For many years I’ve been an advocate of any blog, article, web site, or TV program that promotes the stewardship of old and/or historic homes. You can often find good information and some great advice as to maintenance and upkeep for these delicate and sometimes fragile fabrics that make these places so special. Sometimes these repairs can be out of your budget if you want to hire a professional and I see nothing wrong with sharing a little information with home owners in order to help preserve these older homes. Unfortunately, you can’t always trust the information you’re being told and you’ll sometimes get bad advice.
This is exactly what I ran into a few weeks ago when I was watching a new show dedicated to caring for older homes. I had been networking with the show’s host for a few months before the program aired and was very anxious to see what the show would be like. In only 3 shows I was very disappointed to say the least and almost horrified at the techniques the show suggests.
In the first few shows that aired the host makes many references about caulk being the cure for just about everything. Got gaps in your old original floors? Caulk it! Got drafty windows? Caulk it! Not very good with carpentry skills? Caulk can fix that too! I guess the most surprising thing to me (and what threw me over the edge) was his recommendation to caulk under each lap of clapboard siding. This just drives me insane! So much so that I made a post to his promotion page in a non-confrontational way asking why he would recommend such a thing. My post was quickly removed and he messaged me about not posting anything I disagree with to his site. In a search for truth, I posted a question to a private group called Contractor Lounge. This is a group of professional contractors, designers, and Architects from all over the US and Canada who have been in the trades for years and are considered by me to be among the best at what they do. I wasn’t surprised at all to find that absolutely none of them agreed with the recommendation at all. As a response too this, the show made a formal statement saying they would not recommend this either and just a day later that post was removed from the site. The problem is, they did recommend this and saying they don’t now ruins their credibility since the show has already aired.
For the record, I’m not saying that caulk should never be used. In fact, it does have it’s place in modern construction as well as restoration work on historic homes but it’s use should be limited and done responsibly. You should never caulk the bottom laps of any type of siding. The problems this will create far out weigh any esthetic gain and does little to nothing at all for any type of energy gain. What it most certainly will do is stop any moisture that gets caught between the laps of the siding at the back side from being able to drain. This over time will advance wood rot in these areas and even though it might still look great in 5 years, irreversible damage has already taken place. The siding that might have lasted another 100 years if cared for correctly may only last a decade now.
Other good reasons to avoid using caulk to “fix” everything on your older home is that it’s not only a sealant, it’s an adhesive too and this means whatever it touches will essentially be glued together. Maintenance is an important part of owning an old home and it’s equally important to make sure anything you do to it can be easily removed later if problems arise. Caulking your siding, floors, and windows can cost you big if you need to remove something and it ends up being torn to pieces in the process. I’ve taken apart many old windows in my day that were over caulked or caulk was just used in a way it shouldn’t have been. In some cases it took hours to carefully remove it without causing damage to the wood window and in some cases new parts had to be made because the damage had already been done. This can happen to anything you use caulk on, wood floors, cabinets, railings, siding, you name it. Additionally, all caulks are not created equal. Some have a stronger holding power than others so be very careful not only in using it, but what type to use for each application. Of course, it’s always best to use a professional restoration contractor for this work because they have years of knowledge and experience to insure you get the job done right.
It can be very difficult to wade through all the information available to us today on any given subject. More times than not people have the best intentions to provide you with solutions to a particular problem. The best way I know to be sure you’re doing the right thing is to check many sources before deciding on how to proceed. Just because someone positions themselves as an expert doesn’t always mean they’re right 100% of the time. Use common sense and if something doesn’t seem quite right, do some more homework and be sure you’re not doing more damage than good. Owning an older home can be rewarding and maintenance can become minimal if you do the right things along the way. In historic preservation and restoration, always think “less is more”. By doing things to a building that was never done in the past, could very well cause you problems to the structure. It will also make you a very unhappy home owner when you realize your fix for today is tomorrows nightmare. Enjoy your home and don’t over do it.
Jason E Whipple
Historic House Restoration