Save Energy with Winter Window Treatments

Reduce the amount of energy lost through your windows.
Megan Phelps
November/December 2007
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Are your windows ready for winter?
Istockphoto/Karel Broz

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Each winter, most of us break out extra blankets and sweaters to stay warm. In the same way, it's a good idea to outfit your home for winter weather. You can get your windows ready for the cold by taking steps to block drafts, and then add even more insulating power by hanging window treatments such as thermal drapes or window quilts. Take these easy steps now, and you can save energy and lower your heating bills this winter!

A good place to start winterizing your windows is to investigate whether they need basic repairs or air sealing measures. If you've noticed a draft coming from one or more of your windows, you'll probably want to start by sealing the leaks with caulk, foam, or heat-shrinking plastic ? all available at most hardware stores.

Also remember that some styles of windows are more energy efficient than others. If your home has single-pane windows, you might consider investing in new high performance windows. Although new windows are an expensive purchase, they pay for themselves over time in lower energy bills. If you're ready to buy new windows, try these tips to find the best type for your needs.

No matter what style of windows you have, they're often the weak spot in your home's envelope, because the glass doesn't slow the transfer of heat. To provide more insulating power, turn to insulated window coverings.

Commercial products. You can find many brands of shades and drapes that are designed to provide extra insulation for your windows. To compare products, look for window treatments that advertise their R-value? the higher the number the better the insulation they provide. (For context, check out this list of R-values for common building materials.)

Thermal drapes are easy to find online, but their performance can be hard to predict because it depends on how far away the fabric is from the window. In many cases you may want to choose insulated shades, which hang directly over the glass. Online sources for insulated shades include Window Quilts, Symphony Shades and EcoSmart Insulating Shades.

Homemade window quilts. If you like the concept of insulated shades but would prefer to make your own, the process is pretty simple. Usually they're constructed with fabric as the front and back, and good insulating materials as the filler. These designs are also sometimes called window quilts, or movable insulation.

This 1983 article from the Mother Earth News Archive gives several strategies for making window quilts using a variety of insulating materials, including quilted fabric, a polyethylene vapor barrier and bubble wrap. Here's another article with pictures of homemade window quilts, and a good explanation of how they slow heat loss.

Gary Reysa is an environmentally savvy DIY writer, and on his Web site he suggests a number of intriguing ideas for inexpensive and effective window insulation. Here are a few to consider:

  • Hang bubble wrap! Reysa explains this project in more detail on the site, but the basics are pretty simple. You just cut the bubble wrap to fit, spray it with water and stick it to the window. He calculated that putting bubble wrap on his home's windows reduced heat loss by 45 percent.

  • Construct window inserts. For windows where you don't mind blocking out light, these simple shutters can be a good option. They're made by duct-taping together several layers of cardboard and placing them in the window frame. Reysa says that while it may not be a pretty solution, it's fast, cheap and should dramatically improve window performance. You can also buy or make window inserts with rigid foam insulation.

  • Add acrylic storm windows. Storm windows are typically glass, but they don't have to be. Reysa suggests clear plastic as an inexpensive alternative that hardly looks different than glass and is just as effective.

Do you have other ideas for winterizing your windows and saving energy at home? Post your favorite energy saving strategies in our comments section.

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8/29/2008 10:44:00 PM
For energy saving ideas including saving energy with windows and window treatments, visit Exploring ways to reduce energy consumption at home, work and at travel. Reducing Energy Usage, Lowering Cost, Saving Money visit

marilyn williams
11/28/2007 12:00:00 AM
A few years ago I worked where they were throwing away over 600 medium sized bubble wrap bags a day. I started hauling them home-what was I thinking? I didn't really know until winter set in. I was facing a very cold, drafty victorian house I had bought and lived in for a couple of years. Oh, and the other item available was large sheets of cardboard. I took the cardboard, used the screen insert from the old storm windows as a template, cut out a piece, spray mounted old lace to one side and inserted them up into the frame on the top-as if the screen was open, only now it just looked like a pretty lace shade! Then I took the bubble wrap, trapping all that air, and stuffed the open area behind the cardboard and between the glass. This left the bottom half open and letting in light and the top part is hidden by the lace curtains I have on the inside. The outside looks really pretty, lacy and victorian. The windows are 5' & 6' tall and I have over 30 of them. It was pretty much a free, recycled project. I only bought 2 cans of spray adhesive and a pack of blades for my knife. I must admit that the winter was mild and I did continue to insulate around the windows and doors, BUT-my fuel use for my oil boiler that supplies my radiators the hot water dropped from 1350 gallons from the year before, to about 400 that winter. I thought I was kinda of nutty when I did it but I am relieved now that I've sen your article!

Suzanne McMahon_2
11/15/2007 12:00:00 AM
I read this article and decided to try the bubble wrap on our bathroom (north) window. The result was immediate. This trick blew me away and it was so easy. No more cold north wind in the bathroom. Thanks so much.

11/14/2007 12:00:00 AM
I have purchased the inexpensive blankets from WalMart and hang them over the north wall of my mobile home and the front door. They reduce the draft from the windows, doors, and electric sockets. I also hang blankets over the south windows and try to tie them back during the day to let the sun in. Because I decorate (?) with Native American or nature scene blankets, they also are decorative. Plus they give the cats something to climb. I also hang a blanket in the living room/hallway to keep the cold from flowing through from the unheated part of the mobile.

dave mudge
11/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
Check your neighborhood to see if you have a Habitat For The Humanities “Re-Store”.This will be a place that sells materials that have been donated from local contractors and businesses.They have building materials such as doors and windows, kitchen appliances, bath tubs & showers, toilets, paint, hardware, lighting etc. I bought 5 double insulated windows for a small house that I am remodeling.These windows retail around $200 ea., I bought them for $35 and $45 each.

Rick Block
11/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
I found a unique approach to window "qults". Any local Salvation Army or Goodwill or Arc has lots of 'preused' quilts that are simple to mount and with a little work make great window 'blankets'. I have done this with my south-facing french doors in sunny southern Colorado and will be adding some more new-made 'blankets' on my next trip to the 'big' city.Rick

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