Why Water is your Home’s Biggest Enemy and Caulking is Your Best Friend

I went to visit my mother last week. We sipped tea and talked about the latest news and events. My mom likes to express her opinions by using proverbs. Her inventory is quite astounding. If people are not barking up the wrong tree or making mountains out of molehills, they are putting carts before horses or all their eggs in one basket.

If my mother were a home inspector, here is what she would tell all her clients: A stitch in time saves nine;
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; Penny wise, pound foolish.

Forget about the math or the ratios. I’m not really sure how many pennies are in a pound, anyway. The key point here is that if you take care of problems early, it will cost you less. If you ignore problems, it will cost you more. A lot more. It’s that simple!

We will get back to the proverbs later. Right now, since this is an advice column, today’s advice is: Water is your house’s biggest enemy.

Unfortunately for your house, only one unsealed crack with water infiltration has potential to cause untolled damage to walls, floors and ceilings. Mildew and mould can take hold and affect indoor air quality and cause health problems. The worst case scenario has the structure rotting out and partial or full collapse of the building.

Being proactive about stopping water infiltration can help you to avoid thousands of dollars in costly repairs. Fortunately, there is something you can use that doesn’t cost much yet can make your house more watertight. It’s called caulk and it is unbeatable for sealing many cracks and small gaps. There may be locations around your home that could benefit from new caulk such as the bathtub, shower, windows, doors; basically anywhere that water can get in.

A Miracle Tool: Caulking

Caulk is relatively cheap and easy to install and is effective at stopping water from damaging your house. Good quality caulk can last 20 years or more. You may be surprised how many types of caulks and sealers are available. Each type is formulated for a particular purpose; so it is very important that you find out which is best for your situation.

Other than the caulk itself, you will need a caulking gun. One of the more irritating problems I have when using a caulking gun is messy drips. For my last caulking job, I purchased a better quality gun with an automatic no-drip feature and it eliminated the problem. I was so excited about my wonderful new tool that I went to share the joy with my wife. She was definitely not as thrilled as I was.

Caulk isn’t good everywhere. Be careful when caulking outside, as sometimes there are holes that are designed to drain water; i.e. they are supposed to be there. These holes allow water to escape from windows and from behind siding or brick veneer. If you caulk drainage holes, you might cause water infiltration rather than prevent it. If you aren’t sure, it’s a good idea to get some expert advice first.

Sometimes there is a window within the splash zone of a bathtub/shower. This window opening is a high risk area for water infiltration and needs to be checked carefully. The sill area gets a double shot of water; splashes from the shower and condensation from the window, especially in winter. Sealing every crack and corner here is important because excess water has a chance of leaking directly into the wall cavity, leading to rot of the structure. Some people wisely install a second shower curtain over the window for added protection.

Other than providing a moisture barrier, caulk can also reduce drafts, improve energy efficiency, prevent insects from entering your house and provide an attractive finishing touch. Considering the relatively low cost, it’s one of the best improvements you can make to your home from a cost / benefit standpoint.

Finally, let’s return to the proverbs. I suppose we could say: “To caulk in time, keeps the house fine”. Okay that’s pretty bad, but I invite you to devise some new ones and write them in the comments.

Paul Yeadon is a professional home inspector. A former member of the Mose team now pursuing other avenues in the San Francisco, California, area.