How to Restore and Weatherize Old Windows

When the cold weather starts, it can be tempting to think about replacing older, leaky windows with brand new, energy-efficient models. But take a minute to think before you make an impulse buy: Some of your house’s old windows could actually be more cost and energy efficient than you realize. All it takes is a bit of elbow grease, and your old windows can become good as new. If you’re considering window replacement, read on to learn about what you can do to make the best of your current windows.

Zero in on Problem Areas

Before making any moves, take a good, close look at your windows. Spend time identifying issues both inside and outside your home. If the problems are general, like general drafts and leakiness, you’ll be able to do a full-scale repair. But if you’re dealing with smaller, more insidious problems like bad insulation and smaller cracks or air leaks, you’ll want to think about a more serious type of restoration. There are a few ways to test some key issues.

If you’re experiencing heavier winds outside, use a ‘smoke test’ by putting a candle or cigarette around your window’s border to identify leaky areas. If you can pinpoint the exact source of a leak, you’ll be better equipped to fix it. Also, be sure to pay close attention to your window’s frame. See if there are any issues that can be solved by a quick scrape or cleanup. For instance, if you’re having trouble getting your windows to close properly, try scraping around the borders of the window to remove excess paint and dirt. Anything that’s getting in the way of clean window movement is making your window less efficient and more prone to leaks.

Adjust Sash Windows Accordingly

In many older houses, sash windows consisting of a number of different mobile glass panels are often present. These windows can present a problem in terms of repair or restoration. Since they’re older models, a certain level of delicacy is required. However, there are a few essential tips to keep in mind if you’re trying to repair sash windows in your own home. First, identifying a knockout panel (or ‘pocket cover’) will allow you to access the window frame, where the pulleys and sashes live, without having to disassemble the entire window. From here, you can get a good sense of the problem. On many older sash windows, mobility lessens with age, and leaky pockets can develop in the ample space between pulleys and sashes. To avoid experiencing drafts from this, try to get as much insulation in the window’s frame as you can without having to take out the entire window to weather-strip.

Weather Strip Everything

With older windows and harsher weather, weatherstripping is an essential component to keeping your home warm and draft-free. There are many different types of weatherstripping available depending on the type and age of window you’re trying to weatherize. For most, a strip or multiple strips are placed along the borders of each window’s frame, creating a stopgap between the window’s air pockets and any potential leakage. Basically, weatherstripping gives a window that extra level of buffering against problems caused by warping, previous weather damage, or other age-related problems.

Give Storm Windows a Try

Instead of going all out to restore each window in a home, many homeowners opt for storm windows during the harsher months. These windows allow for protection against the elements while simultaneously allowing for moisture and trapped air to escape through small “weep holes.” This effect allows warm air to stay securely in while ushering out the cold, damp moisture caused by intense weather. Storm windows are easy to install and can be removed once the spring comes back around. They’ve also been proven to be very energy efficient compared to newer all-purpose models.


When larger storms hit and you want to be as protected as possible, it helps to get creative. For extra insulation, many homeowners opt for interior storm windows that attach to the primary window, providing a shield of Plexiglas that protects against the elements. In addition to interior storms, many homeowners opt for putting insulation inside window frames to stop leaks in their tracks, while protecting the outer layer of each window with a layer of plastic, shrunken by a heat source (a hair dryer is best) to fit snugly over the border and protect any cold air from leaking in.