How is it that I’ve written 349 posts (not including picture, video, and brief unplanned updates) and never done a post on caulking before now? Maybe it’s because I’ve thought of caulking as a relatively easy chore once I figured it out for myself. Which was the first time I needed to fix a leak – immediately after I bought my Casita home – and had a lot of other things on my plate at the same time.
But thinking back now, there definitely was some apprehension before the first time I attempted to fix a leak on my home-on-wheels. It’s been a while since I’ve done a how-to post, and as there isn’t much else exciting to talk about right now (work, work work) this is as good a time as any.
So, as regular readers know, my RV is a 17′ Casita, a molded fiberglass trailer that looks and behaves like two boat hulls joined together. It doesn’t have four walls and a ceiling with seams joining them like more traditional RVs, instead it has two large fiberglass pieces held together with a metal band and rivets, but there are still more seams that need occasional caulking than you’d think. The A/C and roof vents, the grey and black tank vents, the stove and refrigerator vents, the windows, outdoor accessible storage cubies, the battery compartment, the outdoor light fixtures, and of most recent note – the door. Said door seam started leaking a week ago when a bout of rain came though, so last Saturday on my only day off in a nine day stint (urp) that’s what I spent my precious few daylight hours doing.
First off, it’s a good idea to get up on a ladder and check your RV’s seams and/or rivets twice a year even if you don’t have anything leaking, so that you can catch problem areas before they become a leak. Having done so myself, there were a couple other things I had put on the list of things to caulk. All told, the top of the door, two rivet snap caps, 75% of one of my storage cubbies, one corner of my Fantastic Fan vent, and the top of one of my outdoor light fixtures were on the list of things to caulk on Saturday. That might sound like a lot, but with set up and take down included it was only about an hour and a half, not bad at all. Here’s what you’ll need:
*Note, all the projects I’ve done using this method have been relatively minor. If you need to redo a whole roof or replace a window or door, this isn’t the guide for you.
- Caulk of your choice. If you’re a newbie, search online for “caulking” and whatever brand your RV is, and see what other people use. I use ProFlex, which is made specifically for RVs and can be found at Camping World and other RV supply stores. In many cases though, silicone will do just fine too.
- A caulking tool, to squeeze the caulk out with. I got mine at Lowe’s, it was pretty cheap.
- Caulk caps if desired, to save the leftover caulk when you’re done (in my experience, it’ll last up to three weeks when capped before drying out).
- A scissors.
- Gloves (optional).
- Scraping tools, for getting the old caulk off. I picked up a set that had two plastic tools, one for corners, and one for flat surfaces. They work just fine, but for heavy duty jobs I sometimes wish I had a metal razor to cut big chunks off.
- Spirits. As in paint thinner or turpentine, not the kind you drink (I promise it’s not so scary or frustrating as to require alcohol). You’ll also want old rags and/or paper towel.
- Soap and water. It’ll have two uses actually.
- A ladder, if the area you’re caulking is higher up.
And now, for the process.
- Move your RV outside or to a well ventilated area. First step is removing the old caulk. Take your scraping tools and get to work getting as much of the old caulk up as possible. The better job you do with this, the better a seal you’ll be able to get with the new stuff.
- After the old caulk is cleared away, clean the area. Use the turpentine or paint thinner first, this’ll remove most of the residue left behind by the old caulk. The soap and water comes second to remove the spirits, and any dirt. Rinse well afterward to get rid of any traces of soap.
- Use the scissors to cut the tip off of your caulk tube at the desired width (you should see several widths marked on the plastic), you’ll want to cut the tip at a diagonal to make placing the bead of caulk easier. If you’re not sure how wide of a bead you’ll need, underestimate. It’s easy enough to cute the tip off more later to make the bead of caulk wider, but impossible to go the other way.
- Use the little metal rod on the caulk tool to puncture the seal in the caulk tube several times, now the clock is ticking and your caulk is drying out, so hopefully you have everything else out and ready. Put on the gloves if desired and load the caulk into the caulk gun. Pulling the trigger forces caulk out through the plastic tip, the harder you squeeze the faster it’ll come out.
- Caulking is something of an art form. You’ll get better at it the more you do it, but the basic idea is to start at one end of the line you want to caulk, and glide the caulk tool across the seam to the other. If you have a gap, or it doesn’t look as smooth as you like, you can dip a finger into your soap water (that’ll keep the caulk from adhering to it as much) and run your finger along the line to smooth it out. The good thing is, this is a relatively risk-free job. If you botch the caulking up horribly, all you have to do is wait for it to dry, and using your caulk scrapers to take it off and start over. Don’t worry too much about making it perfect, even if you don’t have the area immaculately clean or weren’t able to get all the old caulk up, what you’re doing now will still buy you a good deal of time. The very first caulking job I did on my RV over two and a half years ago is still holding up, even if it’s not professionally precise.
- When you finish one area, move on to the next, until all seams are done. A paper towel will clean the tip off of the caulk between areas so that you have a clean start. When you’re completely done, clean the tip off again, and pull back on the caulking gun plunger to release the caulk tube. Put your caulk cap on. All that’s left to do now is cleanup. Congratulations, by learning how to caulk yourself, you’ve saved a wad of money on having a repair place do it for you!
One other quick thing about aesthetics. If you’re really worried about getting caulk where it shouldn’t go, you can use masking tape to make a sort of guide along the edges of where you’re planning to caulk. I don’t do this myself, but I know others who have. If you decide to use masking tape, you’ll want to put it on after the cleaning stage and before you open your caulk.
Good luck! Any questions, comments, or tips you’d like to share about caulking? You know what to do, leave a comment below.
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