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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
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    Default Thermal curtains? Cheap solutions to seeping cold around delicate old windows?

    Hello!

    Need the best cheap quick-fix:

    I am too vain to remove all my gorgeous craftsman-style wood trim to replace windows, but too poor to replace the windows anyway, so I need a cheap quick-fix to help with energy efficiency and reduce seeping cold/drafts.

    Top priority: Woodwork must be kept safe and pristine.
    Second priority: I don't want to waste my money on things that won't help or might hurt.

    I live in a beautiful 1918 house with a lot of original craftsman-style interior woodwork (original shellac) and old, wavy glass windows.

    The windows have storms, but as I am in the NE Ohio, it can still get pretty cold and drafty. (Not much insulation in this place either and it doesn't appear to have been added. I can really feel radiating cold along outer walls.)

    Are "thermal," "energy-efficient," "lined," or "blackout" curtains a good solution to this issue? I'm willing to suffer with obscuring my beautiful woodwork short-term to stay warmer...I typically use nothing but blinds for privacy because the wood is so beautiful.

    Problem: I read something that says, "Improperly installed, curtains can actually add to heat loss. Gaps at the top of the curtains, along the sides, and at the bottom can create a tunnel effect, drawing heated air from your room to behind the curtains, where it cools as it comes in contact with a cold window surface. Correctly installed insulated curtains can also trap warm air next to a cold window surface, causing condensation problems that damage window frames or lead to mold problems."

    Problem: I'm guessing plastic film would damage the beautiful woodwork and cause other issues (old shellac finish and I also haven't got time to refinish everything).

    So now I am not sure what is the best approach. Do these things even help with radiating/seeping cold? Are these curtains a waste of my money? Are they risky?

    Thoughts?

    Thanks!
    -B
    Last edited by Bridgchen; 01-11-2014 at 01:37 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
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    7,092

    Default Re: Thermal curtains? Cheap solutions to seeping cold around delicate old windows?

    I wouldn't recommend what you propose, as it will surely result in mold and mildew. Proper repairs are the ONLY way to deal with issues, bandaids only add to the expense of the project when you have to tear it all out and replace it again due to failure and increased damage.

    The only temporary thing I can suggest is the shrinkwrap plastic sheathing for windows. You tape the plastic around the window, then hit it with a hair dryer to shrink the wrinkles out. This acts as a storm window of sorts, kits should be readily available at your local hardware store or big box.

    As for the walls, I would suggest looking into blown insulation. Typically, holes are drilled at the top and bottom of each wall cavity, then cellulose insulation is drawn into the cavity. The holes are then sealed. This will be the least intrusive to your home, but there are other insulation options as well. I would suggest consulting with local insulation contractors familiar with old homes and maintaining the integrity of the structure.
    I suffer from CDO ... Its like OCD, but in alphabetical order, LIKE IT SHOULD BE!!!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
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    5

    Default Re: Thermal curtains? Cheap solutions to seeping cold around delicate old windows?

    Quote Originally Posted by A. Spruce View Post
    The only temporary thing I can suggest is the shrinkwrap plastic sheathing for windows. You tape the plastic around the window, then hit it with a hair dryer to shrink the wrinkles out. This acts as a storm window of sorts, kits should be readily available at your local hardware store or big box.
    Thanks for your honesty, Spruce. That really helps! I will also mind your tips about the insulation.

    My questions now:

    1) Could the process of attaching the plastic shrinkwrap also damage the shellac on the wood trim I am trying to preserve? From the hair dryer heat or from where the plastic attaches as it "shrinks?" Or anything else I haven't considered?

    One of the banks of windows we need to cover is over a window seat and it has attached china cabinets so there is nowhere to "shrink" the plastic to except to shrink it to the shellac-finished wood itself...and we cannot seal up the china cabinets as we use them daily. But that is a bank of north-facing windows under the protection of a full porch so perhaps a velvet or heavy regular fabric curtains over each window there might be OK?

    2) Is there a risk of the plastic shrinkwrap causing mold and mildew or damage to the shellac from possible condensation build-up?

    Thanks!
    -B
    Last edited by Bridgchen; 01-11-2014 at 07:45 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Posts
    7,092

    Default Re: Thermal curtains? Cheap solutions to seeping cold around delicate old windows?

    Unfortunately, those are questions that I can not answer, as I have never used one of these types of kits. The manufacturers of said kits should have this info on their websites or will answer it via customer service inquiry.

    Another thought just occurred to me. The 100+ year old, uninsulated, and very drafty farm house I grew up in was similar to yours, except we didn't have the woodwork. What we did was build a frame out of 1x2, wrapped that with plastic, then attached that over the window. This could be done from either side of the window, so less likely that you'd damage any of your interior if you put it on the outside. You could make the frame press fit into the opening if used on the inside, even run some foam tape where it contacts the window frame to create a better seal.
    I suffer from CDO ... Its like OCD, but in alphabetical order, LIKE IT SHOULD BE!!!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Posts
    2,128

    Default Re: Thermal curtains? Cheap solutions to seeping cold around delicate old windows?

    First, be sure the storms are sealing as well as they can be- leave all 'weep holes' at the bottom open and caulk the other edges of the frames as needed. If movable sashes don't seal well tape them closed from the inside. Based on the tape used it may leave a stubborn gummy residue (duct tape) or not stay stuck long (blue painter's tape). I use the real 'duct tape' (the shiny looking stuff with a peel-off backing) and I make sure there's an end folded under which I can pull it off with on every piece applied. If you're careful you can rip it into narrower pieces to get twice as far with each roll- do that with the backing still on. Or cut it with a knife like that.

    On the inside of the house you can use any type of plastic to cover the windows. My 'temporary' ones are rolled up on the edges and thumb-tacked ir push-pinned to the sides of the window casings where I can easily putty and paint later on. Use as few tacks/pins as you can get by with and push- don't hammer- them in. If they don't want to go any further in, stop there. The tiny holes on the sides aren't really that visible after you take them down. If the window has a stool at the bottom tack or pin from underneath. As long as there are several layers of plastic under the pins it will hold. Watch for condensation- you may have to let the bottom 'dangle' instead of pinning it if the moisture is excessive but it will still help hold a lot of heat inside for you. Even if you can't do them all, do what you can and you'll feel the difference quickly.

    Something that works well and is easy but cuts most of the sunlight out is to cut styrofoam sheathing (the blue stuff) for a tight slip-in-place fit. When removal time comes, insert an ice-pick or screwdriver at an angle near the middle, then pull directly back while keeping the tool in place. Mark for each window's position, and tape or caulk the removal hole next year when they go back.

    If you want to try the 'shrink-fit' plastic, you'll find little heat is needed which will not harm paint or woodwork, but you still have to attach the plastic somehow. And please don't use regular staples- you'll do more damage than you can imagine trying to get them out. If you must staple, buy some with 1/4" legs- enough to hold on the sides of the casings yet easy to remove afterwards.

    When warmer weather comes start on replacing or refurbing the windows so you'll be ready for next winter. If you're keeping the original windows also make some plastic-covered slip-in frames like A. Spruce says at the end of his last post. Apply the foam tape to these- not the window. One caveat with these: friction is all that holds these in, so unless they fit tightly winds leaking in from outside may blow them in. Two push-pins across from each other will prevent that. When storing these lay them flat with something flat over them so they don't warp in storage.

    Phil

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Portland, Oregon, formerly of Chicago
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    1,794

    Default Re: Thermal curtains? Cheap solutions to seeping cold around delicate old windows?

    If air infiltration is a primary concern, there are clear, removal caulks which can seal the edges of the sash shut for the winter. They can be pulled cleanly off in the spring. Hundred year old windows had very poor weatherstripping and would actually rattle in the wind. The temporary caulk would help tighten this up.

    One give a way that your primary windows aren't well weatherstripped , is that the inside surface of the storm windows will ice up in real cold weather, due to the moist household air leaking and hitting the cold glass. If the storms aren't icing up, it could also mean that so much air is leaking past the storms that the moisture content is removed faster than the house is leaking. Either way, not good!

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