How to Weather-Strip Windows to Save Money and Conserve Energy
Most heat loss at a window occurs through gaps between the sashes and the frame, and even small gaps can be big energy wasters. On a windy day, hold a piece of tissue paper or plastic wrap near the window and move it around. Wherever you see movement (either outward or inward), there is a significant leak. If you have drafty windows, follow our step-by-step instructions to learn how to weather-strip windows to conserve energy and save money over time.
Before you begin, make any needed repairs to the window and its frame. Once complete, the first step to weatherizing windows is to caulk, especially on the exterior. Also, check that the glazing putty on the outside is free of gaps and seals tightly against the window. Where glazing is failing, scrape it out and apply new glazing. On the inside, see that the joint between the glass and the sash is sealed with paint.
Weather-stripping where two surfaces push together (the horizontals of a double-hung window and the verticals of a casement or sliding window) is straightforward. Where two surfaces slide against each other (the verticals of a double-hung window and the horizontals of a casement or slider) calls for more precision. However, most weatherstripping applications only take an hour or two to apply. We'll show you how to do both with our guide to weather-stripping windows.
Before You Begin: Identify Gaps in Windows
A double-hung window has a number of potential leak points. Most prominent are where the bottom of the upper sash meets the top of the lower sash, where the sashes slide against the jamb, and where the bottom sash meets the stool. These gaps must be sealed with weatherstripping. Gaps can also be found on the outside of the casing, the underside of the stool, and the apron.
Types of Weatherstripping
Nail-on weatherstripping is the most durable choice if you have a wood window. Spring bronze works well for gaps that are consistent in width. It is also the best-looking product. Where the gap is large and uneven and looks are not as important, a tubular vinyl gasket is a good choice. Strips of felt are a poor choice because they don't seal well and are not durable.
Self-adhesive weatherstripping is easy to cut, making it the most convenient choice. If you choose self-stick V-strip tape, be sure it is made of EPDM (ethylene-propylene-diene-monomer), which stays flexible for many years, even when exposed to extremely low temperatures.
Foam weatherstripping is easy to apply and fills large and uneven gaps effectively. However, it usually doesn't last long. Open-cell foam is the best at bouncing back after being compressed, but it can only be used on the inside. Closed-cell foam is weather-resistant but short-lived.
For quick but temporary sealing, use rope caulk or a shrink-wrap plastic window kit, which can be removed when the weather gets warm.
How to Weather-Strip Windows
Repair drafty windows with these simple tips.
What You Need
- Tape measure
- Tin snips
- Caulk gun
- Spray foam insulation
- Fiberglass insulation
- Mineral spirits (if needed)
How to Caulk Around a Window
Step 1: Cut Caulk Tube
Cut a caulk tube's tip using a sharp utility knife; a straight, clean cut contributes to a smooth caulk line. Some people prefer to cut at a steep angle, while others prefer a nearly straight cut. Cut near the tip for a small bead of caulk. Some caulk tubes require the seal to be broken with a wire or long nail through the tip.
Step 2: Apply Caulk to Window
It takes a bit of experience to produce a smooth bead of caulk, so start caulking in an inconspicuous location. Get in a comfortable position and rest the tip against the joint. Squeeze the trigger until caulk emerges, then continue to squeeze as you move the tip along the joint.
Related: How to Use a Caulk Gun
Step 3: Smooth Caulk
If the bead looks good, leave it alone. Otherwise, use your finger to smooth it; this tends to smear the caulk, but it does ensure the caulk adheres to your surface on both sides of the bead.
How to Seal the Top or Bottom of a Window
Add Rope Caulk
For an added measure of weather-stripping during cold months, apply rope caulk ($7, The Home Depot), which helps to seal a variety of window materials. To install rope caulk, unroll and press the rope caulk in where the sash meets the stops, between the top of the lower sash and the bottom of the upper sash, and in the pulley. The window cannot be opened while rope caulk is in place, so remove it in the spring.
Apply Self-Stick Foam Weatherstripping
Another option for sealing windows, adhesive foam weatherstripping (from $3, Lowe's) is inexpensive and easy to install; simply peel and stick. Test to be sure you will be able to close the window before you apply thick foam weather-stripping to the underside or top of a sash. To apply self-stick foam weatherstripping, first make sure the surface is clean and dry. Cut the foam with scissors or tin snips. Peel off the backing and press the foam into place. Self-adhesive foam works well for casement windows and sliding windows, and can also be used to insulate the sides of windows. The foam comes in various thicknesses; test to be sure the window will close after you apply it.
Install Spring Bronze Weatherstripping
While modern weatherstripping techniques like foam and adhesive are popular today, spring bronze weatherstripping offers a long-term solution. This technique involves a bit more work (nails are required) but provides a solid window seal to prevent air from escaping your home. To install, first cut spring bronze with tin snips to fit your window precisely. Taking care not to bend the metal as you work, hold the piece in place and drive in small nails. Drive two or three nails, test to be sure the window will close, then drive the rest of the nails until they're flush with the surface. If needed, use a putty knife to gently bend the bronze once it's in place to close any gaps in your window.
To install spring bronze along the sides of a lower sash, raise the sash all the way up. Cut the bronze to the height of the sash. Slip it up the sash as far as needed, nail in place, then close the sash to test.
Seal Windows with Tubular Vinyl
Tubular vinyl ($3, The Home Depot) is an affordable solution for sealing large cracks, though it can detract from the appearance of a window. To install tubular vinyl weatherstripping, start by cutting the strips to size with scissors. Close the window and press the vinyl firmly into place while you drive small nails or staples.
Install Plastic Shrink Wrap
To seal a window for the winter season only, purchase a shrink-wrap window cover kit ($12, Walmart). This plastic for windows blocks drafts during cold months to help keep your home energy-efficient. First, use scissors to cut the window plastic to size. Apply the included double-sided tape all around the window casing, then carefully apply the plastic to the tape. Use a blow dryer to shrink the plastic and make it taut.
How to Seal the Sides of Windows
Many of the techniques used to seal the top and bottom of windows can also be used to stop drafts on the sides of windows, including self-adhesive foam and spring bronze. Here are additional weatherizing techniques for the sides of windows.
Repair Glazing Putty
If you notice that the glazing putty on your window is cracked, missing in spots, or curling from the glass, you'll need to repair it. Use a putty knife or chisel to scrape away loose putty. Clean the area, apply a little linseed oil, and apply window glazing putty ($9, The Home Depot).
Attach V-Seal Weatherstrips
For a casement window or sliding window, V-seal weatherstripping ($4, The Home Depot) can be added to the side of the window sash or jamb for a good seal. Make sure the surface is clean and dry. Cut the V-strip to fit your window and hold it in position. Peel back the paper as you press the self-adhesive strip in place.
Caulk Exterior Molding
If you can't identify where the draft is coming from on your window, check your home's exterior. The window's exterior molding may need to be repaired. To seal windows, caulk around all exterior window molding as well as the inside of the molding and under the sill.
How to Insulate Counterweight Openings
If you have installed a replacement window or replacement sashes, the cavity for the sash weights can be filled with insulation. Fill the opening by gently stuffing with fiberglass insulation or with spray foam (the nonexpanding type is easiest to control).
How to Seal a Window Pulley
Cold winter air can enter your home through the pulley slots. Plastic covers are available or you can press in removable rope caulk to fill the gaps. Or simply cover with duct tape. Remove the caulk or tape before opening the window in the spring.