Caulking season is here. Time to seal those gaps in windows, around doors, and other places to reduce the amount of cold air seeping into your house, which contributes to higher energy bills.
* Need to know: The right caulk for the job. Latex, acrylic and silicone are the three most common caulks; the first two are easier to apply and clean up, but they are not as long-lasting as silicone. Acrylic and latex can be painted, but paint will not adhere to silicone.
Silicone sets up more quickly than the other two, is better for filling gaps that may expand and contract, and can be used indoors and out.
Latex and acrylic should be used to fill cracks that expand or contract more than one-eighth of an inch; read the label to see whether the latex or acrylic caulk in question can be used outdoors as well as inside.
* How much is enough: Most jobs require one or two tubes or cartridges. For example, one tube generally is enough for weatherizing a couple of windows or doors. But always buy more, just in case. It's cheaper to buy in bulk anyway.
* Operating manual: Applying caulk not only involves mastering the caulk gun but learning how to prepare the surface so the caulk adheres properly. First, remove old caulk with a utility knife and make sure the surface is clean and completely dry. Then insert the cartridge into the caulk gun and cut the nozzle at a 30-degree angle, making certain the hole in the cartridge matches the width of the gap you are filling.
How do you prevent the caulk from going outside the gap? Professionals have a trick: Put a piece of masking tape over the length of the area to be filled, then carefully cut down the center of the tape to expose the gap. Push the caulk gun away from you, which forces the caulk into the gap and makes a good fit.
Some hard-to-reach spots become more easily accessible if you slip a straw into the hole in the caulk cartridge. To smooth the finish, use a Popsicle stick or a plastic spoon; some pros even suggest using an ice cube.
To remove caulk that goes where it doesn't belong, dip your finger in water with a little dishwashing detergent.
* Don't do this: Don't wait till the caulk dries to begin cleaning up any excess, because it is likely to involve some scraping. If what you're scraping is porcelain, it may get scratched, and you could mess up your nice caulking job.
* What it will cost: Caulk can run from $3 to $10 a tube, depending on what it's made of and the length of its warranty. A high-end manual caulk gun can run up to $50. But the one you want to buy costs $7 to $12 -- if it gets caulked up quickly and hard to use, you won't need a bank loan to replace it.