I have a confession to make – I consider myself a poor weekend warrior, and a reluctant one at that. My kludgy attempts at DIY home fixes, like using scraps of foam from an abandoned baby playmat to stop a rocking/vibrating ceiling fan, would make Tim Allen’s character from “Home Improvement” cringe – and probably would not inspire much confidence from my colleagues or clients from my day job. Like many of you consigned to work-at-home since early last year, I finally found myself unable to make excuses, or fend off the increasing domestic pressure to “fix something at home”. My personal albatross was perched in the form of a poorly installed perimeter of crown molding trim looming over the family room, which seemed to glare at me with increasing menace each passing day of lockdown.
After ripping down this eyesore, followed by countless viewings of DIY Youtube videos wishing I could work in time-lapse, subsequent futile attempts to execute compound miter cuts that left me with “particle-board dust lung”, and the requisite multiple expletive-laden trips to the local home improvement store (which was surprisingly open as an “essential service”), I finally fired up the nail gun and started the process of hopefully putting this sordid chapter behind me. Only then did it hit me – neither my walls nor my ceiling, are straight or plumb – and in my case pretty far off, leaving quite the unsightly gap. But no worries, I ran into the garage and snipped off the top of a 10.1oz canister of pliable yet pungent magic – and solved all my problems within one hour in a frenzied state of euphoria, while floating 9’ above my family room.
No, this pungent mystery material was not some absinthian or illicit concoction, nor was it “Liquid Schwartz”. My savior in this case was just a common tube of caulk– defined as a sealant used as a filler to stop leakage at joints, and specified in building projects all over the nation under section 07 9200 “Joint Sealants”. The history of caulk (old North French word cauquer – to press down) goes back to the craft of traditional wood ship-building, where fibrous materials with wax or putty would be pressed or hammered to seal seams between boats – and where I imagine failure may have had considerably more catastrophic consequences. In 1865, Robert Dicks (of Dicks-Armstrong-Pontius or DAP) began using marketing caulk as a sealing wax for food canning, and eventually entered the building industry under his son John Dicks with the boom of post-war home construction.
The magic of caulking comes in its ability to maintain the airtightness of the room – because where air can travel, both energy and sound can travel, leading to a reduction in performance. Hence my personal campaign to push for the adoption of this mantra – “K.I.A.S.” or “Keep it Airtight, Silly”. From an energy standpoint, caulking is the low-hanging fruit for a cost savings of 11% to 15% per Energy Star as referenced by the United States EPA. From a sound isolation standpoint – even a small gap can end up compromising sound isolation greatly. Imagine you just installed a hefty 20’ wide x 9’tall STC-60 wall – what you might expect in a luxury hotel to block out most of your neighbor’s obnoxious blaring television to a faint muffle:
- If you left a 1/16” open gap on top and bottom of your wall, theoretically you might be closer to an STC-55, which would be a noticeable decrease in performance.
- If you left a 1/4” open gap on top and bottom of your wall, theoretically you might be closer to an STC-50, and now that faint muffled television sound might be twice as loud.
K.I.A.S. – if you ever wonder why my colleagues and I might wax poetic on details such caulking duct or pipe penetrations airtight, or how you seal your partition to the underside of the deck, it is because such a simple measure and seemingly inconsequential detail could mean the difference between a good night of rest and a “meh” wall – which I have personally witnessed in a back-to-back hospital headwall testing, with and without backer rod with a simple perimeter bead of caulk.
So until that day when we welcome our robot-drywall-installing overlords with their perfectly plumb installed walls and joints, let us conscripted DIY’ers raise our caulking guns and salute that 1/4″ thick bead of goodness that has saved millions (if not trillions) of dollars in rising energy costs, maintained the STC ratings of countless walls around the world, and probably saved countless contractors’ jobs, and at least one marriage. Until the next home improvement project…