6 tips for caulking your home

Caulking in your house is very important. It protects from water damage, high energy costs from air leaks and potentially protects from pests. Follow these six tips for caulking a home.

6 tips for caulking your home

1. Inspection

  • Early spring and fall are the best times to examine your home's exterior caulking. Do a walk-around inspection at least once a year to make certain that all joints are watertight and ready for harsh weather.
  • Test caulk by poking it with a screwdriver. It should have some give; if it cracks or tears, replace it.

2. Clean the surface

  • Wipe off any dust or dirt, and remove oils or deposits with mineral spirits or a manufacturer-recommended solvent.
  • Most important, remove any existing caulking with a putty knife, razor blade or screwdriver, or with liquid caulk remover.
  • For exterior doors or windows, scrape off old paint, clean the area with a mild soap solution and let dry.

3. How much to use

  • The success of any caulking job depends on applying the right amount of caulk. One of the most common mistakes that DIYers make is cutting the nozzle too far down, creating a large opening that dispenses too much caulk.
  • For best results, the hole should be about half as wide as the crack or seam you'll be caulking.
  • Cutting the tube at a 45-degree angle also facilitates a neater job, although some pros claim that a V-notch cut in the tip makes it easier to caulk corners.

4. Technique

  • A bead of caulk is what you get once you squeeze caulk out of its gun onto a seam. To do its job, the bead needs to be tooled, or compressed, to fit into the seam. Tooling the bead to an "hourglass" shape ensures better adhesion and flexibility. You want the caulk to be thick where it adheres to both sides of the joint but thinner in the middle.
  • With practice, you can use the cut end of the spout itself to tool the caulk as it's applied.
  • A wet finger is the traditional tooling choice, but be sure to wear latex gloves if you're using silicone, polyurethane, butyl rubber or any other caulk that may cause skin irritation.
  • You can also tool with an ice cube (this is especially good because it will never stick to caulk), a Popsicle stick or a plastic spoon.

5. Taping

  • If you're new to caulking, or if you need a straight, neat caulk line, try working with a border of masking tape or carpenter tape.
  • Place a strip of tape on each side of the seam before you start caulking. Make sure the tape is straight and spaced evenly to the width of the tooled bead.
  • Apply one metre (three feet three inches) of caulk at a time, and tool the bead when done. Then slowly remove the tape.

6. Caulk at the right temperature

  • Most exterior caulking compounds should not be used outdoors when the thermometer dips below 7°C (45°F).
  • In addition to taking longer to cure, some compounds, especially those containing silicone, become thicker and more difficult to work with.
  • If you need to caulk in the cold, store the tube in a warm location (or in warm water if the tubes are plastic) until the time you use it. Keep it warm by sliding a piece of pipe insulation over both the tube and the caulk gun before you start working. You can also use caulking cord for temporary emergency repairs around windows and doors in temperatures below 7°C (45°F).
  • What can you do with a half-full caulk tube? Either look for something else to caulk, or reseal it and save it for next time. The trick to reusing caulk is to keep the remaining adhesive from hardening. Plug the nozzle with a rustproof machine screw or nail.
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