Everything You Need to Know About Storm Windows

All across the US, it’s starting to get cold for real. And not thin-crust-of-frost-on-your-car-windshield cold. We’re talking serious, bone chilling frigidity. But if your home’s windows are starting to fail, you’ll be hard pressed to find comfort in the warmth of the indoors. But modern replacement windows can cost thousands of dollars when all is said and done, which just may not be in the budget, especially this time of year.

Storm windows offer a middle ground between freezing all winter long and purchasing brand new windows. A sort of “window for your windows,” storm windows can provide protection, better energy efficiency and improved comfort for older windows—at a fraction of the cost of replacements. Here’s what you need to know about them.

snowy home in the woods

What Are Storm Windows Anyhow?

The term “storm windows” actually covers a broad range of window coverings—from reusable low emissivity glass to temporary plastic films. But all of these options have the same basic goals: protecting your home from bad weather and improving the insulation of your existing windows.

Interior Vs. Exterior Windows

One of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make when you install your storm windows is whether you need interior or exterior storm windows. The difference between them is fairly self-explanatory: one is hung on the outside of your home, while the other sits inside. Most homeowners prefer interior windows to exterior—they’re easier to put on and remove. And they sit just inside the primary window, so they’re typically a little bit more energy efficient, as well. However, if you’re looking to protect your home from extreme weather, you may find that exterior is the way to go, since these units are often much sturdier than interior storm windows. Keep in mind that exterior storm windows are a lot more expensive, however. It may be worth your time to compare the costs to the price of new windows at this point.

What Types of Windows Are There?

Just like regular windows, storm windows consist of an outer frame that holds a sheet of insulating material. Frames may be made out of:

  • Vinyl
  • Aluminum
  • Wood

There are benefits—and drawbacks—to each material. Wood, for example, offers better insulation, but may warp over time. Aluminum is extremely durable, but won’t do a lot for your home’s insulation. Vinyl is fairly sturdy and more insulating than aluminum, but may fade or otherwise deteriorate in appearance after a while. Essentially, it all comes down to what you consider important in a window.

Likewise, storm window panes can be made out of plastic or glass. Glass, as you’d guess, is much more durable, but is also heavy and difficult to manage. Glass offers better visibility, but it’s fragile, too, meaning it can shatter in extreme weather. Again, it’s about your situation and what’s best for your home.

What Other Special Features Do They Have?

Storm window manufacturers produce specialized units that can be used to protect against a number of hazards. These inc:

  • Polycarbonate plastic or laminated glass. Both of these are resist shattering, making them a good option for security or for extra protection and during extreme weather.
  • Energy efficient coatings. Low-emissivity glass can improve your home’s energy profile and are often less expensive than new windows with the same energy ratings.

Other Things to Look For

To get your money’s worth, you’ll also want to make sure you windows have the following features:

  • Multiple positioning stops. This way you can control the amount of air you let into your home.
  • Quality weatherstripping. Weatherstripping around the windows reduces heat loss, which can lower your energy bills.
  • Predrilled holes. These make installation easier and protect the glass during the process.
  • Removable half-pane glass and half-screens. These are significantly easier to clean than non-removable counterparts.

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4 Neglected Parts of Your Home That Could Use Some TLC This Weekend

Owning a home is a bit of a mystery, when you think about it. You have all these hidden systems working to keep you clean, safe, and comfortable—half of which you don’t really think about until they go out.

It’s those hidden heroes we’re here to talk about today. Your sump pump, quietly lying in wait until your basement floods. Your range filter, sucking up soot, grease and grime every time you cook—and never asking for anything back in return except a dip in a bucket of soapy water every now and again.

Learning about these unsung home systems will help you lower your electrical bills, keep a cleaning and happier home, and improve the longevity of your equipment and appliances—without more than a few hours of effort on your part. Here are four frequently-ignored parts of your home that deserve a little recognition today.

a cup sitting in an old window

Your Windows

You probably look out of the windows in your home all the time. But when was the last time you looked at the windows themselves? First, take a moment to examine the caulk around your windows. If it looks dry, cracked, or missing altogether, it’s time for some TLC! These caulking gaps can cause energy losses, driving up your bills and causing drafts.

Start by scraping out all the old caulk. Use a razor so that you can really get into the nooks and crannies. Clean out any dust with a cloth, then apply new silicone caulk in a straight bead and smooth it down to create a good seal. Instant energy improvement.

Then give your windows a treat by washing the glass. Use a strip applicator and squeegee for an extra sparkly sheen. As a bonus, it makes the whole job a lot easier.

Your Kitchen Range Filter

Smoke, oil, food particles, dust—the buildup on range filters is a particularly toxic brew. It’s easy to ignore your hood range, but a greasy, dirty filter will make itself known eventually. Contaminated filters attract pests and can cause your smoke detector to go off more frequently. Plus, eventually they start getting a pretty nasty smell.

Clean the filter by dunking it in a bucket filled with soapy water and a ½ cup of baking soda. Allow the filter to sit for at least 10 minutes, then remove it and scrub it gently with a non-abrasive scrub brush. Give it a rinse and dry it with a towel. Enjoy your grease-free cooking!

Your Chimney

Anything that handles smoke and soot for a living is going to need some attention eventually. In addition to that, neglected chimneys can cause air infiltration, which you and I know by its common name: drafts. Meanwhile, soot and wood-burning byproducts contribute to creosote buildup, a highly combustible chemical compound that could lead to a house fire if you’re not careful.

A chimney sweep can take care of cleaning the chimney, as well as the smoke ducts, flue pipes and fireplaces. Many chimney experts offer inspection services too, which means verifying that the liners, smoke chamber, chimney exterior and firebox are all crack-free and working as expected. Chimney sweeps can point out masonry leaks that should be addressed, increasing the lifespan of your heating equipment—and making those winter days by the hearth a whole lot cheerier. If you use your chimney regularly, have it swept out about once a year to keep your fireplace working at peak operation.

a light shining on a basement pipe

Your Sump Pump

A sump pump is one of those things you never really think about until you need it—and by that time, you’re usually ankle-deep in water. That’s exactly why you want to test your sump pump regularly—in fact, if you live in a very wet area, you may want to take a look as often as every month or so.

To test it, find the two cords and unplug both. Then plug in just the pump cord. The pump should turn on right away. If it doesn’t, now’s a good time to start looking for a good plumber, because you’re going to need a new pump. To double check, plug both cords back into place, lift the lid and pour some water into the crock below, just enough to raise the float. The pump should kick on right away. If not, call the plumber—you don’t want to wait until the next time it rains to get this problem fixed!

Cleaning, repairing and testing these frequently-overlooked parts of your home may mean getting a little dirty this weekend. But it will be worth it to avoid a nasty little surprise in your home-owning future.

Your Ultimate Fall Maintenance Guide

Anne of Green Gables once said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” But I’m guessing she never had to clean out any gutters. While October’s mild temperatures and gentle sunshine does make a person glad to be alive, those winter storms are just around the corner, bringing plenty of ice, snow and wind.

That makes right now an ideal time to prep your home for the harsher temperatures ahead. After all, the weather is still pretty agreeable, and the days are long enough to take advantage of evening sunlight. Checking off these tasks now will set you up for a long, worry-free winter—and give you more time to enjoy the autumn as well. Here’s everything you need to know.

kid playing with leaves

Clean Your Gutters

You probably don’t need to be reminded about this task; it’s usually pretty evident by the pile of leaves on the ground. But just in case you need convincing, you should definitely give your gutters some attention this time of year. Clogged gutters can cause water to pool on your roof or cascade over the siding, which means your next stop is Leak Central. Luckily, cleaning the gutters doesn’t have to be a massive headache. In fact, you can even install gutter guards after you finish to make the job a whole lot easier next time.

Give Your Windows and Doors Some TLC

About a third of a home’s heat loss occurs through leaky windows and doors, which means getting yours in peak winter condition is key to maintaining a comfortable home and reasonable energy bills. If your windows are older or inefficient, install storm windows over them to keep out the drafts. Next, move inside, adding foam weather stripping to the edges of doors and windows. Scrape out cracked window caulking with a razor blade and apply fresh silicone sealant to prevent drafts and heat loss. Install a door sweep at the edge of all exterior doors, and get ready for your coziest winter yet!

Get Your Heating Systems Cold-Weather-Ready

If La Niña has anything to say about it, most of us have a pretty wet, nasty winter in store this year. And that means our heating systems are going to be working pretty hard. Give yours a head start by putting in some maintenance now. The first thing you should always do is change the filters on your furnace. Dirty filters can make your unit work less effectively, which means less heat for your home. Another smart move is to have a HVAC technician out to perform a maintenance visit. Have them check the electrical connections and air pressure, recharging your unit if necessary. If you plan to use your chimney to heat your home as well, have it inspected and cleaned. Creosote buildup in chimneys is a fire hazard that’s preventable with professional cleaning. An inspector will help locate cracks in the chimney and flashing, as well. After all, nothing is nicer than a crackling fire to stave off the winter chill!

Trim Trees and Rake Leaves

Fall leaves need raking—that’s a no-brainer. Leaves left on the ground over winter can seriously stunt grass growth in the spring. Plus, raked leaves make great fodder for compost or mulch later. But you’ll also need to take your focus a little higher up, too. Dead tree branches and limbs can snap under the weight of ice and snow, causing all kinds of havoc. Usually it’s best to have a professional arborist or tree trimming service out to take care of this work, since trimming can be dangerous for untrained homeowners. The pros also know how to spot problem areas, like a hollow trunk, that might cause problems down the line.

Check Your Roof and Siding

Fall is pretty much the ideal time to have your roof inspected. Roofing inspectors look for loose shingles and damaged flashing that can lead to leaks in wet weather. They’ll also be able to scope out hail damage and other issues that might have popped up from summer thunderstorms. A professional roofing inspection is recommended every three to five years, so if it’s been a while, you’ll want to take care of that now. Another issue to check for? Look for cracks where the masonry meets the siding, or signs of peeling paint or cracked vinyl siding along your home’s exterior walls. Both of these issues should be dealt with before cold wet weather begins.

Take Care of Your Porch and Lawn

Now it’s time to turn an eye on your porch and lawn. First, bring in any potted plants that won’t survive colder temperatures and then store delicate lawn furniture, like anything wicker, in a covered area, like the garage. You should also remove any cushions and fragile decorations that might not make it through the winter intact. Now is also a good time to check the stairs and railings of your porch as well, to ensure that they will be safe to use in slippery winter conditions. Next, move over to the side of your house and turn off the valves to the exterior hoses. These can freeze in the winter and cause pipes to burst. Allow any leftover water to drain out of the hoses, as well. Roll them up and place them somewhere safe where they won’t be bothered by winter winds.

Last of all, grab a blanket and a cup of your favorite hot beverage and scope out this list for your latest Netflix binge. Now you have everything you need to last you through until the end of winter!

Brilliant Tips to Unstick a Stuck Window

Now that the weather is finally starting to get nice again, it’s time to throw open the windows and…wait…one more try…put your back into it…okay, there it is.

Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not the only homeowner who’s had to put in a workout just to throw open their windows. But stuck windows are more than a nuisance. They can also become a safety hazard if there’s a fire or other emergency event. Plus sometimes you just need to air out your home, and windows are the best way to do that.

Windows get stuck for a variety of reasons, so you may have to investigate the source before you can decide on an approach. Additionally, a window that won’t budge or that is often difficult to open can be an indicator that your windows were improperly installed (if they’re new) or that it may be time for new ones (if they’re very old). So it could be time to call a contractor, too. Of course, first, you’ll want to try one of the solutions below so you can at least get a breath of fresh air!

pretty window in home

If the Windows Are Painted Shut

Sometimes windows—especially older ones—may be painted shut, rendering them virtually unusable. However, with a little elbow grease, you can pry one of these loose yourself. Grab a putty knife or a utility knife and run the blade all around the edges of the window until you are able to lift the sash. You can also hammer the utility knife under the edge of the frame if you’re having a hard time prying it loose.

If That Doesn’t Work, Try Removing the Frame Yourself

Of course, if your windows are particularly ancient, you might have to do something a little more drastic. Older wooden windows can also swell with humidity, rendering them virtual inoperable. You can try using a hairdryer on the frame to dry them out, but this may not work if you’re windows are really stuck.

In that case, your best bet is to unscrew the frames and totally remove them. First, use a screwdriver to unscrew the fasteners in the top interior of the frame. You’ll then need to pull the stop molding free and remove the parting strips. After that, you should be able to remove both sashes fairly easily. If that sounded like Greek to you, however, you can use this helpful video from Preservation Virginia to smooth out any gaps in your understanding.

Stop Sticking Next Time

It’s not enough to simply remove the window, of course. You also need to take steps to keep it from snagging the next time around. If the culprit was a bad paint job, lightly sand the edges. Or completely sand the windows and repaint them, if you’re looking for something a little bit more extreme.

If humidity’s at fault, though, you may need to engage a professional. If rain or condensation has been damaging your windows, it could mean that they’re not properly flashed. In that case, your window repairman may have to remove some of your siding fix it—not something most homeowners want to be doing themselves. You can also call someone in if you just don’t feel like dealing with a stuck window yourself. After all, that’s what they’re there for!