9 Ways to Insulate Your Windows for Winter

9 Ways to Insulate Your Windows for Winter

If you wanted to build a home where retaining heat in the winter was your only priority, you wouldn’t have much of a view. That’s because you would forego windows in favor of well-insulated walls.

Old and poorly maintained windows can become drafty if they no longer fit tightly in their frames, but even airtight windows can be a major source of heat loss in your home. That’s because glass transfers heat more effectively than building materials such as wood and drywall.

But since we value the natural light, ventilation and outdoor views our windows provide, our best option is not to remove them but to make sure they are insulated as well as possible.

Here are some techniques you can use to make sure your windows aren’t letting out all the heat your furnace supplies.

Here are 9 affordable ways to insulate your windows for Winter.

1. Start with caulk.

Start with caulk

One of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce heat loss around a window is to seal around the edges of the glass with caulk.

This versatile material comes out of the tube as a very thick paste and dries to a rubbery texture. It bonds well to most surfaces and creates a watertight seal, so it can fill tiny gaps around the glass.

To use a tube of caulk, cut the plastic nozzle at a 45-degree angle near the tip. Find the edge where the glass meets the frame, then squeeze caulk in a line (like toothpaste) to leave a narrow “bead.” (For a thicker bead, cut further down the nozzle at the same angle.)

Caulk is available in various formulations, but for windows acrylic latex or vinyl latex is a good bet. Acrylic latex can last longer (up to 15 years), but does not hold up as well in humid environments. Vinyl latex, on the other hand, stands up to moisture but typically lasts only five years.

2. Install weather stripping.

Install weather stripping

Weather strips are strips that fit around windows and doors to ensure a tight fit and no gaps. They come in at least three varieties: foam, V-type and compression.

Compression weather strips are durable and can be used on window sashes and other moving parts. They are malleable, allowing a tight seal between the window and the frame when it closes.

V-type strips form a seal along the side of the window jamb to keep the cold out.

Foam weather stripping has an adhesive backing on one side, making it easy to install but giving it a shorter lifespan (about one to three years).

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3. Add window film.

Add window film

If you have old, drafty windows, covering the glass with plastic window film can help the house stay warm in the winter. It goes on like plastic food wrap and is heated with a hair dryer, causing it to shrink to fit. You can remove it easily in the spring.

A step up from regular window film is energy film, which has better transparency than regular plastic, allowing more sunlight to come through.

4. Install storm windows or energy panels.

Install storm windows or energy panels

If you don’t like the idea of shrink-wrapping visible areas of your home, you may want to invest in storm windows. Traditionally, these are lightweight panels that are added to the exterior, behind your main window panels, replacing the screens you use in summer.

Newer storm window products can be mounted on the interior of your existing windows, preserving the appearance of your home from the outside. These extra panels are sometimes referred to as “secondary glazing.”

Depending on the type, some storm windows can be held in place with magnets or by compression.

9 Ways to Insulate Your Windows for Winter

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5. Block the draft.

Block the draft

If you don’t want to make a big investment in window equipment, a simple draft blocker can still make a difference. You can even make your own by rolling or sewing a cylinder of fabric the length of the window sill, then filling it with stuffing. The stuffing needs to be bulky to fill the space, and heavy enough to stay in place. Rice is a cost-effective filler.

6. Install cellular shades.

Install cellular shades

Cellular shades have a pleated honeycomb structure that traps air in pockets. Because air doesn’t circulate in and out of the pockets, they provide substantial insulation. Of course, the shades insulate only when they’re covering the windows, so leave them open when sunlight is streaming in to heat the house and close them when it’s dark to hold the heat in.

9 Ways to Insulate Your Windows for Winter

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7. Hang thermal curtains.

Hang thermal curtains

Like blinds, curtains can prevent the transfer of heat from inside the house to outside. Some curtains are specifically intended to reduce heat loss, with thicker fabrics or barriers.

For an extra layer of protection, use both blinds and curtains—the layers will also trap air between them, keeping the room nice and cozy.

8. Retrofit or reglaze your windows for winter.

Retrofit or reglaze your windows

If your glass is cracked or of poor quality, you can replace the panes. When just the glass is replaced, it’s called “reglazing”—the “glaze” in this case refers to glass, rather than a coating.

If the window frames are in good shape but the window panes and sash are not, you can have a new vinyl window put into the existing frame. This is called “retrofit replacement.”

Compared to a complete replacement, retrofits and reglazing can save you money—but many times ineffective windows have as much to do with the sash and frame as the glass itself. Consider whether reglazing will solve your problem or just delay the fix.

9 Ways to Insulate Your Windows for Winter

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9. Consider an upgrade.

Consider an upgrade

If you can afford it, the best way to improve the insulation of your windows is to replace old or single-hung windows with new double-glazed (or even triple-glazed) windows.

New models generally use vinyl in place of wood. It is moisture-resistant and does not warp like wood does, so it will maintain a tight seal longer. Today’s vinyl can look convincingly like wood, too, if you prefer that look.

Double-glazed windows use two panes of glass with a gap in between for improved insulation. Increasingly popular are windows filled with gas, typically argon. Because the gas is denser than the mixture in the atmosphere, it offers more thermal efficiency.

Low-E (for “low-emissivity”) coatings on glass panes are another upgrade. Low-E windows have a microscopically thin coat that reflects heat and minimizes the transmission of UV and infrared light. In the winter, this layer reflects the warmth of the interior air back into the house. In the summer it helps to keep an air-conditioned home cool.


In terms of thermal insulation, your home’s windows can be a major weakness. Some experts say that as much as 70 percent of the energy loss in your home is through windows and doors, and for windows, 90 percent of the heat loss occurs through (not around) the glass.

The EPA estimates an energy savings of about 10%, or roughly $200 per year for a typical home, if you properly seal and insulate. Your heating system won’t have to work as hard to keep you comfortable.

With a few simple adjustments you can stay warm from fall through spring.

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