Stop drafty windows: How to fix them for good

Got chills? Your house doesn’t have to be this way. Read on to learn how to get your windows to leak less heat.

Got chills? Your house doesn’t have to be this way. Read on to learn how to get your windows to leak less heat.

Do you regularly feel annoying drafts near your windows on colder days?

While you might think that you need to replace your windows to solve the problem, that isn’t always the case. (And that’s good news. Installing new windows can be a really expensive fix.) 

In fact, it’s better to ask yourself How do I stop drafty windows? because even if you installed beautiful, brand-new windows tomorrow, it’s likely that you’ll still have drafts—and we’ll explain why.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

Drafty windows are definitely uncomfortable, but they’re also a sure sign of energy waste in your home

Drafty windows also directly contribute indoor air quality problems, allowing allergies and excess moisture into your house. And high energy bills. Yikes. 

Overall, they aren’t a problem to be overlooked—and the bright side is that they’re fixable!

What causes drafty windows? 

Before you can stop drafty windows for good, you need to know what causes them in the first place. 

Cold weather usually highlights drafty house problems, but air leaks and poor insulation are usually the primary culprit year-round. You can’t see these issues, but you can feel them—and they show up on your energy bill each month.

Air leaks are the open gaps, cracks, and seams in your home that can cause drafty windows and doors, moisture issues, and heat escape.

Every home has air leaks—they form as houses settle and shift over time (this even happens in new construction).

They show up around window frames, which causes drafty windows, but they’re also found around your foundation, doors, recessed lighting fixtures, ductwork, and plumbing and electrical features, to name a few.

But these gaps and air leaks throughout your home are small

How do they cause so many big drafts? 

Here’s how: Cold air is actively sucked into your home through those gaps.

It’s called the stack effect, and it’s how air moves throughout your home. You can think of this effect like a giant vacuum. 

As heat rises up through the house and escapes out through the attic (usually due to inadequate insulation and air leaks), it leaves a space that needs to be filled.

Cold air from outside rushes in through all the tiny holes in your house to fill it, causing your windows—and the rest of your home—to feel drafty and uncomfortable. 

This causes high heating bills in winter and big cooling bills in the summer, so it feels like you’re literally losing money to heat and cool the outdoors.

Airflow and home ventilation problems cause heat escape

And that air leak problem isn’t limited to your windows.

Air gaps are also common around exterior doors, plumbing fixtures, your fireplace, cables, light fixtures, the foundation of your house, or in your attic.

Fix your drafty windows: 4 alternatives to installing new ones

Most people assume that if they have drafty windows they need to install new windows to resolve the problem. (Not true!) 

Here are four effective alternatives to installing new windows:

  1. Air sealing your windows
  2. Insulating old windows
  3. Whole-house insulation and air sealing (this solves the drafty home problem for good!)
  4. Installing temporary fixes to decrease drafts today

But fixing window drafts is just one step to stopping a drafty house. Getting your windows to leak less heat truly requires a whole home solution or approach. 

Buying all new windows isn’t what will stop drafty windows—or uneven temperatures in your home. 

Even if you install all brand-new, energy-efficient windows, you’ll need to make sure they’re properly air sealed, or you’ll still experience window drafts. (Ask our writers how they discovered this one!) 

5 energy efficiency myths FREE ebook animated gif

Check out our FREE home energy-efficiency guide to learn how 3 core efficiency upgrades can make your home more comfortable year-round.

Learn exactly why new windows aren’t the answer. Get the guide.

Wait—why shouldn’t I buy new windows?

Here’s why new windows won’t solve the problem: They aren’t the real reason you’re experiencing drafts in your home. 

Even if your goal is to install new windows in your home one day, you must fix the primary issues that are causing heat loss in your house to truly benefit from an expensive window upgrade.

Unwanted airflow—created by the stack effect—is the primary reason your windows are drafty and your house is leaking heat.

Check out the video below for a good visual.

Drafts are also causing you to lose money on energy waste. The draftier your home is, the more you’re cranking up the heat just to stay comfortable.

This is a whole-house problem, but thankfully, there is a whole-house solution: To permanently stop unwanted airflow around your window panes and in your home, you’ll need professional air sealing and insulation

(And Sealed can help you get the work done with zero upfront cost. Learn how.)

You could reduce your energy use up to 45% after air sealing and insulation upgrades.

NAIMA Insulation Industry Report

Temporary fixes: How to fix drafty windows in a rental property—or fast solutions for homeowners

Before we jump into permanent solutions, we need to address the elephant in the room: What if you’re in a rental or are a homeowner who needs a very quick temporary fix right now to make your home more comfortable? 

If you need to stop drafty windows today, there are a few temporary fixes you can use in the short term to help stop window drafts.

  1. Hang curtains and blinds. Window blinds and curtains aren’t just for home decor; they can serve as extra insulation around windows. Both thermal curtains and blinds can help temporarily reduce drafts that are coming through the seams and gaps around your installed windows. 
  2. Use homemade draft stoppers. Making a draft snake for gaps around windows and exterior doors or hanging up a quilt to block airflow can help reduce icy-cold air from getting in through leaks near windows and doors. 
  3. Upgrade your weather-stripping. If the weather-stripping around your windows and doors is looking worse for the wear, installing some inexpensive window and door weather stripping can help with some draft reduction.

Did you happen to notice that we didn’t mention plastic window insulation kits? (You know the ones—they include shrink film and double sided tape.)

While many homeowners have used them for years, they actually don’t work too well. You’re better off installing thermal curtains and keeping them closed! Learn why.

Now let’s dive into the long-term and permanent fixes below.

Here’s how to stop drafty windows long-term

Let’s dig into the two primary ways to stop window drafts for good:

  1. Insulating your windows
  2. Air sealing windows 

Insulating windows

What it is: Insulating old windows is a better option than some temporary drafty window fixes, but you’re still only covering up one symptom of your bigger problem: unwanted airflow and heat loss throughout your home.

Is it effective to insulate old windows? Sometimes. Insulating your windows is a longer-term fix, but it’s not a permanent fix for drafty windows.

Insulating your current windows can help them leak less heat in the short term.

(Remember drafty windows are part of a whole-house problem, not simply an old window problem. This issue can be permanently fixed through professional air sealing and insulation in key areas of your house.) 

How to insulate a drafty window 

To insulate your windows, you can use blinds, thermal curtains, or draft stoppers.

Take a look at this short video for a DIY window draft stopper tutorial with recycled plastic bags.

You can also install custom-fitted window inserts or interior storm window inserts. These interior window add-ons can provide an extra layer of insulation for single-paned windows without blocking any views. 

But both options won’t stop air leaks from gaps along the edges of your window where it’s inset into the wall of your home. (We’ll cover that in the air sealing section below!)

How insulating your house properly can help stop window drafts

When your whole home is insulated correctly, it’s a lot harder for cold air to come through gaps around your winds or heat to escape through the roof of your home.

A well-insulated home reduces heat loss, which lessens the part of the stack effect that pulls in cold air through the gaps around your windows.

Not sure whether your current insulation is doing the job? 

Insulation wears down over time. When your insulation wears down, it reduces the thermal boundary between your house and outside temperatures and increases the risk of heat escape through your attic and roof.

(If you haven’t had your insulation checked out by a professional in 10 years, it’s probably time.)

The permanent fix to stop drafts: Have your home insulated by people who know what they’re doing  

Working with a professional home performance contractor can help you identify the areas your home is allowing heat to escape through insufficient insulation. 

They’ll help you select the right insulation for your house based on r-value as well as what insulation you already have in other parts of your home.

That way, you’re treating your drafty window problem at the cause—and with the right solutions that can eliminate drafts for good.

Air sealing windows 

What it is: Air sealing windows is the act of carefully detecting air leaks and closing them up with caulk, insulation, or other heat escape barriers.

Sealing your old windows is just one step in the process of getting rid of drafts.

To truly stop drafts in and around your home, you need to do some air sealing in other areas as well—not just around your windows. 

(But for the purposes of this guide, we’ll discuss air sealing windows specifically. Check out our Guide to Air Sealing to learn more about the importance of sealing other areas of your home.)

How to seal windows to stop cold air drafts for good

The steps to window sealing are deceptively simple. 

First, detect the window seams and gaps, both inside and on the exterior of your home, and then add a line of caulk to close those gaps and actively reduce unwanted airflow for good.

Read How to find air leaks in your home to learn more about air leak detection before this step.

Make sure to use the correct type of caulk for sealing windows if you plan to do it yourself.

If you have wood windows or windows with older glass window panes, you may need to reglaze your windows as well. Similar to caulk, window glazing compound is a fairly inexpensive product, but much like home air sealing, it’s difficult, technical work to reglaze windows. 

But here’s the thing: Make sure you know what you’re doing before you start. 

There are specific parts of windows (called weep holes) that are purposely there to allow moisture to escape—don’t block these, or you could cause permanent damage to your windows. 

You’ll also want to avoid caulking over any parts of a window that will keep it from working correctly. (If not, you’ll be really annoyed by yourself later!)

In short? For the best results, you’ll want to contact the professionals. If your home is eligible (find out here in 2 minutes), you could get whole-home air sealing (including your windows!) and insulation upgrades at no upfront cost. 

The permanent fix: Why you need to air seal your whole house to stop window drafts 

Air sealing your house and windows is a science, and home performance contractors who do the work are professionally trained.

Sealing your windows incorrectly could cause damage, so it’s a job best left to the pros if you’re feeling unsure about how to do it yourself. 

Adding caulk to close up open seams around your windows is something many homeowners are comfortable doing. But even if you are careful to seal your windows correctly yourself (go you!), there are still open seams, gaps, and cracks throughout your home that are causing the drafts. 

So unfortunately, even with newly sealed windows your home still won’t be draft-free unless you air seal other parts of your home, too.

The right fix: Professionally air sealing your whole home is the way to stop drafts permanently. 

When you permanently fix drafty windows through professional air sealing and insulation, you’ll also reduce your energy usage, increase your home’s air quality, and make your home feel amazing year-round.

Stop drafty windows for good—and at no upfront cost

Fixing drafty windows can be a challenging project—one that can leave you with continued drafts if the rest of your home hasn’t been professionally sealed and insulated. 

But if your home qualifies, you can get professional home insulation and air sealing (including sealing and insulating your old windows!) at no upfront cost with Sealed

You’ll pay for the work done at a rate based on the energy you save. Learn how the payment plan works.

You may even be eligible for tax incentives for home upgrades found in the Inflation Reduction Act or utility rebates to stop drafts in your home.

The best part about working with Sealed?

We manage the entire project for you, negotiate costs on your behalf, hire local expert contractors, and stay accountable to the work being done right.

It’s the hassle-free way to make your home more comfortable and energy-efficient—and stop drafty windows once and for all.  

Take our 2-minute quiz to see if you’re eligible.

January 25, 2022