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Guide to Adhesives for Your Next Project

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Apr 17, 2021

Taking on a new DIY home improvement project probably starts with a trip to your local hardware store. However, not every retrofit or renovation can be hammered, stapled, or drilled! For everything from new shower installation to kitchen countertop renovations to ensuring that your building envelope is tightly sealed to improve energy efficiency and thermal performance, adhesives and glues play a vital role in a massive variety of home projects. This in-depth product guide will look at how homeowners can find and choose the best glues and adhesives for whatever your next project might be.

What are Building Adhesives?

Building adhesives, also known as construction adhesives, are essentially strong, water-resistant glues used in various applications to bond common construction materials. Some types of building adhesives are explicitly designed for one purpose. In contrast, other generic adhesives can bond to multiple materials such as foam board, plywood, and fiberglass. Building adhesives can be used in projects such as laying carpet or ceramic tiles, countertop and drywall lamination, flooring underlay, connecting your heating, ventilation, air conditioning parts, prefab panels, wall coverings, timber jointing, roofing, etc.

The specific composition of each building adhesive will depend on its intended use. However, most building adhesives include various common ingredients such as clay, cement, acrylic resin, polyurethane monomers, styrene-butadiene rubber, hexane, and other nonpolar solvents and multiple initiators and functional additives. Though it is possible to find construction adhesives in tubs or jars, they are most often sold in tubes designed used in a caulking gun. The packaging for the building adhesive product you purchase will most likely explain the exact ingredients, the intended use of the product, and which construction materials it best adheres to.


What types of construction adhesives might you be able to find at your local hardware store, and why are there so many different choices? As we mentioned above, each building adhesive product is designed for use in a specific context. For example, window caulk might work great for sealing those gaps around your window frame where a cold draft is making your home uncomfortably cool. However, that caulk product most likely does not have the same water resistance that tub and tile caulk has. Using window caulk to seal around your bathtub or shower could result in water infiltration, mold buildup, and even damage to the studs in your wall.

Plumbing Adhesive
Plumbing Adhesive

What Types of Home Construction Adhesives Are Available? 

Some of the different types of construction adhesives available include:

  • Caulking
  • Tile Adhesive
  • Wood Adhesive
  • Plumbing Adhesive
  • Epoxies, and 
  • Contact Cement

What Is Caulking?

Caulking is made of either acrylic, latex, or silicone (or a combination of all three). These adhesives are used to seal joints or seams in various applications where two different building mediums or materials meet. Window and door caulk, for example, is designed for use around door and window frames. Similarly, tub and tile caulk is intended for use in bathrooms or kitchens where sinks, tubs, and showers meet the surrounding building materials. Caulking plays an essential role in sealing joints or seams against air and water leakage in various structures and piping.

What Is Tile Adhesive?

Tile adhesive is a specific type of construction adhesive is used solely to install tiles for either floors or walls. Tile adhesive comes as a ready-made mixture. The main ingredients are Portland cement and polymers such as epoxy.

What Is Wood Adhesive?

Wood adhesives, or wood glues, allow builders, carpenters, and homeowners to attach wood pieces while simultaneously restraining the expansion and contraction that comes with wood's inherent moisture retention. There are dozens of different wood adhesives, from industrial-strength products to household products like "Liquid Nail" that can be used for repairing a loose MDF cabinet panel. When choosing the best wood adhesive, you need to determine what you want to bond or adhere to. Traditional wood glues, known as PVAs, are great for wood-to-wood bonding but do not bond very well to other materials such as metal. On the other hand, polyurethane-based wood adhesives make it easy to adhere wood products to wood, stone, ceramic, plastic, and metal surfaces.

What Is Plumbing Adhesive?

Plumbing adhesive is specifically designed for sealing leaks, repairing tears, securing tiles, and other common repairs to our homes' plumbing fixtures and tubing. Plumbing adhesive is generally one of the more substantial types of construction adhesives. Not only is it obviously waterproof, but it can also be used to bond different materials commonly used in plumbing installations, such as aluminum, metal, copper, brass, ABS, PVC, fiberglass, and tile.


What Is Epoxy?

For smaller, all-purpose home renovation projects, epoxies are a helpful type of construction adhesive. It is made from a mixture of resin and a hardener and is exceptionally durable. It can bond different materials in extreme conditions. You can also use epoxy for filling gaps in wood.

What Is Contact Cement?

Most construction adhesives will take somewhere between 12 and 24 hours to completely dry. If you need a quick bond, contact cement is a unique building adhesive in that it will completely dry in as little as 15 to 20 minutes. Contact cement is best used on non-porous surfaces. It can resist heat, weather, grease, oil, and other household chemicals.

Are Building Adhesives Healthy?

Building adhesives are most likely involved in every part of your home construction. When used correctly, they act as the "glue" that attaches the different building materials into a structurally solid and airtight finished product. Unfortunately, many building adhesive products contain SVOCs (semi-volatile organic compounds), releasing harmful chemicals over an extended period into your home's indoor air. These compounds are often considered more dangerous than regular VOCs because they can seep into your home for many months or years.

Some of the stronger construction adhesives (like epoxy resin) might contain trace levels of bisphenol A (BPA). This chemical has been shown to cause serious health effects such as damage to the endocrine system.

Mapei 'Type 1' Low VOC Tile Adhesive
Mapei 'Type 1' Low VOC Tile Adhesive. Photo Credit: Mapei

Are Healthier Building Adhesives Available?

Fortunately, homeowners can find building adhesives that do not contain harmful VOCs or SVOCs. Make sure to look for adhesive products that are specifically labeled as no-VOC or low-VOC. Researchers are continually looking for ways to use natural resins as a healthier substitute for some commonly used building adhesives. For example, one group of scientists is experimenting with creating a strong epoxy resin made from syringaresinol, a naturally occurring and non-endocrine-disrupting bisphenol found in certain types of Magnolia trees. Soon, plant-based resins and adhesives might become increasingly available.

AFM Safecoat 3 in 1
AFM Safecoat 3 in 1 Adhesive. Photo Credit: AFM

Are Building Adhesives Environmentally Friendly?

The VOCs and SVOCs released by many different building adhesives can lead to photochemical reactions in the atmosphere that increase smog and other common air pollution problems. Construction adhesives made from petrochemicals are not biodegradable and can accumulate in the natural environment. Solvent-based adhesives tend to have more negative environmental impacts than water-based adhesives. Sometimes these adhesives can make their way into waterways or aquatic ecosystems. If that happens, they can contaminate drinking water and cause damage to fish and other marine wildlife.

For these reasons, opting for water-based adhesives is almost always the more environmentally conscious choice. If possible, search for bio-adhesives sourced from natural materials. These products will be more sustainable and biodegradable.

Wood Glue
Wood Glue

How Long Do Building Adhesives Last?

Construction adhesives have different lifespans, given their intended use. For example, engineering or structural adhesives used to bond structural components of your house (such as the wood frame) are designed to be permanent. They should last at least last the useful lifetime of the bonded parts. Similarly, tile adhesive should last as long as the tile is in use in your home.  

Other construction adhesives, however, have a much shorter lifespan. It would help if you reapplied caulk every five years, depending on where it is applied and the level of exposure to sunlight, rain, moisture, or other elements.

AFM Caulking
AFM Safecoat Caulking. Photo Credit: AFM

How To Use Construction Adhesives?

As we explained above, most construction adhesives come in a tube applied with a simple caulking gun. This feature allows for a precise application, for example, when attaching drywall to the studs, caulking around window frames, or waterproofing around your bathtub. Construction adhesives might come in tubs or buckets for larger projects, and the adhesive is generally thicker than in tubes. For these types of building glues, it is best to use a putty knife or a trowel to apply the product in the desired area.

Ligate™ Bioadhesives Scion
Ligate™ Bioadhesives. Photo Credit: Scion

What Are The Best Brands of Building Adhesives? 

The best brand of building adhesive will depend mainly on what you are attempting to bond or attach. However, finding building adhesives that either use natural bio-adhesives or have zero-VOC commitments should prioritize environmentally and health-conscious homeowners. Some of the best brands offering these types of products include:

  • AFM Safecoat: This brand offers a non-toxic and water-based caulking compound, as well as a  3 in 1 Adhesive that is low-odor, non-toxic, and water-based adhesive.
  • Ligate Bioadhesives: For wood adhesives, Ligate™ bioadhesives are based entirely on renewable ingredients and are free of petrochemicals and formaldehyde. They are water-based, non-toxic, and compatible with existing adhesive and wood panel manufacturing equipment.
Contact Cement
Contact Cement

What Are The Benefits and Drawbacks of Building Adhesives?

Construction adhesives are a necessary part of virtually every new home build and renovation project. When properly applied, construction adhesives play a vital role in bonding different building materials, protecting certain areas of your home from water damage, and ensuring an airtight building envelope. Many building adhesives can leach VOCs and SVOCs into your home on the downside, thus compromising your indoor air quality. Homeowners can find environmentally friendly construction adhesives that are low-VOC and possibly even sourced from natural materials.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-02T17:14:35+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.