Building owners invest tremendous time and resources in maintaining, protecting, and restoring their properties. Yet, as time passes, environmental conditions wage an endless battle against building facades and structures. Wind, water, structural movement, and wear and tear slowly open up pathways into your building—unless you create a barrier with joint sealants strong enough to keep the elements out.
Weathering and environmental damage are enough to degrade a building’s stability over time. So, using both caulking and sealants is an essential component of building maintenance and restoration.
Joint sealants—and their more rigid counterpart, caulking—can serve in an array of various applications. For example, they can insulate exterior features such as walls and windows, assist in the distribution of structural load, accommodate thermal expansion, and even fill gaps in interior cabinetry and countertops. But the first step to shoring up your property is learning more about the potential uses of both joint sealant and caulking—and when to use which.
Understanding The Differences Between Joint Sealant and Caulk
Put simply, joint sealant fills seams in your building. There is a wide range of sealants on the market, each with its own ideal use cases. Selecting the proper sealant can add to the longevity and stability of distinct structural elements. Applying the incorrect product, however, will simply place a temporary bandage over a critical gap in your masonry, joints, flooring, or walls.
Sealant and caulk may seem alike, but they have a key formulation difference. Caulk is composed of acrylic and latex, and therefore is more rigid. On the other hand, a sealant’s relative flexibility comes from its silicone base.
Accordingly, areas exposed to temperature fluctuations or moisture—like metal to masonry transitions around windows—should leverage the flexibility of sealant to maintain a watertight bond. On the other hand, caulk’s more straightforward application process makes it more useful in securing features with less elemental exposure, like tiles or baseboards.
Manufacturers develop various sealant and caulk formulations tailored for specific purposes. For instance, select blacktop caulk is meant for asphalt surfaces, concrete caulk for sidewalks, and sanded caulk for large joints.
Capabilities of Joint Sealants
The specific capabilities of joint sealants and caulk largely depend on the formulation. Manufacturers rank different types of caulk or sealants by their strength and their elasticity. Choosing the correct product for specific applications can prove challenging; however, you can narrow down your options by considering several different attributes of your project.
- Durability and Longevity: Correctly matching your joint sealant with your structural application increases the longevity of the solution. For instance, when planning outdoor applications, select a formula that’s resistant to UV radiation, temperature fluctuations, moisture, and chemicals to prolong usefulness.
- Expansion and Contraction Capability: If you intend to use sealant on movement joints, choose a highly elastic, silicone-based formula that can maintain a bond as the gap shifts and moves.
- Adhesion and Bonding Properties: Factors like the tolerance of the concrete slabs will impact the ideal strength needed in a joint sealant.
- Aesthetics and Design Flexibility: Sealants come in more than just one color. They can play into interior and exterior design choices to provide a stylish finish.
The best formulation will change from project to project. But it’s important for the structural integrity of your building—as well as the longevity of the sealant—to choose the right formula.
The Importance of Proper Application Techniques in Commercial Construction
The application process is as important as the joint sealant and caulk’s formula. Even a small error can result in the watertight barrier’s failure, allowing moisture to seep through the walls and cause mold and structural damage.
Pay special attention to caulking at expansion joints; around windows; at metal to masonry transitions, masonry to masonry transitions and between different structures.
Proper caulking techniques generally mirror the process of tuckpointing which entails removing and replacing the old mortar between bricks. Just as in tuckpointing, surface preparation is crucial. Contractors start by cleaning the application area with a caulk remover, scraper, or utility knife. Once the application site is free of residual paint, old caulk, or dirt, they’ll use steady pressure on the trigger while moving along the gap to generate a continuous bead of sealant.
Cutting the tip of the caulk tube at a 45º angle generates a bead size thick enough for most gaps—though ultimately, the gap’s size will determine how large a bead one should use. For instance, if a gap is abnormally large, one might add backer or foam rods to the void before applying the caulk.
After application, smooth the line with a caulk tool or putty knife. Finally, just as during the tuckpointing process, use a damp cloth or sponge to wipe away any excess before it dries.
By the time the contractor is finished, the sealant or caulk should form a strong bond between gaps and joints. However, it’s important to continue inspecting and maintaining these areas regularly throughout the building’s lifetime.
Using the Right Joint Sealant for Your Project
Choosing the right product for the correct application protects a building in the long run. However, over time these barriers break down—so it’s important to mind the gaps you may be missing by working with an experienced contractor like Kent Companies.
With over 65 years in business across the Midwest, the team at Kent Companies has extensive experience in the construction industry. With our deep product and application knowledge, we’re ready to help you find the proper sealant for your project requirements.
Reach out to consult with a Kent Companies expert about your caulking or joint sealant project today.