We’re still in the dog days of summer, but the leaves will soon be turning, followed by chilly winter winds trying to infiltrate your home. As you plan ahead for winter, be sure to give some thought to the energy efficiency of your windows.
Windows can be weak spots in the integrity of your home envelope, especially if you have single-pane windows. If your windows are older or thinner, the good news is that you’re likely to be able to save a bundle by replacing them with energy efficient models. The downside is that the initial replacement will come at a significant cost, assuming you’re replacing windows throughout the house.
While the most important consideration may be whether or not to make a big investment in window upgrades, there are several smaller measures you can plan to take if replacement isn’t in your budget. By considering these options and doing your research early, you can be ready to put in the work during the first mild-weather weekend in fall.
Batten Down the Hatches
Replacing all of your windows with energy efficient models may cost you thousands of dollars, but storm windows are a fraction of the price and can give your home a significant efficiency boost. Usually made to install over your existing window exteriors, storm windows reduce drafts and create a layer of air that acts as additional insulation.
Standard storm window sizes are available at several price points that vary by quality, but any custom windows will likewise need custom storm windows. Installation can also be a major chore, especially if you have a multi-story home, which is why many homeowners hire a contractor to put the storm windows up each fall and take them down in the spring. If you expect to need help, you should factor that into your total cost.
Still, installing storm windows can be substantially cheaper upfront than window replacement. They’ll offer less savings in the long run, though: storm windows usually need to be replaced after several years, while permanent energy-efficient windows may last decades.
Mind the Gaps
If you’re not sure how your existing windows were installed or what kind of insulation surrounds them, it’s possible you have air leaks around the window casing. Installers need a little wiggle room when sliding windows into place, which leaves gaps around the window’s edge. A good contractor will seal all these gaps with spray foam insulation, but sometimes this step isn't taken.
Filling those gaps with spray foam insulation yourself is not a difficult task, but exposing your window’s casing often is. You’ll need to carefully pry off your window molding and reinstall it when you’re done, at which point you’ll likely need to repaint the molding and surrounding wall. Because of this, you should be reasonably certain that there are air leaks around a window casing before you pull out the tools.
The best way to know for sure is to hire an HVAC technician to inspect your windows using thermal imaging, which is usually offered as part of an energy efficiency audit. This technology lets you see and locate air leaks hidden inside your walls.
Change from Within
The cheapest and easiest alternative to window replacement is to add materials to the inside of your windows. You probably already have some form of weather stripping on your windows, but you may have opportunities to add more or replace weather stripping that has become cracked. Weather stripping comes in numerous types, each with its own strengths, weaknesses and ideal uses.
Hardware stores also sell window insulation kits – clear plastic clings that stick to the glass – for just a few dollars per window. And if you really want to go low-budget, you can use plastic kitchen wrap. It won’t look nice and it probably won’t be an energy efficiency game changer, but you’ll measure savings in dollars using a couple pennies’ worth of materials.
Window upgrades like these are great for insulating your home against the high costs of winter heating, but there’s more you can do to get ready with the help of your local One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning. Most importantly -- get your furnace tuned up before chilly weather arrives!