How to Fix Drafty Windows

draftywindowIf winter gusts billow your drapes and bring a steely chill to the room, you can be sure you have drafty windows worth fixing. Not only are air leaks uncomfortable, they can quickly run up your heating bill.

What’s Wrong with My Windows?

With old windows, the glazing putty may have grown brittle and fallen away, leaving the glass rattling in place. Double-hung sashes of wood windows can shrink with age and wear, letting in cold air. Even newer vinyl or aluminum windows may have worn-out gaskets and weather stripping.

On a cold or windy day, you’ll be able to feel where your windows are leaky just using your hand. Here’s more information on how to detect air leaks.

Quick Fixes

Once winter is in full swing, it may be difficult to get outdoors to make permanent fixes. Here are fast interior solutions to get you through the colder months:

  • Apply V-seal weather stripping. For an easy fix, add this plastic weather stripping along the sides of the sashes. Windows can open and shut even with the V-seal in place. Cost: $5.50 per window.
  • Add rope caulk. Old window sashes shrink with age, leaving plenty of room for drafts. For a quick fix, apply rope caulk to any cracks. This soft, sticky stuff can be molded to suit the gap — and removes easily at the end of the season. Cost: $5 for 30 feet.
  • Apply shrink film. Applied with double-sided tape, this clear plastic sheeting shrinks drum-tight when heated with a hair dryer. The film seals off drafts and captures an insulating buffer of air. Use rubbing alcohol to help release the tape in the spring to avoid pulling off paint. Cost: $2 for a 42-by-62-inch window.
  • Fill cracked panes. Nail polish to the rescue! If carefully applied, polish fills the crack almost invisibly. Once hardened, the polish will stabilize the glass until you can replace it in the spring. Or, apply clear weather-seal tape to the crack. Cost: About $4.
  • Add a draft snake. If the bottom of your window leaks cold air, buy a foam-and-fabric draft snake kit. Cut the 36-inch foam tube provided to length and slip the washable cover over it. Then place the snake on the sill and shut the window on it to seal the deal. Cost: $6 per window.

Long-Term Solutions

These options require a greater investment in time and money, but will shut down leaks permanently.

  • Replace loose or missing glazing. The glazing putty that seals window panes can crack and fall out with time. Doing a great job of glazing takes practice, but even a mediocre job will do a lot to eliminate leaks.
  1. Begin by removing all the old putty.
  2. Detach the pane and add a bed of fresh putty.
  3. Gently press the glass into the putty and add glazing points — small metal points that push into the sash to secure the pane; push points into place with a flat-bladed screwdriver.
  4. Apply a long thin roll of putty and use a clean putty knife to smooth it in place. Plan on doing this chore in warm weather. Cost: About $5 per window.
  • Rejuvenate the storm windows. If you have old storm windows stacked in the garage rafters, reglaze and repaint them, and put them up every fall. Storm windows not only cut drafts, they insulate. Cost: Once they’re fixed up, it only costs an afternoon of washing and installing the storms.
  • Add interior storm panels. These PVC or vinyl press-in-place panels install and remove easily. You can custom fit some types yourself; more substantial types must be ordered from the manufacturer. Cost: About $12 per window for DIY kit, $100 per if ordered to size.
  • Replace the window. A worn, rotted, or chronically rattly window is simply past its useful life. Replacing old windows is a job for a pro. You’ll be able to take your pick of low-maintenance frame materials, as well as low-E and insulated glass options. Cost: About $600 per window.

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