like using a paint brush or roller to apply paint, you use a caulking gun to apply caulking which comes in tubes with a plastic tip. While there are expensive electric and air compressor powered caulking guns, the average homeowner won't need them. A good manual caulking gun that's easy to use, will make the job go more smoothly and save you time.
Inexpensive caulking guns have a cradle to hold the tube of caulk or adhesive but these tend to jam more easily than professional caulking guns. Still manual, a professional caulking gun that's easy to clean is almost entirely open in the middle with two metal rods extending above and below the push mechanism. Other features to look for include:
- A continuous plunger rod – you don't need a notched rod, which is important for thicker materials like roofing tar.
- A swing out piece of steel that punctures the seal inside the spout, where it meets the tube of caulking (cardboard tubes).
- A cutter inside the handle grip for snipping off the end of the spout.
Buying the Right Caulk
Buying caulk for a small project might seem trivial until you get to the aisle and see how many different types there are to pick from. That's why it's important to know which project you're going to use the caulking for:
- Location – is very important, and specifically if your repairs are to your home's exterior or indoors.
- Gap size – will affect the solution you pick. When the gap you're filling is more than 1/4 inch, you should first place a foam backer rod in the opening to fill up most of the gap, and then caulk.
- Temperature – is important because some types of caulking are meant to withstand extreme temperatures, and if you don't have the right caulk, you'll have to replace it sooner.
- Moisture levels – are always a consideration outdoors, and in certain areas of your home like the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry room. Using a product designed for high moisture areas will improve adhesion and durability.
- Application – is about understanding the job you're trying to accomplish, so you pick the right caulk for the job. Ideally you want to use the easiest caulking to apply and whether you plan to paint over the caulk.
When buying caulk, always read the directions to make sure the product you pick meets your requirements. Don't confuse caulking with caulk adhesives used to attach materials that can't be nailed. Caulking is meant to maintain a watertight and airtight seal over time, and therefore must remain flexible so it will move.
To learn more about the different types of caulk, we'll be following this article up with another. If you want lots more detail, read Fine Woodworking's 5 page article, Making Sense of Caulks & Sealants.
Reasons to Learn How to Caulk
Why learn to caulk? Like learning to read and write, homeowner skill to maintain your home and make repairs, requires an investment of time and money. You need to buy tools and learn how to do things, and practice so you're happy with the results.
Caulking is a homeowner skill worth learning because there are so many different places in your home to caulk. Before you paint a room, check the caulking around doors and windows and replace caulking that is cracked or leaving gaps. It's even more important to insure the caulking around windows and doors on the outside of your home aren't compromised.
Your kitchen and bathrooms should also be inspected and caulking replaced whenever you suspect water leaks. When you're comfortable doing the caulking, you can make these repairs quickly and avoid bigger problems. Families with young children splashing water out of bathtubs should be especially vigilant as often, a small caulking job turned into a major repair when we had to remove flooring and replace the underlying sub-floor and sometimes the floor joists.