Heating bills can skyrocket in the fall and winter months, often without any clear explanation. Although they may be the last thing on your mind when preparing your home for cooler temperatures, windows are a potential source of major heat loss, especially if they are old and not regularly cared for. To save money and protect one of the most important elements of your home, take the time to properly prepare your windows for winter by following the steps below.

Wash Your Windows

Forgetting to clean the windows may not seem like it would affect their performance, and it’s easy to let this crucial step slide in all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. However, when windows are not cleaned regularly, dirt and debris can get trapped in the seals and prevent your windows from forming a tight seal with the window frames.

The best way to clean your windows is to vacuum the screens and seals and then use a strip applicator dipped in warm, soapy—but not super-sudsy—water. Try to do this on an overcast day because direct sunlight will dry the suds on the glass, causing streaks. Remove the suds with a window squeegee, and wipe the squeegee with a lint-free cloth after each run across the glass. You can buy lint-free rags in most electronics, hardware, auto parts, and big-box stores, or you can use things you may already have around your house, such as linen napkins, cheesecloth, cloth diapers, or even coffee filters in a pinch. Using regular cotton rags, paper towels, old t-shirts, or anything else that is not lint-free—the most common materials used to wipe windows—gives the glass a static charge, which just attracts more dirt and debris. Lint also causes streaks. Wipe up excess water on the glass and clean up any minor streaks with another lint-free cloth, and make sure to get all the water and soap off the window frame as well.

Check the Windows

When was the last time you actually looked at your windows, rather than through them? Ideally, you should do this every season, but it’s especially important before the cool weather starts to set in. Test every window to make sure it opens and closes without difficulty and that it locks as it should. Examine the glass for any cracks, and check for gaps between the window and the window frame as well as the window frame and the wall. Double-check this step by pausing for a moment in front of each closed window with a lit candle on a windy day. If the flame flickers, air is coming in or going out somewhere; slowly move the candle around the window, keeping your eyes on the flame, to figure out exactly where the leak is.

Don’t forget to look over the outside of your windows as well. A candle won’t be a lot of help here, but make sure all the windows are firmly in place, there are no cracks or gaps in or around them, and the caulk hasn’t dried out and cracked.

Stop Any Airflow

If your windows are extremely drafty, replacing them as soon as possible may be the best option. If that’s not possible anytime soon, or if there are only minor issues, there are still some things you can do to help retain heat. Small gaps can be covered with caulk for a quick and inexpensive fix, and weather stripping can often be applied to larger gaps. Cover cracked glass with plastic-covered insulated foam or cardboard, or invest in a shrink-wrap window insulation kit. Even just hanging a thick blanket over the window can make a significant difference in heating costs.

Finishing Touches

Curtains do so much more than just look pretty. Switch to heavier window coverings in the winter to insulate your rooms and keep draftiness to a minimum. The fabric will also absorb moisture, preventing condensation from accumulating on the windows. Condensation is the result of drastically different indoor and outdoor temperatures and humidity levels. Warmer air is generally accompanied by increased humidity, so in the cooler months, condensation forms on the inside of your windows. Too much of this liquid will eventually rot the wood surrounding the windows. Strategically placing dehumidifiers throughout your home helps thwart condensation buildup as well.

In addition to saving money on heating and cooling costs, investing a little bit of time and energy into taking care of your windows each season ensures they will keep your family comfortable for many years to come.

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Sources: Cornell University Cooperative Extension: Rockland County; DIY Network; For Dummies; Old-House Online; Popular Mechanics; This Old House.

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