Cost-Efficient Window Solutions

Keep the drafts out and your energy bills lower with these tips to stop air leaks around your windows and doors.

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One of the cheapest and easiest energy savers in your house is to weatherize your windows and doors. The small cost of some caulk or weather-stripping materials can pay for itself in heating and cooling savings within a year, all while eliminating major sources of drafts.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, drafts are responsible for the loss of 5 percent to 30 percent of your home's energy. Weather-stripping and sealing around windows and doors helps keep the heat or cool air inside the home, and it doesn't allow drafts to come in from outdoors.

If you have a number of windows and doors, you don't have to arm yourself with hundreds of dollars of materials. You can do some of it at a time.

Big Drafts

Go after the drafts coming in under and around doors to the exterior. If there's no rubber weather stripping under the door, get some. Most can be nailed or glued on, and it should create a seal when shut against a threshold. A door sweep can be attached to the bottom of the door.

You can add foam or rubber weather stripping to the door stop, where the door meets the frame when shut. Foam weather stripping only works well for a year or two, so look at rubber if it's an exterior door.

Make sure to caulk around the trim, inside and out, to prevent drafts from coming through small cracks in the wood or other material. A clear caulk will allow you to paint over it.

Weatherizing Windows

You can really go nuts with windows. Start on the outside and look for places to caulk around the trim, especially where different types of building materials, like brick and wood, meet. In the window frame, look for joints that could use sealing up. The same goes on the inside

It's the framing around a window that usually needs to be sealed, says Clayton Schuller, director of partnerships of new business at Next Step Living, a New England-based energy efficiency service provider. It's often best to use a clear, paintable caulk around the trim.

In most cases, taking the time to weather-strip and seal around windows can save you the cost of replacing the windows, which can be pricey and doesn't provide the best bang for your buck. The only time you should have to replace windows is when they have only a single pane of glass and are drafty.

Insulate Behind Window Trim

If you're really ambitious, you could carefully remove the interior trim pieces around a window to see if the gap around the window frame is insulated properly. Some builders and contractors may only stuff in fiberglass insulation, which doesn't work well.

You should spray non-expandable or water-based foam in these gaps around the frames; expandable foam can bow the frame. Once you start ripping woodwork off to get behind walls, you're in the area of rapidly diminishing returns. In other words, it's a lot of work invested in something that may earn you very small savings.

Other Inexpensive Insulators

If you get drafts where the top and bottom windows of a double-hung window meet when closed, you have some options. You can permanently caulk the window shut, or you can use removable tube or rope caulk. Also check the top and bottom sashes of the windows for weather stripping to seal it when closed. If you have weather stripping there and your window is still drafty, try folding up the rubber gasket, as sometimes they get pressed too flat.

Homeowners in colder areas seal their windows during the winter with inexpensive plastic sheeting that fits neatly on the window moldings with tape and can be stretched with a hair dryer to be invisible. These create effective insulators and can be removed in the spring. Also effective are heavy drapes, curtains and cellular shades, the latter of which provide a pocket of insulating air between layers.

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