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A Question of Caulking
Just when you think you’ve found a product you love… it disappears

By Jon Eakes

Caulking is changing, but is that only in the marketing departments or is there progress in the technical evolution of the caulking branch of sealants? 
Most guys I talk to have found a few caulking products that work for them and are easily available and they stick to them—until the caulking either gets a name change or literally disappears from the shelf and the guys start hunting again. In addition, most renovators never see their caulking five years later to really judge performance.
The problem with letting marketing people run a sealant company is that they are full of useless superlatives, very short on telling us what is really in the cartridge and failing to even clearly differentiate one product from another in their own lineup. They will never tell us that a renamed product is the same reliable stuff. That is particularly true on the packaging, but if you dig you can usually get some more detailed application Do’s and Don’ts on the websites, some more revealing than others, or deep in the Technical Data Sheets.
If you are working on a spec job, life is easier because you can choose by standards compliance. But even there, various products will meet a standard yet have substantial differences in application, price and performance.
So if we cut through the marketing smog, what is really changing? I have collected a lot of questions, like: what does “siliconized” mean? Why are references to butyl and polyurethane disappearing from packaging (although with a lot of hunting they can at times still be found in the TDS)? And what else do I not even know that I don’t know about caulking?
I recently received an advertising push for the entry of TopGun caulking into Canada. TopGun started out specializing in caulking material for painters as they are a division of Dulux paint. Although active in the US for about 20 years of product development, they have specialized in the science of latex and are now making advances in latex that are going far beyond painter’s caulk. This was an opportunity to ask the marketing people to let me talk directly with the technical people to find out about the recent evolution of caulking materials.

Ecological Concerns Are Driving Caulking Technology
The top technical gun at TopGun is Marc Stypcznyski and his first comment to me was that, just as in the paint business, ecological concerns are driving the change in caulking. Remember when they banned lead in paint and we didn’t know what to do until they got 100% acrylic paints to outperform our bygone lead-based oil paints? Several states have already banned thermal plastic caulking because of VOC off gassing and Europe has already put restrictions on polyurethane made with isocyanates. So, back to my questions about the evolution of caulking formulations.

My Good Old Butyl
Butyl caulking, excellent for adhesion to concrete joints, has given way to polyurethanes, which are very similar in performance to butyl but recover from movement better. So I guess we can let butyl just die out.

The Silicone Bird Flew Over The Mixing Vat
What does “Siliconized” caulking mean? It turns out it is not just a marketing attempt to make a cheap caulking look like it was a silicone caulking, but by adding about 1% organocyline to a latex caulking, siliconizing it, you actually increase adhesion and add a degree of waterproofing to a basic latex caulking. Somebody should explain that to the marketing department.

The Evolution of Polyurethane
What does the new term “Hybrid” mean? The process and the name were invented in Japan 30 years ago, but because of costs it has been slow to come to market. It produces a product as tough as polyurethane with the speed of cure and elasticity of a silicone without isocyanate in the mix. This is not a latex, but does have very low VOCs. Mulco in Canada has a full line of thermos plastics, but they have phased that out in the US in favor of polyurethanes, and now that is giving way to the new hybrid formulations. Expect that to happen here too.

Caulk And Paint In The Same Breath
Top Gun 250 is a painter’s caulk filled with marketing terms: a modified siliconized acrylic caulk (no solvents). Bottom line, you can caulk and spray paint over it immediately and both the paint and the caulk will dry without cracking—or roller paint after 30 minutes. It is simple, but latex never used to be able to do that.

Will Latex Replace Most of Our Environmentally Unfriendly Caulks?
Perhaps the Top Gun 400 is showing us the future of complex latex mixtures: elastomeric acrylic urethane sealant made with DuPont Kevlar. End result? The flexibility of old polyurethanes with 800% elongation and great adhesion to most substrates sealing joints up to 2” wide—all with a latex caulking. The only restriction: no standing water.

As the economic clout of the California ecological movement makes itself felt in the marketplace and the product development laboratories, our perception of latex caulking, products with no solvents, is already changing. Stay tuned.

Montreal-based TV broadcaster, author, home renovation and tool expert Jon Eakes provides a tool feature in each edition of Home BUILDER. www.JonEakes.com


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