DIY — How Hard Could It Be?

Just call me Caulk Woman.

Do-it-yourself projects are not my forte.

I don’t like living in a construction zone. In my world, a house is for residing in, not remodeling. I’m happy to have things stay as they are. But sometimes work needs to be done, and sometimes I actually do it myself. Like this spring, when I redid the caulk around the bathtub.

It sounds like a small job, right? Any amateur do-it-yourselfer could do with it with ease. It’s the perfect project for an aspiring home improver. Just call me Caulk Woman.

Armed with a caulk gun and several YouTube videos, I made an onslaught on the bathtub. I ripped off the caulk attaching the tub to the tub surround. Ripping is a very satisfying do-it-yourself activity. Maneuvering the kitchen knife in the corners to scrape off all the lingering caulk is less satisfying, and a whole lot more work. I quickly revised my expectations from “perfect,” to “good enough,” to “it really doesn’t matter how it looks as long as it keeps the water out of the walls.” It’s important to get your priorities straight when tackling a home improvement project.

Before replacing the caulk, I wanted to treat any lingering mold with bleach, and thoroughly dry out the exposed crack. I realized that this would take time. Time is a do-it-yourselfer’s friend. No need to rush.

After a week of dehumidifier action, I was ready to wield the caulk gun. They call it a gun, but you don’t fire it. It’s more like squeezing a tube of toothpaste while trying to get the paste to lie in a straight, unbroken line. A steady hand is key. Luckily you get a second chance to mitigate the blobs and zigzags when you smooth the bead of caulk. Keep a roll of paper towels handy to clean up the mess.

Once the line of caulk was smoothed and all other surfaces were wiped so as to be caulk-free, I should have been done, right? Wrong. For some strange reason which I have never tried to understand, preferring to chalk it up to the mysterious ways of Caulk Woman, I felt like I needed to apply two layers of caulk around the bathtub. I wanted each layer to dry thoroughly. A few more weeks of dehumidifier action ensued. Luckily, we have another bathroom.

When the tub was finished and almost dry, I noticed that the caulk around the bottom of the tub was pulled loose from the floor. This caulk was fairly new, since we’d had the bathroom floor replaced, and then replaced again when staples from the subfloor started poking through the new linoleum. Even after the second replacement, the staples are still poking up. We’re trying to ignore them. I suspect that the floor is moving, whether through subtle seismic action or the machinations of a poltergeist, I’m not entirely certain. This imperceptible movement has separated the caulk from the floor, allowing water to leak underneath. Sounds like a job for Caulk Woman!

More ripping. This caulk was easy to get off, being fairly new. But it still required some serious scraping. I ditched the kitchen knife and bought myself a bona fide caulking tool, with a razor blade on one side and a triangular shaped end on the other side to smooth down the caulk bead. I even got my very own bin to store it in, to bypass the chaotic tool bench in the garage. Next time Caulk Woman wants to do her thing, she’ll know where to find the proper tool.

After many passes, the razor blade tool brought me closer to “perfect” than I’d ever been before. So, I went out on a limb and tried a YouTube video technique that involved spraying window cleaner on the surface first before applying the caulk. Yes, it made a mess. No, it didn’t qualify as “perfect” by any means. No, I don’t recommend it.

Now the bathroom tub is beautifully caulked on all sides. Or rather, it’s good enough to keep the walls and subfloor dry, and that’s all that matters. Way to go, Caulk Woman!

My next caulking project is the wall behind the kitchen sink. The caulk is peeling up a bit and there is a persistent patch of mold. It hasn’t been replaced since we bought the house in 1999. According to my YouTube sources, caulk should be replaced every five years, if not sooner. Who knew? Now that I’m a caulking pro, it probably won’t take me a month to finish this job. It better not. We only have one kitchen sink.

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life. Her column runs on the last Sunday of every month.

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