Q: It’s that time of year again — the leaves are changing colors and the air outside has a little nip. My windows have been a bit drafty as of late, and I’m wondering if you have any tips on how to deal with the problem and, in turn, possibly lower my heating bill?

A: Last night, I went to sleep with a T-shirt on that was a drop too short, and I kept waking up with a little draft on a small slice of my back. Distracting, to say the least. Now what does that have to do with your home, you may ask? Houses are just like bodies — they need to be properly encapsulated to stay warm and toasty on the inside. That being said, your windows could be a major source of heat loss in your home. But how do you know when they’re a problem and what can you do about it?

First, check all your doors, windows, and even your walls, and make sure there are no leaks anywhere. On a cold day, you can feel cold air coming in through the sides of windows and the bottoms of doors that don’t have a tight seal. If you’re not sure, try the tissue test. Once you find the leak(s) — seal it up with caulk or a roll of weather-stripping that you can find at your local hardware store. Having a tight seal on doors and windows will ensure that the warm air stays in and the cold air stays out. Experts say the cost of these easy and relatively cheap sealing techniques will be earned back in your energy savings in just one year.

Also, you can use heat-shrink plastic sheeting to completely cover your windows, you know, the kind they seal gift baskets with. We do this every winter and, although it’s annoying to not be able to open our windows once you do it, it makes such a difference in our heating bill. Not to mention that it really helps cut down on the noise — we live on such a busy street that my son’s first three-syllable word was “ambulance.”

Also, if you’ve got window unit air conditioners, take them out for the winter and store them if you can. The seal around them is usually not airtight and will let in cold air. If you absolutely cannot remove them, then try sealing them with fiberglass insulation so that air doesn’t leak through.

How do you know when it’s time for new windows completely? Well, for one, if you have windows that can be easily opened from the outside or conversely, not easily opened on the inside at all, it could be an issue of safety rather than energy efficiency. You don’t want just anyone able to climb in and you want to be able to get out in case of an emergency. 

According to the Efficient Windows Collaborative, it’s also time to consider replacing your windows if you see that water is getting through and potentially allowing mold to grow in your walls. Even if you can’t see the water, it might be an issue if paint around your windows is peeling or bubbling. This is a definitely a sign that it may be time for new windows. Other signs? Rotting windows and lead paint hazards if your windows predate the Lead-Based Paint Initiative of 1978.

If you have determined it’s time for new windows, make sure you take advantage of the government’s tax credit for scrapping your old windows and replacing them with more energy efficient ones.

Windows and doors aren’t the only things leaking cold air in and warm air out of your house. The government’s EnergyStar website has a diagram that shows all the common areas besides doors and windows from which air can be leaking, places like the ducts in your attic or the dryer vent in your basement. Check it out here.

If you follow these tips, you’ll be sure to save money on your heating bill this winter. And guess what? Come summer, you’ll save on your cooling bill too. I love feeding two birds with one seed. (Thank you, Ticklebugs!)

— Chanie

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How do I properly insulate my windows for the cold weather?
Chanie Kirschner's house looks like one of those plastic-wrapped gifts. (Well, on the inside windows, anyway.)