Drafty apartment windows guarantee sky-high wintertime utility bills: Your furnace will work harder than it needs to, continually trying to warm your apartment, and yet you’ll still shiver uncomfortably as the outside air rushes in.
Homeowners are often advised to replace old, drafty windows but of course as a renter, you can’t do that. Although, if the drafts coming in are strong enough to blow a candle flame out or your window glass is cracked or broken, you might mention it to your landlord.
In most cases, though, as a renter your best defense against drafty windows and outrageous heating bills is to tackle the drafts with insulation. It can be done cheaply and in some cases virtually for free. This Cheapskate’s Guide to Drafty Apartment Windows will lead you through some of the traditional methods of insulating windows and give you some cheap do-it-yourself alternatives.
Inexpensive Plastic Window Insulation Kits
There are a number of ways you can cut the drafts coming in through your windows. The most popular, tried-and-true method of cutting drafts is to use a ready-made window insulation kit, usually consisting of sheets of clear plastic and double-sided tape, which you’ll use to affix the plastic sheets over a drafty window.
The kits are easy to use, and you can usually purchase a three-window kit for around $10 or less at any hardware or home improvement store. Make sure you follow the directions on the box to pull the plastic as tightly as possible from corner to corner for the best possible airtight seal against drafts.
Cheap DIY Alternative to Window Insulation Kits
If you’re counting pennies and don’t want to drop the $10, you can make do with almost any sheet of plastic. One particularly frugal winter, I taped together a couple of white kitchen trash bags and then taped those over a drafty living room window. True, I couldn’t see out the window on nice days, and the covering wasn’t especially attractive to guests, but it worked nearly as well as a store-bought kit.
If you want to try this, just make sure to fully tape the edges where the garbage bags come together, overlapping them a bit; and you might consider using painter’s tape to affix the plastic bags over your windows. Other kinds of tape may strip the paint off your walls or windowsills when your remove the plastic in the spring.
Of course, frequently the damage fees assessed by your landlord for stripped paint around your windows will cost you much less than the three to six months of outrageous utility bills you’d pay if you don’t somehow insulate drafty windows. This is especially true if you’ll be living in the apartment over multiple winters.
Do the math yourself, but when I was living frugally in my own apartment, I figured I’d save money overall, even if I lost some of my security deposit.
Another Cheap DIY Alternative to Window Insulation Kits
Don’t have any plastic? Want something you can put on and take off a little easier? Use a blanket to cover drafty windows. It won’t fit airtight like plastic would, but it does measurably cut down draftiness.
If you have a sturdy curtain rod hanging above your window, you can drape the blanket over it. If you don’t have a sturdy curtain rod, you can — and again, this may be at the risk of minor security deposit deductions later — pound two small nails into the wall just above your window and hang blankets made of loose or loopy fibers from them.
Inexpensive Weatherstrip Tape
Frequently, apartment window drafts from aren’t coming through the window glass itself. The drafts are instead coming through the crevices where the window parts meet and where the window was installed into the wall, along the jamb, sashes and sill.
You can buy a super-cheap roll of weatherstrip tape at any home improvement store and at most discount department stores. For less than $10, you’ll typically get almost 20 feet of weatherstripping, which is often sold in black, white or gray and comes coiled in a circle, like a giant roll of tape. One side is sticky and can be affixed along the joining crevices of your window.
Apply the weatherstripping where window parts come together, and you should notice the drafts minimize immediately.
Cheap DIY Alternatives to Weatherstripping Your Windows
If you don’t want to spend the money on weatherstripping, or if you just want a temporary fix until you can get to the store, you can use virtually any kind of tape to semi-seal up the window joints and crevices. Again, though, painter’s tape is the handiest here because it’ll pull off super-easily and won’t cause damage to painted windowsills.
If you’re in a real pinch, roll up a regular bath towel and jam it tightly against the bottom of your window where it meets the sill. It’ll stop some, though hardly all, of the drafts coming into your apartment through the window.
Once you’ve insulated your windows, you can set your thermostat to your desired temperature and your furnace will do a better job of keeping the air in your apartment warm. Insulating your windows will not only keep the drafts out, but it’ll keep the warm air in.
Author experience in property management and as a former long-term renter.