Caulking: Lay a Better Bead
Caulking: It’s a necessary evil. Applying the stuff is a messy job, often requires uncomfortable work on your knees, and it’s just terribly unexciting. But when it comes to Sealing out water and other elements, skipping the caulk will guarantee even more work in the future when you’re forced to repair rot damage. And from an aesthetic standpoint, caulk gives any paint job or trim project—inside or outside the home—the sought-after finished look that separates professional-grade jobs from amateur attempts.
The Right Stuff
Product selection is the logical place to begin the job, and silicone-based sealants have long been the staple for exterior projects where a waterproof seal is necessary. However, standard silicone cannot be painted and is incredibly messy and sticky to use. Acrylic caulk is only appropriate for interior projects and is not waterproof, nor is it very flexible and may crack over time. However, acrylic caulk can easily be painted and is much easier to tool and clean up than silicone. Standard acrylic caulk is primarily decorative and not intended to serve as a sealant.
These days, many caulk/sealant products come in hybrid formulations containing some of the attributes of both silicone and acrylic, meaning they can be cleaned or tooled more easily, remain flexible, can be painted and still retain a waterproof seal. Complicating the selection further is the advent of high-end water-based caulk/sealants that have similar hybrid properties.
The easiest way to parse the options is to pay close attention to the indications on the packaging, making sure they match the job at hand. For example, Kitchen and Bath sealants will usually include a chemical mildewcide in the formulation for better performance in those moist environments. If choosing an exterior caulk that needs to be painted, then make sure your product indicates that the product is paintable, because you won’t be able to paint standard silicone—no matter how many coats you throw at it.
The Right Technique
Before applying any caulk or sealant, clean the surface of the work area thoroughly. This commonly overlooked step will prevent grit and debris from disrupting the application of the bead and keep unsightly dirt and dust from becoming embedded in your fresh caulk.
Cut the tip of the tube at a straight 90-degree angle. Start at the tip to keep the hole small. You can always recut to make the hole bigger, but you don’t want it too big or you sacrifice control of the bead.