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Your Step-By-Step Guide to Caulking Air Leaks

As the weather heats up this summer, it’s common to see your electricity bill climb with the temperatures. Air conditioning can be expensive to run, but for many who live in hot climates, AC is a necessity, not just an option. Thankfully, there is something you can do to help keep the cold air in your home and your electricity bill down.

Get the best of both worlds by caulking any gaps in your walls or window wells. This will keep the cold air in and prevent the sweltering heat from seeping inside. The more airtight your home is, the less you will need to pay for air conditioning. Caulking air leaks can also help with colder environments in the winter, since the same principle applies! Even better, the caulking process is super inexpensive. Here are the steps you should follow to caulk air leaks and keep your home cool this summer and save on electricity.

Identify the Leaks

Caulking leaks is only effective if you can identify where and how the air is escaping from your home. You can pay an electrician to conduct an energy-efficiency test on your home which includes a blower door test. This will depressurize your home and reveal any leaks. It is possible to perform your own pressurization test and identify air leaks without much difficulty. To do this, start with a visual inspection. Walk around your home and check for any cracks in the walls, door frames, or window wells that let light through. If light can get through, air can too! Next, you’ll want to close all windows and doors in your home that lead to the outside, as well as any chimney flues. Then, turn on any exhaust fans which will expel air from your home. This can include bathroom fans, stove vents, and your dryer. You can also use large window fans to pull the air out of the rooms. Once this is done you can either light a stick of incense or get your hand damp and move slowly around the exterior wall of your home. The smoke from the incense will be pulled out through any non-airtight cracks. The movement of air should also be felt by a damp hand, though the incense method is probably more effective.

Gather Your Supplies

Caulking supplies are inexpensive and easy to obtain from any Walmart or home improvement store. You will need:

  • Latex or silicone caulk rated for doors and windows
  • Caulk gun
  • Putty knife to remove old caulk and debris
  • Wet rag and/or paper towels
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Face mask

It’s important to purchase caulk that is specifically made for windows and doors. This can ensure that it is waterproof and can hold up against the elements. A basic tube can cost around $2 - $10 and come in various colors to match your home. Around half a tube is needed for each window or door frame and about 4 tubes to seal the foundation. The most common caulk comes in cylindrical tubes that require a caulking gun, although some caulk comes in pressurized tubes that will not need a gun. These guns can cost between $5 - $20.

Wear a face mask! The fumes given off by the caulking material can make you feel lightheaded or cause breathing issues, especially if you are already susceptible to respiratory problems. If you’re working out in the open with good airflow you may not need a mask, but if you are working in enclosed areas, tight corners, or have a history of breathing issues, a mask is a good precaution. You can find various masks rated for various uses from your local hardware store. A few dollars can get you a mask to help filter out fumes.

Prepare the area around the leaks

It’s important to remove all old caulking, dirt, and debris from the cracks that you are getting ready to seal. Use a putty knife or a large screwdriver to scrape away anything in and around the area. Once this is done you should use an all-purpose cleaner to remove any dirt or residue that is left in the area. This will ensure you get a tight seal from your caulking. Vinegar can make a good cleaning substitute if you do not want to use a strong manufactured solution. Once the area is clean, wipe it down with a damp cloth and give it a few hours to make sure the area is completely dry before moving on to the next step.

Get Your Caulk Ready

Before you start applying the caulk you will need to prep the tube. This usually means you will need to cut the tip off the tube at a 45-degree angle. If the bead of the caulk comes out too small, you can always trim the tip again to get the desired size. Keep in mind that you want a large enough bead of caulk to easily fill in the gaps without spilling over the edges. The larger the opening on the tip the bigger the bead will be, but the caulk will also come out faster. You want the caulk to come out fast enough so that you can apply it smoothly without difficulty. Once your tube is ready, load it into the caulking gun. Most guns will have a trigger for you to squeeze, which will move the plunger up into the caulking tube until it is putting enough pressure on the base to push the caulk out. Be sure to identify the release mechanism on your caulking gun before you use it. You will want to release the pressure whenever you are not actively applying the caulk. This is to keep the caulk from dripping out of the tube and making a mess.

Seal the Gaps

Once the caulking is ready, hold the gun to the gap at a 45-degree angle. You’ll want to apply the caulk in a smooth and steady line. Try to make the line as straight and consistent as possible. Start by holding the gun with both hands, pressing the caulking trigger down, and moving your arms and body in a straight line to help your movements stay steady. Try not to start and stop as this can cause inconsistencies in the line. You’ll want to work slowly on small sections at a time. You can only work with caulk for about 20 minutes after the application. Once you’ve applied a section of line, go back over it with your finger or shaping tool to push the caulk into the gap to smooth out its appearance.

Store Excess Caulk and Let Cure

Once you finish sealing all your cracks and have a tube started, it should still have some caulking left. You can plug the hole you cut at the tip with a nail or screw. Use something that will fill the hole at the tip completely so that the left-over caulk won’t dry out, but don’t force anything into the opening. Store any excess caulking tubes in a cool, dry, temperature-controlled area. These may come in handy if you need to repair caulking in the future or if new gaps develop. It only takes about 20 minutes for caulk to become firm, although it will take around 24 hours for it to cure entirely. You’ll want to perform this task when there is no rain for at least 24 hours. So, keep an eye on the forecast! Keep in mind that different brands of caulk can take longer to cure, and this can also be affected by humidity levels. Follow the instructions and any advice on your recently purchased caulking tubes. Once the task is complete, leave the applied caulking alone and make sure that it is not disturbed until it has fully hardened.