If you’re looking for a really useful home improvement project that doesn’t require a big investment of time or money but still offers a big payback in results, look no further than a Saturday with a caulking gun. A day spent closing up those energy-wasting gaps and cracks around your home will pay back great dividends in improved comfort and lower utility bills.

Gather up the supplies
You’ll need only a few tools and supplies for this project. For most of the gaps you’ll encounter, caulking will do the trick, so first you’ll want to invest in a good caulking gun. You can get a cheap one with a fixed barrel and a ratcheting plunger, which is easily recognized by the series of notches cut into the plunger’s shaft, but they don’t work well, and tend to apply an uneven bead.

For a little more money, you can get a gun with a rotating barrel and a couple of movable plates that grip a smooth plunger rod. The result is a caulking gun that’s much easier to use, with less jamming and a much smoother bead. Since a caulking gun will last most people a lifetime, it’s well worth the extra money.

Select an acrylic latex caulk that’s combined with silicone. This type of caulking is easy to apply and cleans up with water, it offers a good amount of flexibility, stretch and mildew resistance, and can be painted after it dries. You can get it in colors that are compatible with a lot of siding colors, or just opt for white or clear if you want to paint it later.

You’ll find the caulk in individual tubes, or if you have a lot of gaps to take care of, you can save a little bit of money by buying it in a case of 12.

Take a moment to read the label on the caulking tube, and you’ll see what the manufacturer recommends as far as how large a gap that particular caulking can fill. Some caulks can handle gaps up to 3/8 of an inch wide, while others can fill a 1/2-inch gap.

For larger gaps, the area will need to be filled with another material first, prior to caulking. If you don’t do that, the caulk with sag into the gap and disappear, or it will stretch too thin and crack.

A polyethylene foam backer rod is usually the best thing to use for filling large gaps. Backer rods are sold by the roll, and come in different diameters. They compress easily and fill up the gap, offering a solid, air-tight backing for the application of the caulking. The backer rod is also flexible, so it won’t damage building materials or cause the caulking to crack.

As you work your way around the outside of the house, you’ll be looking for any gaps where cold air can work its way in. Look at the areas around exterior window frames, both where the siding meets the window trim, and where the trim meets the window itself. Look at exterior door frames where they meet the siding, including garage doors, and around all the door frames themselves.

Also look along the bottom of the siding, where it overlaps the foundation, and along the top of the siding, where it meets the underside of the roof framing. Check out the areas around the exterior hose bibs, light fixtures, vent caps, and any other penetrations through the siding.

Outlet gaskets for the inside
This may seem like a small thing, but foam outlet gaskets can make a surprising difference when it come to closing off cold spots around electrical outlets and switches. Cold air travels around wiring penetrations in the walls and comes out around the outlet covers, so this actually applies to interior walls as well as exterior walls.

Pick up a couple of packs of foam outlet gaskets at the home center. Then simply shut the power, remove each cover plate, cut out the appropriate shape from the gasket — each one has a pre-cut outline for a switch or an outlet, in both the standard and the square, Decora styles — then replace the plate.

Two or more gaskets can be placed side by side to handle two- and three-gang switch and outlet boxes.

Even with the gaskets in place, you’ll probably still feel a little bit of air leakage through the outlets themselves. You can eliminate that additional bit of cold air — and also have the added advantage of making your home safer — by installing plastic child-proofing inserts into all of your unused electrical outlets as well. Once again, this applies to interior walls as well as exterior.

All of the materials you need, from caulking guns to gaskets, are readily available from home centers, hardware stores and other local retailers.

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