Monday, January 3, 2011

Interior Storm Windows

We've all seen those thermo heat loss images that show how a home transfers heat from the inside to the outside. The idea is to show us places in a home where heat is leaking away from us and into the cold winter night so we can plug those leaky areas in order to save on our energy costs.

The more blue and green an image is, the better that home is keeping the heat where it should be- around our chilly toes. The more yellows, oranges, and reds we see, the more heat is being lost. The image above shows windows as a notoriously weak spot in our defense against the winter chill and an empty wallet.

This home above, all rosy and bright, has heat loss issues.

We live in an "antique" house that is pushing 200 years in age. We've added insulation where we can, caulked until the cows came home, left, and came back again, and have generally done what we can. Still, I can only imagine what a thermo image of our home would look like.

We keep the thermostat on 58 degrees. No, I'm not kidding. We have three floors but most of our activity takes place on the first floor. So we turn down the thermostat, put on snuggly socks, and close the door to the second floor. We use a vent-less gas fireplace on the first floor to supplement the boiler. When we use the upstairs computer, play in the sewing room, or read on the enclosed porch we have room heaters for those areas. It works for us, mainly because in spite of our efforts we're still a pretty drafty old homestead and it isn't in our budget to heat the neighbor's yard.

Sticky Snow in '08
by DonkerDink via Flickr

This fall we had the pleasure of replacing our natural gas heat source with propane. You can go to this post- I've Got Gas & I Couldn't Be Happier- for all the sordid details. With natural gas, you have a pipe that comes into your house and there's always gas (unless of course things go for you like they did for us). With propane, you have a tank which contains a finite amount of liquid propane. I can't shake that uneasy feeling that we're about to run out of propane. And in spite of what the websites and pundits we consulted told us, LP is more expensive. It's price fluctuates with petroleum prices, which have gone up recently. Lucky us.

We've been known to tape the particularly leaky windows with painters tape.
Crude but semi-efficient.

So my husband decided to abandon the sporadic use of window plastic and painter's tape and make interior storm windows. He's a pretty clever guy and very committed to saving money because we have 15 windows that seriously needed attention. These aren't the original single pane windows but some "mature" replacement windows. A houseful of new windows isn't the in the budget right now either and truthfully may never be in the budget.

Here's what it takes:

1 x 2 lumber
2 1/2 inch drywall screws
Shrink film
Foam tape
You also need some sturdy two-sided tape
Clear packing tape- on a dispenser roll is super handy

If it's 18 degrees outside, set up a makeshift work bench in the already crowded Utility Room.

Stack the picnic table on its benches for an equally makeshift work area outside on the screened porch because the workshop in the garage is 50 yards from the house and each window has to be measured and cut separately and it's 18 degrees outside and a guy just can't be running back and forth that much. (Whew)

Each window is done separately because we've learned that when our house was built 200 years ago there were no standard sizes for anything. Even if there were, over the years previous occupants "did things" to the house, and a house settles after a couple of centuries as well. We highly suspect it also tilted ever so slightly when the long-wall mine went past a few years ago. Not that anything was plumb and square before that. Oh, it's been an adventure.

Run outside and cut the wood.

Each window needs 2 vertical pieces of wood and 3 horizontal, one being a cross brace in the center.

Secure the corners with a brace, drill a couple of pilot holes, and secure the frame with the drywall screws.

Run the two-sided tape around the entire frame, lay the frame out on the plastic, carefully pulled out any wrinkles (it won't be perfect), and pull off the top layer of tape.


Carefully pull up one of the short sides and wrap it up over the end of the board. Smooth it out and then lay the plastic back. Do both short ends and then both longs sides. Your plastic will come to a mitered-looking corner. Kind of like hospital corners when you're changing the sheets on your bed.

Trim off the plastic so that there isn't any extending beyond the wood frame.

Now- turn the frame over and repeat so that you have plastic on both sides. Tape, wrap, trim. This makes an air pocket inside the frame which helps with insulation. It's a double-paned storm window.

OK- now run clear packing tape around the entire frame. Cut the corners and fold the flaps down. This seals the entire frame. Remember, the point is to prevent heat transfer so get all of the leaky spots sealed up or it's not worth the effort. These windows are fairly labor intensive, in case the handyman in your life hasn't already pointed that out to you.

Just like you do when you put plastic directly onto the windows, use a hair dryer to shrink and firm up the plastic on the frame.

Last step- the foam seal around the edges. This lets your frame slide into each window sill and adds that final degree of insulation. Start the foam even with an edge and end the first side you do even with the other end. Start the next side by lining up the foam so that it is even with the outside edge of the foam on the side you just did and end it even with the frame. Go all the way around. If you just wrap the foam around the corners without cutting them you are more likely to get a leak on the corners.

And unless you are absolutely certain all of your windows are the same exact size, label each storm window so you know where it goes next year.

Finally, cheer your fella on as he puts up the storm windows and if he even hangs the curtains, well, he'll need special rewards.

In an ideal world we would have painted all of the frames before putting on the plastic. However, the logistics of where to paint and dry all of those frames inside the house was rather daunting. Secondly, it was already winter outside and things were beginning to cool off a bit in the house.

There was an immediate difference in the comfort level in our house, especially noticeable on the windy days. And in the spring I won't have to go around cleaning off sticky tape residue from the windows. Bonus!

via Solvent-Free Paint

The challenge will be figuring out where to store all of these frames over summer!

You can find countless Internet resources on building your own storm windows. My husband used information from Art Tec and his directions are much more detailed than those given here. This fella, Guy Marsden, has all kinds of neat things on his site from Levitation kits to electronic artwork to building a canoe to solar heating to custom furniture to, of course, interior windows. Go check him out.

You can also find vendors who will sell you ready-made or custom windows. The options are mind-numbing: plexiglas-based windows, acrylic, glass, magnetic, snap-in, etc forever. Since our old house has non-conformist windows, we would have been into custom windows almost exclusively. When we first moved in we priced them at about $120 each but that was 14 years ago and no doubt they are more now. Purchasing custom was just never an option for us. Mr Marsden estimates $9 per square foot.

Anyway, it's not every girl that gets 15 custom made interior storm windows for Christmas. Goes nicely with the 500 gallons of propane that I got for my birthday.

Thanks for stopping in today and please--

stay warm.

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