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Caulk is a flexible material used to fill cracks and stop leaks. You can use a caulking compound to seal air leaks in a variety of places throughout your home. It's designed to be used on completely stationary cracks and crevices --- it does not work in places where something must move, like the cracks around a door.

In addition to sealing air leaks, caulking can also prevent water damage inside and outside of the home when applied around faucets, ceiling fixtures, water pipes, drains, bathtubs and other plumbing fixtures.

You can get caulk at any hardware store. Most caulking compounds come in disposable cartridges that fit in half-barrel caulking guns (if possible, purchase one with an automatic release). Some pressurized cartridges do not require caulking guns. When deciding how much caulking to purchase, consider that you’ll probably need a half-cartridge per window and four cartridges for the foundation sill. Caulking compounds can also be found in aerosol cans, squeeze tubes, and ropes for small jobs or special applications.

Caulking compounds vary in strength, properties, and prices. Water-based caulk can be cleaned with water, while solvent-based require a solvent for cleanup.

Although not a high-tech operation, caulking can be tricky. Read and follow the instructions on the compound cartridge. Save yourself some trouble by remembering a few important tips:

  • For good adhesion, clean all areas to be caulked.  Remove any old caulk and paint, using a putty knife or a large screwdriver.  Make sure the area is dry so you won't seal in moisture.
  • Apply caulk to all joints in a window frame and the joint between the frame and the wall.
  • Hold the gun at a consistent angle. Forty-five degrees is best for getting deep into the crack. You know you've got the right angle when the caulk is immediately forced into the crack as it comes out of the tube.
  • Caulk in one straight continuous stream, if possible. Avoid stops and starts.
  • Send caulk to the bottom of an opening to avoid bubbles.
  • Make sure the caulk sticks to both sides of a crack or seam.
  • Release the trigger before pulling the gun away to avoid applying too much caulking compound. A caulking gun with an automatic release makes this much easier.
  • If caulk oozes out of a crack, use a putty knife to push it back in.
  • Don't skimp. If the caulk shrinks, reapply it to form a smooth bead that will seal the crack completely.

Good areas to look for caulkable leaks are:

  • Under the sink, where pipes go through counters and walls
  • Around vents
  • Outside, wherever there's a seam between different materials, like between siding and foundation or around window frames.
  • Wherever the house's shell is penetrated by pipes or wires.

If a crack is bigger than a quarter of an inch thick, fill it first with something like foam insulation, fiberglass, or steel wool, and then apply caulk.