Friday, March 4, 2016

The Caulk Fight

My husband and I recently had a fight. A major difference of opinion, if you will. About caulk.

Yes, caulk.

Are you picturing two adults wielding caulk guns, battling it out like a glorified Silly String fight? I wish it were that fun. It was not. This was a verbal tiff. Fortunately, we were able resolve our differences without resorting to projectile home improvement materials.

This is what happens when you've been in a relationship with the same person since you were both 19 years old, and you have nothing else to argue about: at this point, we agree on all the big things, like family priorities, finances, career goals, politics, and religion. Sure, there are small things we disagree about. He doesn't like that I squeeze the toothpaste right in the middle of the tube, every.single.time. I don't like that he hangs his towel on the shower curtain rod, rather than using the empty towel rack.

After a while, we get tired of arguing about toothpaste and towels. We just decide to let it go, because we do not care that much about toothpaste or towels. Instead, we fight about caulk. And the stakes start to feel very high, because we argue so infrequently. We are both strong-willed and accustomed to being in control. It's not a great recipe for compromise. 

When I posted detail shots of our master bedroom, you may have noticed the gaps between the plaster and the crown molding:

Or those little crumbly holes hiding in this corner behind the lamp:

Perhaps you were so enchanted by our lovely antique lamps that you didn't notice the holes (Ha!). Or perhaps you noticed the holes and gaps, but were too polite to point them out. I suspect it's the latter. After all, this is a blog written for people, not magpies. I'm sure you were not fooled by the shiny, pretty things in front of the very imperfect things (I wish that strategy worked, but it doesn't). Thank you for graciously ignoring our house's imperfections.

When my husband S sees those holes, he thinks of words like "character" and "authenticity."

When I see those holes, I think of words like "sloppy" and "unfinished." And also, "vexing." Very vexing. I've painted these walls with two finish coats, so presumably the walls should be done. I should be moving on to other projects. But now that I've seen those gaps and holes, I cannot unsee them. I fixate on them every time I come into the bedroom. And similar gaps can be found in other places in our home, as well.

I figured the solution was to fill in those gaps with latex caulk, then touch up the bedroom wall (or repaint the whole wall if needed.) In hindsight, I regret not spending a bit more time prepping the walls, because repainting an entire wall will take much longer. When I suggested filling in the holes with caulk, S looked horrified and very emphatically told me, "I am not okay with using caulk on our plaster walls. Definitely NOT." His objection is not that it would be a waste of time to redo the nearly-finished work in this room. This would be a fair point, but it's not the point he's making. His issue is with the caulk itself.

Keep in mind: I am not suggesting we use caulk to fix structural issues. To repair plaster cracks, we used Big Wally's Plaster Magic. It's a pricey product, but the results seem worth the investment. To repair larger issues in our walls, my husband has been teaching himself how to apply plaster (brown coat, scratch coat, skim coat...the whole nine yards). I am only suggesting using caulk to fill these tiny, hard to reach holes that are purely aesthetic. The caulk would serve no structural or functional purpose whatsoever.

Whenever I'm told I can't do something, I demand to know the reason. And then, once the reason has been supplied, I tend to be enormously skeptical about the validity of the reason. It's not a trait I'm proud of. 

My husband says that historic preservationists often discourage caulk because it does not bond with the plaster. Apparently, the caulk just sits on top of the plaster. I agree with my husband that we should do everything in our power to preserve the plaster. If there is any risk that the caulk will damage the plaster or the woodwork, I don't want to use it. But if caulk doesn't damage the plaster, then I can't see the harm in using it.

I admire his dedication to history and to honoring historic methods, materials, and tools. I think many old homes fall victim to repairs that do not respect the original materials or architecture. I doubt that either of us will ever be guilty of intentionally compromising our home's character. But at the end of the day, I'm also interested in a satisfactory result. I don't want it to look like we cut corners. I want to see the proof of our hard work. 

So, I challenged my husband to produce the evidence: I wanted to read the articles/blog posts/forum conversations/technical papers for myself. Tell me precisely which preservationists have determined that we can't use caulk. Because if I have to keep looking at these holes and gaps on a daily basis, I want to know who is to blame for my discontent (I'm kidding...sort of). But I genuinely wanted to understand why it would, apparently, be so detrimental to use caulk on our historic walls. What's the danger of using caulk on plaster?

I gave my husband a ten day ultimatum: produce satisfactory anti-caulk evidence, or else I am buying a tube of caulk.

I was victorious:

Before the end of the ten day period, my husband surrendered. He told me to go ahead and buy the caulk. I'm not sure what happened. It's possible he relented when he saw how much those holes were bothering me. It's possible that he wasn't able to locate the anti-caulk articles. It's also possible that he invented the "evidence" all along. I'll never know. But it doesn't matter because caulk is a go!

Don't tell S, but in truth, I was about to surrender. I had nearly resigned myself to looking at these holes every day. After all, the man agreed to light pink in our master bedroom. That counts for a lot in my book. It should have been my turn to compromise, right? But S is a better, less stubborn person than I am.

To celebrate my success, I experimented with the caulk gun last weekend, filling in the gaps around the door casings in our upstairs hallway. Here are a few before and after photos.



The upstairs hallway has now been freshly painted and the caulk made all the difference. I can hardly believe how good the hallway looks, thanks to a little caulk. I'll share the hallway makeover in a few days. And in the coming weeks, I'll be filling in all those gaps in our bedroom. Hooray!

~The Papered House has a strange definition of success

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  1. Both dad and I immediately thought "bugs like to hide in little gaps!" After 30+ years of marriage, we think alike a lot

    1. That's true! I didn't even think of that. We do NOT need to give the bugs any more incentive to make themselves comfortable here!

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