Butt and Fillet Joints

The Ins and Outs of Caulking defines butt sealant joints and fillet sealant joints. A butt sealant joint is a joint in which sealant is applied between two approximately parallel substrate surfaces that are either edge-to-edge or face-to-edge.

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Cross-sectional sketches of butt sealant joints.

A fillet sealant joint is a joint in which sealant is applied over (not into) the intersection between surfaces are approximately perpendicular to each other.

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Cross-sectional sketches of fillet sealant joints.

In a well-executed butt joint, the sealant does not adhere to any rigid material at the back of the joint nor does it adhere in the root of the joint. If sealant adhesion occurs at the back of a butt joint or in the root of a fillet joint, stress concentrations will occur in the sealant when there is differential movement between substrates. Joint failure will thus be likely, even when a high-performance sealant is used.

To prevent adhesion behind butt joints or in the roots of fillet joints, use non-rigid sealant backers or bond-breaker tapes. In commercial construction, caulking tradespersons are familiar with non-rigid sealant backers and bond-breaker tapes, and part of a tradesperson’s skill involves his or her ability to fit joints with backer or bond breaker (or both) before application of sealant. Unfortunately, residential construction contractors and home owners rarely pay attention to prevention of three-sided adhesion in butt joints or to sealant adhesion at the roots of fillet joints.

Hardware stores and home centers may sell sealant backer rods, but the variety of shapes and sizes is usually limited and virtually none of these retail businesses sell bond-breaker tape. An internet search will typically locate a handful of online merchants that market bond-breaker tapes to the general public. In retail home centers, backer rods are usually stocked with weatherstripping rather than with caulks and sealants.

No professional consensus exists on how long sealant joints in residential construction can be expected to remain functional. Professionals commonly believe, however, that the service life of residential sealant joints is usually shorter than 20 years. Manufacturers’ warranties of multiple decades of sealant joint performance only provide for replacement of the caulking material. Cost of application labor is not covered by the warranties, nor is the cost of repairing damage sustained as a result of a failed sealant joint.