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     Recycling & Reuse
     Caulk: What kind to use? Where? Why?
     How to Paint a Paneled Door

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     Electrical Safety: GFCI's
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Recycling & Reuse

How many did you get last year? How many of those did you specifically request? What about Netscape and Compuserve CDs (AOL subsidiaries)? If you think that this is needless pollution, you are not alone. There is a organization whose goal is to collect 1,000,000 CDs and send them back to AOL. As of the date of this writing, they have collected over 140,000 CDs. For more information click here to go to As it happens, the organization is based in El Cerrito, making it easy to drop off your CDs every few months. (Little known fact: A stack of 1,000,000 AOL CDs would be taller than three Empire State Buildings.)

CDs, CD-Rs, Music CDs, DVDs
These are notoriously difficult to recycle since they are a composite of metal film and plastic. Ray Calkins of Veguita, N.M. is collecting these for a solar-power experiment. He is using them to focus more energy onto solar collectors. Click here for a link to his contact information.

Cell Phones
Here are some links to organizations that accept donations of unwanted cell phones. Depending on the organization you choose, your donation can benefit victims of domestic abuse, Easter Seals, the National Organization on Disability, low-income residents in Latin America, and more.

CollectiveGood Donate a Phone
Sprint Project Connect Verizon Wireless HopeLine

Greeting Cards
St. Jude's Ranch for Children is a non-profit non-sectarian home for abused, abandoned and neglected children. They accept donations of greeting cards for all occasions. Donated cards are recycled by the children into new cards which are sold through the organization's gift shop. Click here to go to

Do revisit this page! More recycling resources will be added regularly.

Added February 2003


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Caulk: What kind to use? Where? Why?

Here is the short answer (but do read on!).

For joints in the kitchen or bath a good choice is:
GE Silicone II Kitchen & Bath

For joints where you will be painting the caulk a good choice is:

For joints where you expect a lot of movement good choices are:
Sikaflex or Vulkem

Note: With these, and any products you use, be sure to carefully read and follow all instructions and precautions printed on the packaging.

Caulks are “sealants,” more specifically, “low-range” sealants. “Low-range” refers to limited “elongation” characteristics, that is, the ability of the caulk to withstand stretching and squeezing. In addition to elongation, sealants vary in other characteristics, making some sealants better suited for certain applications than others. Some sealants can be painted, some cannot. Some resist deterioration due to ultra-violet (outdoor) light better than others. Some shrink quite a bit after application. Some clean up with water, some with mineral spirits. Some are easier to apply than others.

Silicone sealants remain highly flexible for years, don’t shrink after application, and resist UV light well. Most cannot be painted. They can be somewhat messy to apply and require mineral spirits or solvent for clean up. They don’t stick well to wood or concrete, but do stick very well to glass and ceramic tile. The maximum joint size is ½ inch to 1 inch. GE Silicone II Kitchen & Bath contains a mildewcide. Do not use any sealant containing a mildewcide inside a dishwasher or where food or dishes are stored. Before using a silicone sealant, test it for freshness.

The next type of sealant is the “siliconized acrylic latex” type. While a number of manufacturers make a siliconized acrylic latex sealant, there is quite a wide variation in quality among the brands. DAP DYNAFLEX 230 is a first rate product of this type. It remains fairly flexible (but only if it stays above 40 degrees). It is not appropriate for use below grade or in damp areas. It does shrink quite a bit after application. (The colored versions shrink less than the clear, so buy it in a color.) As it has little UV resistance, it should be painted. Either latex or oil-based paint will do. The maximum joint size is about ½ inch. Siliconized acrylic latex sealants are by far the easiest to apply and they clean up with water.

Probably the best all-around sealant, although the most difficult to apply neatly, is the polyurethane type. Examples are Sikaflex and Vulkem. This type of sealant remains highly flexible, shrinks very little after application, and is paintable. It can be used for joints as wide as 2 inches. Its flexibility characteristics are outstanding: it withstands up to +/- 25-50% joint movement. It sticks well to wood and concrete, but not to glass. It should be painted where it will be exposed to UV light. Be sure to read the precautions on the label. Clean up requires solvents.

Backer Rod
When the joint you are sealing is wider that ¼ inch, you should insert “backer rod” into the joint. It acts as a kind of backstop for the sealant. Backer rod is an inexpensive, soft, round, closed-cell foam product that comes in coils 10 or 20 feet long. It is available in different diameters, from 3/8 inch to 1 inch. Before applying the sealant, you should cut a piece of backer rod the length of the joint and push it down into the joint to a point below the surface. Use a putty knife or similar tool. Without backer rod, a deep crack will just keep absorbing more and more sealant. See the Exterior Caulking That Lasts link.

Sealant Application
It is important that not too much sealant be applied. Forcing a lot of sealant deep into a joint can lead to the sealant breaking away from the sides of the joint. The depth of the sealant, measured from its surface to the bottom of the sealant within the joint, should be less than the width of the joint sealed. Except for very thin joints, a depth of about half the width of the joint is about right. For wide joints, less than half is better. (To understand this issue, imagine a thin, flat piece of rubber about 1 inch by 4 inches. Imagine grasping the piece of rubber along its 4-inch sides and then trying to stretch the rubber. Now imagine holding the piece of rubber by its 1-inch ends and pulling them apart. Easier, right? More flexibility along the length.) Consider the desired depth of caulk when inserting backer rod.

Caulking Guns
Get a good one.{5}As far as how to use it goes, there are two schools of thought. Some pull the caulking gun along the joint as they go, while others push it along. I find that I get a neater joint with the push method, but you need to be careful about the depth of caulk in the joint. It is easy to over-fill the joint when pushing. With a bit of practice using the push method, there is no need to smooth out the joint with a finger or a tool after applying the sealant. When I’ve tried the pull method, I have found that it seems to leave a bead of sealant lying limply on top of the joint, not inside it, necessitating the additional messy step of pushing it in. (Just my experience.)

Miscellaneous Points
Carefully read and follow the instructions and precautions on all packaging.

Do not use a caulk containing a mildewcide in a dishwasher or in a confined space where food or dishes are stored.

Before caulking a joint that will show, practice with the caulking gun.

Sealants have a limited shelf life. Always buy at a store with plenty of turnover. Use partially empty tubes within a few months, or discard.

Be sure to apply the sealant within its specified temperature range. Bring sealant stored in a cold garage into the house the day before using it.

Use backer rod for joints over ¼ inch.

Ideal applications for a polyurethane sealant (and backer rod) are where concrete porch steps have settled away from a house wall, and where a chimney has settled away from a house wall. Keeping these joints sealed is critical to avoid fungus damage to the interior framing. A front porch with fungus damage can easily show up as a $15,000 item on a Pest Control report!

Useful Links:

For a good discussion of general caulking techniqe, click the topic, "Exterior Caulking that Lasts" after you first click here.

Surface Preparation
How to Caulk a Joint
How to Caulk a Tub or Shower I
How to Caulk a Tub or Shower II
Characteristics of Caulk

Added May 2002

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How to Paint a Paneled Door

That there is more to painting a paneled door than you might have thought is not obvious until you have begun the job and find yourself in trouble. There is actually a specific sequence that makes for the best result (probably developed by painters centuries ago). On the link below you will find a step-by-step description along with a little animation illustrating it.

Added May 2002

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