Drafting a window plan

Experts give advice for keeping warm this fall and winter

By: Julie Snyder | C&G Newspapers | Published October 10, 2012

To seal old windows or to buy new windows, that is the question.

Some local experts say the answer depends on the homeowner, but the consensus is that those pesky window drafts not only make your traditionally comfy home uncomfortably chilly during the cold months, they are also quite costly.

Dominic Coschino, general manager at Classic Window and Siding, 22000 Greater Mack in St. Clair Shores, said replacements are recommended in a home with aging, single-pane windows.

“Many of the older windows (15-20 years old) are not insulated, and they are single-pane windows that do not block cold air,” said Coschino. “A lot of the new windows have weather stripping built right in.”

Weather stripping, a self-stick plastic tension seal, is used to seal air leaks around movable building components like doors or workable windows. Caulk is recommended for filling cracks and gaps in stationary components.

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends choosing a type of weather stripping that will withstand friction, weather, temperature changes, and wear and tear. For example, when applied to a door bottom or threshold, weather stripping could drag on carpet or erode as a result of foot traffic. Weather stripping in a window sash must accommodate the sliding of panes, whether it is up and down or side to side. The weather stripping that is chosen should seal well when the door or window is closed, but allow it to open freely.

Coschino said the double-pane windows that are manufactured today work tremendously in blocking cold air drafts, but if new windows are not on a person’s expense plan, there are other ways to save on heating and energy bills.

“I say make sure you caulk and use plastic coverings on those drafty windows,” he said, adding that fall is their busiest time of year. “A lot of people are having their windows done now; they’re getting ready for inclement weather.”

Jacob Corvidae, Green Programs manager at WARM Training Center in Detroit, said new windows can be more energy efficient than older windows, but replacing existing windows is not always what his organization recommends.

WARM is a nonprofit organization established in 1981 to provide residents, local governments and businesses methods in energy efficiency, green building and sustainability through an array of educational and training programs.

“Windows are especially good candidates for replacement when they have metal frames,” said Corvidae. “Other times to consider replacement are when the windows are in bad shape and single-pane.”

Replacement windows rely on their sealed double pane of glass for efficiency, lowering the conductive heat loss. But that double-pane effect can also be gotten with a good storm window.

Energy efficiency isn’t the only environmental factor to consider. Old wood windows can last more than 100 years with proper maintenance, while replacement windows only last around 15 to 20 years, and some can’t be repaired, because if sealant around their double panes fails, the whole window has to be replaced. That’s more toxic vinyl to produce and dispose of, more building materials sent to local landfills and more pollutants released in the air for the production of new windows.

“Even beat-up, old windows can be made much more efficient with a few inexpensive, simple steps,” said Corvidae.

The first step he recommends is to be sure the glass itself is well-sealed in the frame.

“This should be done with glazing putty. If you tap on the glass and it rattles, it needs to be sealed,” he said. “If the glass has a crack, it can be temporarily sealed with a thick, clear tape.”

Second, seal all air leaks around the window assembly.

“Check for cool air coming between the moving and still parts of the window,” he said. “These are best sealed with flexible, removable rope caulk, which can be applied and left for years, or removed every spring, if you want to open the windows again. Be sure to check around the trim as well, as lots of air can blow through there, too. Non-moving window parts can be sealed with a regular, permanent caulk, though rope caulk will also work.”

The third step is to put plastic over the windows.

“This is like making a second-pane window,” said Corvidae. “It provides an insulating layer of air between the outdoors and indoors.

“The mistake most people make is to do this before sealing air leaks. Then the plastic’s not very effective and more likely to come loose.”

Corvidae said the total cost for sealing a single window is approximately $8, whereas it could cost up to $800 for a replacement.

“Again, replacement is great in some scenarios, but if you can’t afford it, there’s still lots you can do,” he said.

In addition, storm windows — there are four major types — provide the effect of a double pane for a fraction of the cost. The types of storm windows include: interior, acrylic panel, with a magnetic seal; interior, “insulated panel,” which is a double layer of clear plastic film with cross-bracing, holding an insulating layer of air between them, in a plastic frame; exterior, triple-track aluminum; and exterior, wood.

WARM Training Center also is encouraging people considering deeper investments in energy to look into an incentive program called Better Buildings for Michigan.

“The program offers an inexpensive energy audit and then tons of incentive dollars not available anywhere else to make the good changes to their home,” Corvidae said.

For more information or to sign up, go to MIHomeEnergy.org.

Classic Window and Siding can be contacted at (586) 776-0060. For more information about WARM Training Center, call (313) 894-1030 or go to www.warm training.org.