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Alternatives To Replacing Windows

Our house has its original single-pane windows, and we always feel chilly near them. I got quotes on having them replaced, but I can’t afford it now. What can I do in the meantime to improve the efficiency of the old windows?—Pete N.

I’m not surprised to hear you feel chilly near old single-pane windows on a cold day—they typically have huge heat loss and cold-air gain because of poor caulking and weatherstripping. You probably also feel hot near them during the summer.

The R-value (a higher-the-better number that shows the ability of insulation to resist the transfer of heat) of a single pane of glass is only R-1, compared to an insulated wall at about R-20.

There are many things you can do on a limited budget to improve the year-round efficiency of your windows. Before you attempt any improvements though, check the caulking and weatherstripping and ensure the framing is not deteriorated. If you find subpar conditions, fix them before any improvements, or your hard work won’t be worth much.

Adding storm windows, either interior or exterior, can more than double the efficiency of your windows. Custom-made, multitrack storm windows can often cost almost as much as new windows, so make your own using clear acrylic sheets.

Exterior storm windows can be made with 1×2 inch lumber, acrylic sheet, and foam weatherstripping. If you size them to fit inside the wall opening and paint them to match your existing window frames, they will look like part of your windows. The compressible foam weatherstripping should hold them in place in the opening. Push them in as far as possible to minimize the air gap.

To install interior storm windows, use a kit with magnetic seals. The magnetic section of the seal attaches to the acrylic sheet with an adhesive backing, and the steel strip attaches to the window frame. This allows you to easily remove them during the summer for ventilation, but if you use air conditioning most of the summer, just leave them up year-round.

Another option is to install insulating window shades or curtains to increase the overall insulation level of the window opening and to block the radiant heat loss from your skin through the window. Something as simple as a pull-down pleated shade can help quite a bit.


Window film kits: efficient budget choice

The newest energy-saving permanent window films, available in kits at home improvement stores, are effective for reducing wintertime heat loss. These films have a very slight tint so they can’t be detected and use the same type of microscopically thin low-emissivity metallic coating as expensive replacement windows. Before installing anything on double-pane windows, check the window manufacturer’s warranty regarding film application.


Mail requests and questions to JAMES DULLEYKentucky Living, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit

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