When air leaks around windows, energy is wasted. Energy is also transferred through the centers, edges, and frames of windows. Eliminating or reducing these paths of heat flow can greatly improve the energy efficiency of windows and, ultimately, of homes. Several options are available to reduce air leaks around windows; the least expensive options are caulking and weatherstripping, followed by replacing window frames.
Caulks are airtight compounds (usually latex or silicone) that fill cracks and holes. Before applying new caulk, old caulk or paint residue remaining around a window should be removed using a putty knife, stiff brush, or special solvent. After old caulk is removed, new caulk can then be applied to all joints in the window frame and the joint between the frame and the wall. The best time to apply caulk is during dry weather when the outdoor temperature is above 45E Fahrenheit (7.2E Celsius). Low humidity is important during application to prevent cracks from swelling with moisture. Warm temperatures are also necessary so the caulk will set properly and adhere to the surface.
Weatherstripping is a narrow piece of metal, vinyl, rubber, felt, or foam that seals the contact area between the fixed and movable sections of a window joint. It should be applied between the sash and the frame, but should not interfere with the operation of the window. For more information on caulking and weatherstripping, contact the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse (EREC).
The type and quality of the window frame usually affect a window’s air infiltration and heat loss characteristics. Many window frames are available—all with varying degrees of energy efficiency. Some of the more common window frames are fixed-pane, casement, double- and single-hung, horizontal sliding, hopper, and awning.
When properly installed, fixed-pane windows are airtight and inexpensive and can be custom designed for a wide variety of applications. But, because they cannot be opened, fixed-pane windows are unsuitable in places where ventilation is required.
Casement, awning, and hopper windows with compression seals are moderately airtight and provide good ventilation when opened. Casement windows open sideways with hand cranks. Awning windows are similar to casement windows except that their hinges are located at the tops of the windows instead of at the sides. Hopper windows are inverted versions of awning windows with their hinges located at the bottom. Windows with compression seals allow about half as much air leakage as double-hung and horizontal sliding windows with sliding seals.
Double-hung windows have top and bottom sashes (the sliding sections of the window) and can be opened by pulling up the lower sashes or pulling down the upper sash. Although they are among the most popular type of window, double-hung windows can be inefficient because they are often leaky. Single-hung windows are somewhat better because only one sash moves. Horizontal sliding windows are like double-hung windows except that the sashes are located on the left and right edges rather than on the tops and bottoms. Horizontal sliding windows open on the side and are especially suitable for spaces that require a long, narrow view. These windows, however, usually provide minimal ventilation and, like double-hung windows, can be quite leaky.