The Best Low-Cost Ways to Insulate Your Windows This Winter

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We’ve all heard that time-honored bit of advice: if you’re cold, put on a sweater. But sometimes chilly homes aren’t a matter of personal preference, but a reflection of poor window insulation. Luckily, there are ways to improve your wintertime window performance and limit drafts—without a hefty investment.

Just to be clear, though: the best way to improve your window insulation is to buy new windows. Energy-efficient windows with gas-filled insulation can prevent drafts while keeping you cooler in the summertime. However, replacing all the windows in your home can be pricey. If you need time to save up, there are a couple of things you can do to improve your window performance while you buy yourself some time.

little girl sitting by the window

Install Low-E Storm Windows Over the Existing Frames

Storm windows are also an investment. But they’re a lot more affordable than brand new windows. Storm windows with a low-E coating cost somewhere between $60 to $200 a window, on average, which is significantly less than you’d spend on a new window installation. And because they fit over the exterior of the window, they’re easy for homeowners to install on their own, without the help of a professional remodeler. And they could shave as much as 33% off your annual energy bills!

Recaulk Your Windows

Okay, let’s say you don’t have enough spare cash for new storm windows either. What then? Many window insulation problems can be resolved by recaulking around the glass. That’s especially true if the existing seals appear to be visibly cracked or if you can feel air entering when you stand by the window. For the cost of a tube of caulk and a razor blade, you can scrape out the old caulk and redo it in less than an afternoon.

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Air Sealing with Foam Tape

Caulking windows will help you root out many sources of air infiltration, but it obviously won’t work everywhere. After all, you can’t exactly seal your windows shut! Double-sided foam tape provides a little extra protection against the cold on those moving parts. Most modern vinyl window frames now come with fiber weatherseal along the top and bottom of the sash. But it becomes compressed over time, allowing drafts inside. A neat layer of double-sided foam weatherstripping across the the top and bottom provides the fix—and an affordable way to beat the wind.

Install Plastic Film Around the Glass

We love this tip because it’s so cheap! Plastic film, whether self-adhesive or shrink-wrapped to the window with a hairdryer, is a a low-cost way to protect against cold coming through the glass. Again, the long-term solution is to have the windows replaced, especially since they’re probably allowing heat in during the summer as well. However, this provides a nice stopgap until you can get a new set.

Insulate with Bubble Wrap

If you don’t care much about looks, there’s another, cheaper way to do the plastic wrap thing: tape plastic bubble wrap over your windows. Use heavy-duty packing tape and make sure to lay the ends flat to create a good seal. Cheap, easy and toasty!

window insulation

Invest in Some Thermal Curtains

One final way you can protect your home is to hang a set of insulating thermal curtains. They have a thin piece of foam between two layers of fabric, making them extra tough on wayward drafts and chills. These curtains are fairly affordable—you can find the panels for under $20 a piece. But you can achieve a similar effect using heavy curtains in a thick weave. Basically anything that traps the cold is a good bet, and every bit as effective as a sweater!

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