Answers to Your Toughest Bungalow Questions

Small Home Gazette, Fall 2003

Q: I bought some compact fluorescent bulbs to use in my house, but the light makes my bungalow’s rooms look awful. Why can’t they make a fluorescent bulb that has a more attractive light?

A: Switching from incandescent bulbs to fluorescents makes perfect sense. Until, that is, you bask for a few moments in that creepy fluorescent light. It can make your skin look pasty and your beautiful oak woodwork look flat and lifeless, even greenish. Why spend all that time and money making your bungalow charming and cozy only to wash it with light that makes it look like a dingy office cubicle?

Traditional incandescent bulbs put out light wavelengths in the “warmer” end of the spectrum: yellows, oranges, reds (think candles and fireplaces). Fluorescents throw “cooler” light, which appears blue or green (think rainy days).

Still, compact fluorescent bulbs have advantages. They last about eight times longer than a regular incandescent bulb and use only a fraction of the energy. Fortunately, there are ways to make at least some compact fluorescents work in a bungalow interior.

First, avoid fluorescent bulbs with the equivalent output of a 60 or 90 watt incandescent (actual wattage of the fluorescents: 14 to 23 watts). They’re too bright, too harsh, although the current models have a somewhat warmer look than those that first appeared on the market. (Actually, they’ll work fine in utility areas like closets, attics or basements where bright light is more important than aesthetics.)

The good news is, stores have recently begun to carry 10 watt compact fluorescent bulbs, which provide the equivalent light of a 40 watt incandescent bulb. For some reason, the light they throw is less offensive than that from higher watt units, in our non-scientific opinion. These 40- watt-equivalent bulbs will work fine in many vintage lamps and light fixtures, especially those with yellow or amber shades, whether they’re made of art glass, mica, cloth or parchment. The relatively low wattage of 10 watt fluorescent bulbs, reflected off these warm-colored materials, can give a pleasing light. They’re also small enough to hide inside many lamp and fixture shades.

You can also experiment with mixing fluorescent bulbs and regular incandescents in a single lamp. Many vintage and reproduction Arts and Crafts style lamps have two, three or even four light sockets. Try replacing half (or more) of the incandescent bulbs with 40-watt-equivalent fluorescents.

Remember that if you’re switching from 60 watt traditional bulbs to 40-watt-equivalent compact fluorescents, you may end up with less overall light in your room. But hey—it’s a great excuse to add a beautiful new lamp! After all, bungalow interiors are enhanced by warm pools of light scattered around the room, as opposed to one or two high-wattage sources.

We received a couple of additional queries on wood storms doors in response to the Q&A on that topic which ran in the Summer 2003 issue of the Small Home Gazette.

Q: Earlier this year we removed our ugly aluminum screen door and replaced it with a wooden screen door. Now we see beads of sap appearing on the painted surface of the door. What should we do?

A: Those droplets are actually pitch bleeding through the painted surface from the interior of the wood. It indicates your door was either not dried properly or lower quality wood was used in its construction. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to solve this problem. We consulted with Prof. Tom Milton, a forest products expert with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, to learn more about this issue.

Pine lumber––the most likely species of wood used in your door––is typically heated to a minimum of 160 degrees F to remove moisture from the wood and to “set the pitch” that is found in all wood. If you heat lumber to a high enough temperature and keep it at that temperature long enough, the pitch is chemically locked inside the cells in the wood and it will not bleed out. However, if the wood for your door was not dried properly, it can bleed pitch if it is heated to a temperature higher than it experienced in the kiln-drying process.

If you painted your door a dark color and if the sun is on it for a couple of hours or more each day, it is possible that the wood is sufficiently heated to liquefy the pitch and force it to bleed through the paint. If your door had been painted white or it was shielded from the sun, you may not have had any problems.

Your first step in tackling this problem is to drive more of the pitch from the wood. On a warm day you might use a hair dryer or a heat gun to heat this portion of the door. Be careful not to scorch the wood or, worse yet, set fire to your bungalow! Stop heating the wood when droplets of pitch stop appearing on the surface. After the wood has cooled, use mineral spirits on a rag or sponge to clean the surface. This will damage your painted surface, so don’t spill on parts of the door you don’t want to re-paint.

Sand the area down to bare wood and apply de-waxed shellac to seal the bare wood surface. Regular shellac contains wax, which won’t allow paint to stick to the surface––so make sure you’re using de-waxed shellac. Then apply your primer and topcoats of paint. The problem may return. In which case you’ll need to repeat this process. Or if your door is under warranty, contact your retailer and ask what they may be able to offer you in terms of replacing it.

Some types of wood contain more pitch, which makes them undesirable choices for home construction or furniture making. In addition, areas around knots contain more pitch than other areas of the wood. So lower grades of lumber––those with more knots and other defects––carry greater risk for bleeding pitch. With increasing restrictions on what trees can be harvested, manufacturers are forced to use types of wood with more pitch or lower grades of lumber to make the wood products that make bungalows attractive.

Q: I installed a new wood storm door on my bungalow. It looked great—until the large lower panel split vertically. What happened?

A: Several Bungalow Club members inquired about new wood doors that had been properly primed and painted, but had split. We consulted Jim King, a project manager for Adams Architectural Wood Products in Eldridge, Iowa (888-285-8120,

He said that while it’s difficult to know exactly why a particular panel splits, he believes that doors with a large, single panel are more likely to develop problems than one with two or more smaller panels.

Two-panel storm/screen door configuration taken from an historic photo of a Twin Cities bungalow. Illustration by John Trine.

“The reason raised panels are used in wood construction is to accommodate expansion and shrinkage,” says King. “Wood is going to move. You just have to control it as best you can.”

The larger the piece of wood, the more it will contract and expand, explains King, increasing the likelihood that it will fail for a variety of reasons. The wood may not have been dried thoroughly before it was built into the door. As it dries further, it contracts, and may split. Sometimes a large panel is made up of two or more pieces of wood glued together. The glue joint can fail. There may not be enough expansion space for the panel in the rabbets of the door stiles (frame). If, when the panel expands, there’s no place for it to go, it could buckle. If the panel’s edges are stuck in one or more places and it doesn’t “float” in the door frame, it could be pulled apart when it contracts.

Repairing splits is difficult, if not impossible. One wood door seller suggested using a paintable caulk (see Q&A below) to fill the gap, as long as it’s not too wide or deep. Since wood expands and contracts, the repair material must do the same. Hard wood putties may be pop out when the wood expands.

Fortunately, the original wood storm/screen doors found on Twin Cities bungalows usually contained two or more smaller raised panels, as we discovered by examining historic photos. See illustration. The Summer 2003 issue of the Small Home Gazette contains additional illustrations of local historic door styles.

Q: I need to re-caulk the joints between my windows and the siding on our bungalow. There are many different kinds of caulks at the hardware store. Which one is best?

A: Good question! We couldn’t find much reliable information out there on caulks, but did find a couple of articles in a friend’s collection of back issues of Fine Homebuilding magazine.

If you haven’t done much caulking, it might be good to practice on a couple of boards nailed together at a right angle. You’ll want to buy a good quality caulking gun and experiment with pushing or pulling the gun as you squeeze out the caulk—do what works best for you. You should also test various items to smooth out the bead of caulk after you’ve laid it on the joint. Smoothing out the bead pushes caulk into the joint, improves adhesion, and creates a concave surface that looks nice. We’ve seen people use plastic spoons, wooden tongue depressors, Popsicle sticks and butter knives. These need to be wet so they slide on the surface of the caulk.

The joint needs to be cleaned of old caulk and dirt, as well as dry and dust free. Read the packaging for further instructions about painting or call the company’s consumer services line. The best time to apply caulk is in the spring or fall because the wood surfaces are at the mid-point of their yearly cycle of shrinking and swelling. Read the label for painting instructions––both when to paint and whether or not to paint the surface before caulking. Although the longevity of caulking products is improving, don’t believe label claims that a product will last 50 years.

Here’s what we could find out about three popular types of caulk.

Silicone Despite what some labels claim, silicone-based caulks will not hold paint—they’re just too slippery. They are very elastic and can handle joint movements approaching 50 percent before cracking. Silicone caulks don’t shrink very much as they cure, but they do exude an oil that acts as a magnet for dirt. These caulks will also stain other surfaces such as concrete or stone. If you create a mess in applying a silicone caulk, use mineral spirits before the caulk “skins over” to remove it. Finally, they may not stick very well to oily woods such as cedar.

Polyurethane This type of caulk is relatively new on the consumer market, although contractors have used them for years. Polyurethane caulk has a tendency to quickly dry out in the tube after you’ve broken the seal. These caulks are very sticky and you’ll need a heavy-duty gun to force it out of the tube. Use mineral spirits for clean up. Polyurethane caulks take longer to cure, but they can be painted and they won’t stain the surrounding surfaces. They’re also quite flexible––absorbing up to 25 percent movement within the joint before they crack.

Acrylic latex This type of caulk is widely available and relatively inexpensive. They are paintable and clean up with soap and water. But, they shrink between 25 to 35 percent by volume as they cure, and are vulnerable to high humidity and rain as they cure. They are also less flexible––handling only about 10 to 20 percent movement in the joint before they fail.

There are many types of caulk out there and most of the handymen and store employees we talked to had a favorite, but none could say why it was their favorite. Good luck!