From Spotlight: Fixes for the Most Annoying Household Headaches

Fix and Insulate Drafty, Energy-Sucking Windows for Good

Quick, affordable ways to address those annoying drafty windows now, plus some ideas for the long term.

A well insulated window with a view of a forest in Winter.
Image: Liukov/getty

Do your friends nominate your house for the Halloween bash every year because your rattling windows with their billowing curtains add that just-right eerie feel they want for their creepy celebration?

Maybe that’s fine for fall, but when winter temps set in, those rattling, drafty windows will bug you to no end and hike your heating bill beyond your comfort zone. Best to get rid of that headache now.

Related: The Smart, Low-Cost Way to Reduce Your Energy Bills

So, Why Do They Get Drafty?

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. 

Related: Tips for Detecting Air Leaks in Windows

Easy Fixes for Right Now

Here are five fast and inexpensive solutions that’ll fix problem windows for awhile, or at least get you through to spring, when more permanent fixes are easier.

1. V-seal weather stripping. Add this plastic weather stripping along the sides of the sashes. Windows can open and shut, even with the V-seal in place. 

2. Rope caulk. This soft, sticky stuff can be molded to suit the gap — and removes easily at the end of the season.

3. 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.

4. Nail polish. If carefully applied, clear 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. 

5. 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 included to match the 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.

3 Fixes for the Long Term

1. 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. Best part is, it costs only a few bucks. Some quick tips:

  • Begin by removing all the old putty.
  • Detach the pane and add a bed of fresh putty.
  • 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.
  • Apply a long thin roll of putty and use a clean putty knife to smooth it in place. 

2. Rejuvenate storm windows. If you have old storm windows stacked in the garage rafters, reglaze and repaint them, and put them away every fall. Not only do storm windows cut drafts, but they insulate. Cost: Once they’re fixed up, it only costs an afternoon of washing and installing the storms.

3. Replace the window. A worn, rotted, or chronically rattling 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.


Dave Toht
Dave Toht

Dave Toht has written or edited over 60 books on home repair and remodeling for The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Better Homes & Gardens, Sunset, and Reader’s Digest. He's a former contractor with decades of hands-on experience.