A lot of the same harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that we’ve written about being present in paints and household cleaners, are also present in home caulking.
Weatherizing your home is an important way to conserve energy, reduce heating and cooling costs, and staying warm. Using caulk to plug up cracks and holes is an important part of weatherizing – but using conventional caulk that contains VOCs can be harmful to your health. Those chemicals offgas into the home environment, and have been linked to neurological disorders and kidney failure.
As an alternative, one can use green, or toxin-free, caulking. But how do you caulk your home – where should you use caulking?
Most people are already aware of drafts under their doors, but there are less-obvious gaps that deserve attention.
Places where different building materials meet – like between brick and wood siding, between the concrete foundation of a home and its walls, and around chimneys and fireplaces – are good places to find drafts.
Also make sure to check for gaps and cracks around window frames, doorways, and mail chutes. Check for places where utility lines come in – by the gas line, electricity lines, and cable TV and phone lines. Often, utility companies leave large holes where these lines come in where enormous amounts of heated or cooled air can escape the home. Outlet plates are good places to check as well.
Feel around window panes, which are spots that might seem sealed but could have significant gaps. Vents of all kinds deserve special attention: dryer vents, air conditioner vents, and fan vents can lack a proper seal with the surrounding materials. Window unit air conditioners are also a good place to find drafts, although there are more green products than just caulk available to close these up.
For the very ambitious caulker, there are ways to check for gaps beyond feeling with the hand. Depressurizing the home by turning off all heating and cooling, closing all windows and doors, and then moving an incense stick around common leak gaps can help determine where there are drafts getting in.
Shining a light from the inside of a house, and having a partner see if any light can get through is a good way to find leaks, too. And, if you can pull a piece of paper out from between the seams of a closed door or window without it tearing, you are likely losing energy through that gap.
Weatherizing a home – toxin free – can be an incredibly useful way to reduce energy costs, especially as we move into cold winter months!