Caulking and Weather Stripping
By Murray Anderson
Can you imagine having a 9-in.² hole in your wall? Just think of the costs of heating or cooling your house with a hole that big. Now, did you ever think that you just might have the equivalent of that 9-inch hole in your house?
Experts tell us that a quarter-inch crack around the perimeter of a typical 36-inch entry door can leak as much air as a 9-in.² hole. And that’s only one door. Any air leaking around other doors or windows just makes that hole bigger.
What This Means for You
Since the typical US family spends close to $1,500 annually on home utility bills—and it’s estimated that air leaks can account for 20% to 50% of a building’s fuel costs—you can see how your money could be literally flying out the door.
The good news is, you can cost-effectively close up that gaping hole, conserve energy, and start saving money. Just make sure to have adequate weather stripping around doors and windows, and that your home’s caulking is in good repair.
What is Caulking and Weather Stripping?
Caulking and weather stripping work together to stop air leaks, making your home as airtight as possible. Weather stripping seals around doors and windows, while caulking is used to seal the small cracks and holes that are inevitable where different types of materials come together—like where window frames join up with brick siding.
How Do I Know I Have Leaks?
Generally speaking, older homes have more trouble with air leaks than newer homes, but it’s always a good idea to check out the situation. If you have any big leaks, you probably already know about them. On cold days if you feel a draft around your outside doors or windows, those are air leaks. You might use a lighted incense stick or a lighted candle around the edges of doors and windows to detect leaks you don’t feel. The moving air will blow the smoke or make the candle’s flame flutter.
Other places you should look for air leaks are where different types of materials meet, such as:
- Brick and wood siding
- Mail chutes
- Electrical, gas, cable television, and phone line entrances
- Outdoor water faucets
- Dryer vents and fan outlets
- Air conditioners
What Do I Do Once I Find the Leaks?
Once you find the leaks, you need to seal them. How you close up the air leak depends on where it is. Caulk forms a flexible seal between joints, cracks, and gaps less than ½-inch wide. Weather stripping seals leaks around the edges of movable pieces like doors and windows.
Caulking usually comes in disposable cartridges that fit into a caulking gun. Some types of caulking are also available in squeeze tubes, aerosol cans, and ropes for special applications. Probably the most important quality to look for in a caulk is its life expectancy. It’s best to use caulking that remains flexible over the longest time.
There are a variety of options in a caulk, so ask a professional at your local hardware store, and be sure to read the packaging carefully to determine if it is:
Suitable for the materials you need to caulk: Some caulks are made specifically for selected materials, while others can be used on a wide range of different materials.
Interior or exterior grade: Exterior grade caulking is designed to resist weathering, so if you need to seal any exterior surfaces, this is a very important distinction.
Latex or oil/resin-based: Latex cleans up with water, while oil-based requires using a solvent for clean-up.
Paintable or non-paintable: Caulk is available in many colors, including clear, but often if you want a perfect color match for the caulking to blend in with the surrounding surfaces, you will need to paint it.
Selecting Weather Stripping
Similar to caulking, you have a number of options. You need to choose a weather stripping that can stand up to its environment. For example, weather stripping placed around doors is subjected to repeat opening and closing, as well as exposure to temperature changes and weather. Window weather stripping needs to seal out air movement while still allowing the window to open and close easily.
Weather stripping is available in a variety of materials. Some of the more common are:
Vinyl: Usually comes with an adhesive backing on half of the strip; simply peel off the backing and apply to the edge of the door or window.
Adhesive backed foam or tape: Similar to adhesive backed vinyl, but wears out quickly and is not impervious.
Felt: Either plain or reinforced with a flexible metal, is nailed or tacked into place.
Interlocking metal: This type of weather stripping is considered the most effective, but is also the most complex to install. The concept is two pieces of V-shaped metal placed all around both a door and the doorframe. When the door closes, the strips interlock to effectively block any air movement.
Getting the Job Done
Replacing or repairing caulking and weather stripping are jobs that most homeowners can do themselves. While the repairs and installation can be tedious and time consuming—especially caulking—they don’t require any special training or skills. And if you are using caulking, just have a few rags on hand, in case you need to clean up any excess—and remember to release the pressure from the caulking gun, or it will continue to flow out of the tube, resulting in a gooey mess.
The complexity of installing interlocking metal weather stripping is the exception to the rule that homeowners can do it themselves. Because there is so little margin for error, it is usually installed by professionals.
It’s hard to believe that little cracks you often can’t even see can have such an impact on heating or cooling your home. However, by investing a little money and some of your time, you can make your home comfy and energy efficient. Plus, there’s an added bonus—the savings you achieve on your energy bills quickly repays your investment and more.