Got Leaky Windows? 3 Low-Cost Tips to Fix Them

Taking care of a leaky windowA drafty window doesn't mean you have to buy a new one. There are some low-cost, easy fixes to seal your existing windows. Image: M-D Building Products

I used to hang an extra woolly robe in my bathroom because my post-shower route took me past a window so drafty it made me wonder about the etymology of “window.” Turns out it comes from the Anglo-Saxon “vindr” and “auga,” which translates as “wind eye.” How appropriate.

If the “wind eye” focused on you last winter, but you’re not ready to invest in new windows, you can still cut your energy bills if you seal those air leaks — and if you do so now, you’ll prevent cool air from escaping your home this summer.

Here are three low-cost tips to help keep air leaks at bay:

#1. For most windows: Just fill the gaps.

Easier said than done if you’re dealing with old, flaky caulk, weather stripping, or adhesive that’s really tough to remove. But if you don’t clean it off well, your new caulk and stripping won’t adhere well and could peel away before you see any benefits.

However, a common household product, petroleum jelly, removes that adhesive goo quite well. Just rub the jelly over the sticky goo, let it sit for a few minutes, then wipe away. Another swipe with rubbing alcohol will remove the greasy film left from the jelly. (This technique, by the way, also works for removing price labels.)

#2. For older windows with rattling panes: Make baffles.

Cut quarter-round pine strips to fit. Use finishing nails and wood glue to secure them just inside the framed glass. Once you’ve caulked and painted the strips to match, they will disappear into the framework and look like part of the original window. It worked wonderfully on my 1920-era casement windows.

#3. If you want window treatments, too: Install waffle shades.

Folding fabric shades that are made with cells that trap air have great insulating properties — so good that some of them qualify for federal energy rebates, which have been extended into 2011. They start at around $50 — still less expensive than new windows—and you get a new look, too.

Leaky windows are a big deal, winter or summer. What ways have you found to fix your windy windows?