Try These 8 Tips to Make Your Old Windows More Efficient

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated December 29, 2021
woman cozy at home with daughter looking out the window
Photo: New Africa / Adobe Stock

Crack down on energy-sapping drafts and scorching solar heat

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If sitting by the window means you need to bundle up under the blankets or crank up the fan, then your windows aren’t doing their job well. But don’t worry—with a few simple steps, you can increase the insulation power of your home’s windows without having to replace them.

Check out these eight tips for more efficient windows and start saving on your energy bills.

1. Apply Window Caulk and Weatherstrips to Prevent Air Leaks

Hot and cold air can enter your home through spaces between the glass, window sash, and window frame. Caulking and weatherstripping, however, are inexpensive and easy solutions to improve your home’s energy efficiency. Energy Saver states that you can save as much as 5% to 10% on your energy bills by ensuring your home is properly weatherstripped.

If the areas near your windows feel drafty, then you’ll likely need to seal the them. Many types of caulking and weatherstripping materials are long-lasting—some can last anywhere from five to 20 years—but you should still check them annually to provide the best weather protection.

Apply weatherstripping to areas that can handle friction and weather changes, and apply caulk on the sides and joints of your window frame and other window areas that are stationary.

2. Install Awnings to Block the Sun

worker installing awning on window
Photo: ronstik / Adobe Stock

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that awnings on southern-facing windows reduce the amount of solar heat gain in your home by as much as 65% in the summer. Awnings used on western-facing windows can reduce it by up to 77%.

You have a few options for installing awnings: either install individual awnings over single windows or install an awning that covers a larger portion of your home to avoid individual installations. Awnings that also cover exterior walls can reduce their solar heat.

You should opt for long-lasting materials, like synthetic fabrics, which resist mildew and fading. If you live in a cold climate, consider roll-up awnings that allow sunlight to warm your rooms in the winter.

If you’re not sure which option and sizing would lead to the most savings, find a local awning installer to help you determine the best, money-saving solutions.

3. Add Blinds, Shades, and Draperies to Block Drafts and Sunlight

window area with grey shades
Photo: Kuka / Adobe Stock

Whether you prefer blinds, shades, or draperies in your home, one thing’s for sure—all can improve your window’s energy efficiency. Combining draperies and either blinds or shades maximizes the prevention of heat loss in the winter and sun protection in the summer. Not to mention, you can open all of these options to let sunlight in for warmth when it’s cold and close it up if it’s too hot outside.

Let’s take a look at each option and how much window-blocking installations can save you.

Window Draperies

Drapes don’t just offer your home a pop of color and regality—insulated draperies can improve your window's energy efficiency in both the summer and winter. The thermal insulation can reduce cold drafts and reduce heat loss by as much as 10% while also preventing heat from entering your home by 33% if you use a drapery with white-plastic backings. 

Window Blinds

Window blinds are also a good choice for reducing heat gained from the sun. Quality blinds can reduce the heat by up to 45%. Blinds are not as effective for reducing heat loss in the winter, though. 

Insulated Cellular Shades

For homes that have colder winters, cellular shades are a better option. These shades can be pulled down or up and are usually custom-fitted to your windows. Cellular shades can reduce heat loss by 40% and reduce solar heat by 60%.

4. Apply Solar Window Film to the Glass

solar window film shades
Photo: bildlove / Adobe Stock

Solar window film is like a car sun-shield, only it’s for your home instead. This film blocks up to 35% of solar heat and 95% to 99.9% of UV rays from heating your home on a hot, summer day. 

Window films can be permanent or temporary. Temporary film treatments are the best choice if you live in an area with cold winters because you can benefit from the sun warming your home during the cold season, and you might want to remove them once it starts to get cold. A permanent film is a better option for areas that are warmer all year, but keep in mind that most window films will reduce visibility.

You can DIY a window film installation or have it done professionally by a local window replacement pro. The film costs around $8 to $15 per square foot, uninstalled. A pro knows how to measure the film and reduce air bubbles, thus improving the efficacy of the film.

5. Put Up Low-Emissivity Storm Panels to Help Stabilize the Temperature

Low-emissivity (low-e) storm windows are extra glass panes that are installed over your existing windows to help insulate and conserve indoor heat in the winter and reflect outdoor radiant heat in the summer. As such, these windows can save you as much money as new, double-pane windows. The best part is that they’ll also cost you around 60% less than new windows while saving you anywhere from 10% to 30% on your heating and cooling expenses. 

Note that the efficiency of storm panels is largely dependent on the condition of your current window setup; if your windows need some TLC, installing panels can only do so much. Also, since storm panels are manufactured from many materials, including plastic or polyethylene, not all panels provide the best visibility, so talk with a pro before you make a purchase.

6. Hang Exterior Shutters on Your Windows

house with window shutters
Photo: Jason / Adobe Stock

Exterior shutters don't require space on the inside of your home. Most are made from fabric, wood, aluminum, or steel, and they work by blocking out solar heat, making them ideal for homes in hotter climates. You'll need to make sure your shutters are measured and installed properly to ensure they fit and work correctly.

You might also consider shutter styles that protect against heavy winds. You can operate the opening and closing system from the inside of your home or via remote control.

7. Upgrade or Repair Your Window Frames

Wood window frames, especially, are prone to decay and damage over time, making it important that you inspect your window frames regularly for signs of wear. A pesky, old window frame can lead to air seepage that makes for much higher energy bills, so you’ll want to repair or replace window frames pronto if there is a problem. Fiberglass, insulation-filled vinyl, and wood frames are the most energy-efficient window frame materials.

8. Have a Home Energy Audit

home energy inspector
Photo: Valmedia / Adobe Stock

Troubleshooting the cause of your window’s energy inefficiency can feel a little like taking a wild stab in the dark if you’re not experienced in improving your home’s energy efficiency. In this case, you’ll want to hire a local home energy auditor to evaluate your windows and other areas of the home to best conserve energy and save money. 

A home energy audit costs around $400 on average, but low-income families may qualify for a free audit, and some state and local governments might offer rebates to offset the expenses for anyone ineligible for a free audit. And, of course, you’ll end up saving in the long run. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, reducing drafts in your home can save you between 5% to 30% yearly on your energy bills.

The Bottom Line

Some windows are just too old for these energy-efficient tricks to be effective. If you’ve tried all of the above tips and still have higher energy bills than you’d like, you might need to take the plunge and upgrade your windows. 

When choosing the best replacement windows, look for Energy Star-qualified windows, which are designed with energy efficiency in mind.

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