While caulk breaks down over time like any other material, the change happens slowly. Caulk is flexible enough to move with the surfaces it adheres to without cracking or breaking its seal. Depending on the conditions in your home, you’ll need to re-caulk your baseboards every five years or so, but the benefits outweigh the time invested.
Attractive baseboards are one of the many subtle details that give your rooms a polished, high-end look. By covering unsightly gaps with smooth, uniform lines, caulk provides a finishing touch and improves the lifespan of your baseboards and walls. Ultimately, whether or not you caulk your baseboards is a matter of personal preference, but there are some real benefits to this simple home improvement job.
Protect Your Baseboards’ Beauty and Longevity
Caulking baseboards involves applying caulk along the top and bottom edges of the baseboards to prevent damage and create a more finished look.
When your floor gets wet during cleaning or from a spill, the liquid can seep into an unprotected baseboard and cause mold and rot. Worse yet, the damage can creep up into the wall. Dirt and grime can accumulate in the gap at the bottom edge of the baseboard and eventually leave the floor looking grungy even after you mop. Caulk at the bottom of the baseboard reduces the risk of this happening.
Gaps and cracks around baseboards give insects an easy way into your walls where they can build nests and eat away at the structure of your home unseen. Caulk on both the top and bottom edge of the baseboards closes the gaps to keep the bugs out. It’s more effective, cheaper, easier, and safer than hassling with insecticide sprays and powders to protect your walls.
Aesthetics are another good reason to caulk. Painted baseboards without caulk often show visible gaps that suggest sloppy workmanship and leave the whole room looking rough. Caulk smooths the transition between the baseboard and surrounding surfaces for a more refined appearance.
Weigh the Pros and Cons
Not all installers consider caulking a standard part of baseboard installation. Those who don’t will caulk at your request for an additional fee. In some cases, caulking isn’t really necessary. After all, waxed and stained wood baseboards look attractive on their own, and in a room with carpet or laminate flooring, they don’t need protection from mop water.
Some installers caulk the bottom edge of the baseboards to reduce risk of water damage, but see caulking the top edge as an optional step for appearances only. Paint also adds a certain amount of protection to this area. If you have kids or pets who could get liquid on the walls, though, caulking the top edges of the baseboards is worth it for the extra protection.
Other installers caulk the top, but not the bottom, to make it easier for the homeowner to change the flooring in the future. This makes sense if you’re planning on replacing the floor in the next few years, but it means less protection for your walls.
Still, others believe as long as the baseboards are installed with a tight, gap-free fit, there’s no need for caulk at all. This might be true in theory, but such flawless installations are almost non-existent. A variety of common inconsistencies in the walls and floors, such as joints, protection plates, and uneven framing, mean gaps are all but unavoidable.
Some homeowners see caulking baseboards as a waste of time and money because the caulk will eventually wear out. Building material expands and contracts with changes in temperature and humidity. In newly built homes, floors and walls settle during the first several years. These slight movements can cause caulk to crack or pull away from the wall and look unsightly.
Color change is another common concern, but if your caulk is correctly painted, you won’t notice the color. Starting with a primer and using a high-quality top coat helps.
If you’re installing the baseboards yourself, it can be tempting to skip caulking because a bad caulk application looks worse than a few gaps. Don’t let your doubt stop you, though. Caulking is one of the easiest home improvement skills to get right just by following a few basic guidelines. Even if you end up with a few bumps, you can sand them out later.
DIY a Perfectly Finished Look
A paintable, waterproof latex caulk is ideal for sealing gaps on the top edge of your baseboards, but a blend of acrylic and silicone can work just as well. For the bottom edge, a clear silicone caulk offers excellent moisture protection, although it can’t be painted.
Look for a caulk with a low shrinkage rate of between five and 10 percent. If you’ll be painting the caulk, color doesn’t matter, but if not, look for caulk in a color that blends well with the color you’ll be painting the baseboard. If the baseboard and wall are dramatically different colors, the caulk can match either one.
Prepare the baseboard by removing any old caulk and applying painter’s tape to create a guideline above and below the space you want to caulk. For practice, start caulking in a less visible area, such as inside a closet. Working in sections of around 12 inches at a time, apply a bead of caulk between 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide depending on the size of the gap. Smooth the bead with a wet gloved finger or a damp sponge or rag. When you’re done, remove the painter’s tape and let the caulk dry.
While your house can get by with uncaulked baseboards, taking the extra step to apply caulk raises your interior to a higher level of beauty and craftsmanship. Because it also protects your home from rot and insect damage, baseboard caulking is well worth the little cost and effort that goes into it.