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Install storm windows

By Jeff Smith |
If new energy-efficient windows don't fit your pocketbook or your antique house, opt for storm windows. Find out why some storm windows even outperform more expensive replacement windows.
Whether you're renovating an antique Cape, fixing up the old farmhouse, or winterizing your lakeside cabin, storm windows can keep out wintry drafts, saving energy and lowering your heating bill.

How to choose and use storm windows

New energy-efficient windows are a great idea, but if their cost has you thinking Should I get new windows or send my child to college? you may want to take a second look at storm windows. Installing either exterior or interior storm windows can cut heat loss through your windows by 25 to 50 percent.[1] Surprisingly, in some cases storm windows are even more energy-efficient than expensive replacement windows.

Exterior storm windows

If your house has existing storm windows with either wood or metal frames, keep them. Make sure they fit tightly, and caulk or weatherstrip if necessary. If you don't have storms, consider adding either triple-track metal windows or metal-framed windows that fit over the existing windows with metal or plastic clips. The latter are especially popular with antique homeowners — they provide unobtrusive but effective coverage without replacing antique windows, which could effect the home's value. This window assembly — the single-pane window plus the storm window — has an R factor of 1.79, which is actually more energy-efficient than a double-paned window assembly that has an air space up to half an inch (and an R factor of only 1.72).[2] Your old storm windows may be more energy-efficient than you think!

If you don't have storm windows and are short on cash, an inexpensive option is to make your own storm windows by adding a clear vinyl film to the outside of your windows using a special tape designed for this purpose. This is a compromise, since vinyl is decidedly eco-unfriendly, but while you can't recycle the tape, you can recycle the vinyl and use it next year.[3]

Did you know?

There's a right way and a wrong way to use your triple-track storm windows. There are two panes of glass. The one on the outermost track goes at the top; the one on the innermost track, at the bottom. If the outermost window is at the bottom, rain or snow will sit on the top surface of the frame, allowing water to seep in. The windows also won't fit tightly, allowing cold air in and hot air out.

Interior storm windows

Interior storm windows are also effective. They're also the best option for removable storms for second-story windows (unless you have a death wish and like teetering on an extension ladder holding a large pane of glass). A local contractor or glass company can measure your windows and construct the storm windows and window fittings for you, or you can do it yourself.

Another option is using storm windows made from optical-grade acrylic attached with a magnetic seal mounted on the inside of the window, which not only saves energy, but also greatly reduces outside noise due to the sound-deadening properties of acrylic.

One inexpensive option is to staple or tape heavy-duty, clear plastic to a wooden frame that's built to fit snugly in the interior window opening, or to tape clear plastic film to the inside of your window frames. A tight seal is a must for energy efficiency. Interior do-it-yourself storm window kits may cost as little as $55 for a 60-by-30-inch window. Larger custom windows may cost more than $200 installed.[4]

Put 'em up

Storm windows won't do any good if you don't use them. Put them up (or down) in the fall, as soon as it feels cold inside and you think about putting the heat on.

Find it! Storm windows

Using storm windows helps you go green because…

  • They provide a thermal gap which prevents heat loss, reducing the use of heating fuel.
  • They keep cold air out, if properly sealed.
Almost half of all homes in the US have single-pane windows. Heat loss through windows accounts for 10 to 25 percent of your home heating bill.[1] Windows are a major source of escaping heat since they provide a poor thermal barrier, with an R factor of only 0.89. They're also often not well sealed and let cold air in. Adding storm windows greatly improves both of these situations.[5]


  • caulk (or caulking): A sealing compound used to fill seams and patch small air leaks.[6]
  • R-value: A measure of the insulation effectiveness of the window. The higher the R-value, the better the insulating performance.[7]
  • weatherstripping: A material applied to the gaps around windows and doors in order to seal them against air leakage.[6]

External links


  1. US Department of Energy - Energy Savers: Tips on Saving Energy & Money at Home
  2. US National Park Service - Conserving Energy in Historic Buildings
  3. Energy Boomer - Easy Add On Storm Windows From The Outside
  4. ToolBase Services - Interior Storm Windows
  5. National Park Service - Conserving Energy in Historic Buildings
  6. US Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: Glossary of Energy-Related Terms
  7. Accurate Window & Door, Inc.
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