June 22, 2009

Construction Sealants – A Dynamic Component for Any Home Project

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Taking care of a home and fixing it up from time to time is a necessary hobby for any responsible home owner, and there is a ton of knowledge that needs to be soaked up in order to be able to properly tackle all the many different tasks at hand. The average home will throw a wide variety of problems at the owner, and that’s why it is so important to have a strong general knowledge of the different kinds of materials used in construction and home repair. Some such materials are familiar to all of us and are made out of basic ingredients and serve a basic purpose, such as concrete, cement, bricks, wood and metal beams, paint, or wallpaper; other materials, however, are slightly more complex and fulfill more dynamic roles, such as construction sealants.

Construction sealants are generally intended to seal spaces that are sufficiently complicated to access so as to preclude the use of simpler materials like cement or mortar, and so on. Just about all construction sealants are viscous at the time of application, but turn into a hard material in a relatively short amount of time, with sufficient exposure to air. Most construction sealants are intended to prevent the permeation of air, water, smoke, gas, dust, noise or fire from one area to another, usually from one room to the next or from a home’s exterior to its interior. Sealants are also used on a variety of pipes and cables to keep whatever it is they are moving or conducting inside. In order to fulfill all these roles, it is incredibly important that sealants possess a variety of functional properties, which makes construction sealants among the most complex substances in a home. Chief among the many properties that most construction sealants are expected to have would have to be resistance to corrosion, adhesion, flexibility, and insolubility.

It is important that construction sealants resist corrosion so that they can continue to serve their purpose throughout the life of the structure or assembly. Especially considering the fact that the other materials inside of which (or betwixt which) the sealant will be located—frequently pieces of concrete, metal, or other highly durable materials—are so incredibly long lived, the sealant will need to be all the more resistant to corrosion.

The adhesion of construction sealants is perhaps the most important feature: if the sealant comes loose, the whole point has been lost and joints will fall apart, permeation of damaging elements will occur, and a construction will begin to dilapidate. Many sealants are, as a result, nothing more than a processed and modified adhesive.

Flexibility is another crucial property of sealants, and is necessary because the different materials with which sealants come into contact may have different thermal coefficients of expansion or may elongate at different rates under stress. For example, if used to seal a joint or borderline between a piece of metal and a piece of wood, each will react differently to extreme heat and extreme cold, and if the sealant isn’t sufficiently flexible it will fissure and split under these differing forces.

As far as insolubility is concerned, it goes without saying that the sealant is expected to remain whole (in the proportions and places in which it was applied) despite whatever variety of chemicals it comes into contact with, from mere tap water to stronger chemical agents.

Construction sealants essentially are a hybrid between two other kinds of construction materials: putties/caulks on one hand, and adhesives on the other. Sealants perform the tasks which are expected of the former (merely to fill a space, especially a reduced and difficult to access space), and happen to incorporate a bit of adhesiveness as well (as was explained above). Whereas most adhesives can be replaced by more ingenious construction methods (simply utilizing tighter, flusher fits between pieces), sealants are much more irreplaceable: the few plausible substitutes for sealants would be soldering and welding works, for example, which imply a significantly more complicated and skilled-labor intensive process.

There are a wide variety of particular kinds of sealants, and each serves a specific purpose (though there may be overlapping between different varieties). The most commonly used sealants in the construction industry (and the most easily found at any hardware store) would have to be acrylic sealants, silicone sealants, polyurethane sealants, latex sealants, and polysulfide sealants. Among these, polyurethane is particularly good for using as a thermal insulator in home construction.

Though people without much experience in the building and construction field probably don’t realize it, sealants are used in a wide variety of contexts throughout most homes and even outside them. From keeping glue lines properly set to maintaining proper insulation in a home to sealing concrete slabs on a sidewalk or on a road, there are a million and one different important uses for sealants. Some sealants are fire rated (meaning they are extra likely to resist a flame), some sealants are self-leveling, others are specifically designed for joints that will expand and contract a lot over the course of time, and other sealants are specifically designed for use in windows and glass assemblies. That’s why it is so important to make sure that you are buying the right kind of sealant for whatever home improvement project you want to tackle, as not just any kind of sealant will be able to do the job properly. Always consult with your local hardware store clerks and managers to find out what they recommend, and only buy sealants that provide a guarantee that they meet the strictest standards on the construction industry and that they have been tested against very severe conditions. For example, if you are looking for a sealant to fulfill a structural capacity, then make sure you buy a sealant that does not shrink after drying. If you really want to bring your home into the 21st century and help protect the environment, then try only buying eco-friendly construction sealants made from low-toxicity, VOC-free components. Your house will be just as sturdy and reliable, but with fewer negative consequences for the planet!

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