How to winterize your windows

Dear Jane, What steps can I take myself to prep my windows for the winter and save on my heating bills?
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 25, 2010

Dear Jane,

What steps can I take myself to prep my windows for the winter and save on my heating bills?

Thanks,

Frannie P.

Dear Frannie,

With the winter about to blow in, don't spend another year throwing money out the window. By sealing your windows before the season hits you'll keep warmer during those long winter months and cut your heating bills by more than 30 percent.

Taping and sealing your windows are inexpensive basics that will keep you cozy but if your windows are especially old you may want to consider more drastic measures, such as replacing them. Read on to get the low down on whether you should caulk, seal or look into buying new windows altogether.

Where to start

How to winterize your windows depends on what kind of windows you have. If you live in an older home, chances are the windows have not been updated. You could be living with 100-year old windows, which may need a bit more extensive work.

Storm windows are common in parts of the country with major winter weather. Replace your screens with the storm windows when it starts to get chilly, around October. If your home doesn't currently have storm windows, this is an option to consider especially if you are not in the market to replace your windows all together.

Know your window

Assess what kind of windows you have. Are they long and narrow or short and wide? Do they open from the top and the bottom or just the bottom? If your window opens in two places it is called a double-hung window. Because these types of windows provide the most ventilation, they also have the most significant problems with drafts and leaks. Windows that open solely from the bottom are called single hung. Other types include swing out windows, horizontal sliding door windows, slat-piece and pane windows (windows that don't open). All are certainly prone to leaks and drafts, but depending on their age and condition, the problems may not be as severe.

If you have to turn a crank to open your window, you have a casement window and you are in luck as these are one of the most energy-efficient models around. Wind blowing at the window only makes it seal to the frame tighter. However, casement windows do have disadvantages. They are harder to clean than your run-of-the-mill window and depending on their size they can be difficult to escape from in the event of a fire. Consider installing casement windows in rooms where you spend a lot of time; though carefully research your building codes first. Their size and weight dictates how wide these windows can be.

The frame game

Advances in technology have dramatically increased window efficiency within the last 20 years so it may just be time to update. The frame of the window is actually the biggest culprit in wasting your heated air, not the glass. If you live in a cold environment do not install aluminum frames. In fact, you may want to consider replacing your existing ones. Many builders choose aluminum frames because they're cheap, but aluminum should be reserved for warmer climates only. Fiberglass, wood and vinyl are better options for colder climates.

Caulk it up

Protecting your home from the bitter winter cold begins with mending any cracks around your window frames and doors on the both inside and outside of your home. If you discover that some of your cracks are already treated with caulk, check it carefully. It may need to be replaced, which requires that you remove it with a scraping tool. Once it has been removed, liberally apply removable caulk around fissures surrounding your window and door frames, wiping away any excess. Work on a dry day when the temperature is hovering above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. If moisture gets into the caulk it won't work properly. Use wood filler to fill in any larger gaps between the wood siding and the window frames. For extra protection, consider painting over the wood filler with a weather proof primer and exterior paint.

Weather stripping

Weather stripping your windows and doors is critical for keeping your home insulated in the winter. You can either pick up weather stripping as a kit at a local home improvement store, or buy the materials individually. What you buy will depend on your climate and how intensely you feel like weather stripping.

Vinyl, bronze, aluminum and felt are just among some of the many materials used in weather stripping; it all depends on your climate and how much money you have to spend. Ask your home improvement retailer what materials they recommend for your particular climate.

Cover your windows

If the drafts are strong and you can't seem to solve the issue, another extra precaution worth investigating is covering windows with plastic and shrink wrapping them by heating the plastic with a hair dryer. Again, you can buy a kit to shrink wrap your windows or do it yourself with a few basic materials. To do it yourself, line your window and frame with heavy-duty double sided tape. Stick shrink wrap (rolls of which can usually be found in most moving stores) or plastic wrap (the kind you wrap leftovers in) and gently warm the plastic with a hair dryer until it becomes smooth. (Because it's going to shrink, make sure to rip off a little excess.) Move the dryer back and forth as not to overheat one portion. You don't want the plastic to start melting.

Stay warm

Preparing your windows for the upcoming season shouldn't take more than a few hours. The time you'll spend doing so will pay for itself many times over in both your comfort level throughout the winter as well savings to your energy bill. So get started sealing up that drafty home of yours. That warm feeling won't be just the heater; it'll be the satisfaction of knowing you are saving money and energy.