Winterizing – Sealing Up Old Windows With Plastic Shrink Film

It’s getting colder, and the windows in the 90-year-old house we rent are single pane and very drafty. In the wintertime, this equates to a 100-300% increase in our electric bill. On a recommendation by a neighbor, we decided to install some simple plastic shrinkwrap insulation. You can find it in hardware stores and online for only a few dollars per window. Here is a five 3×5 window kit by Duck brand for under $9 with free Super Saver Shipping:

There’s also a 5-window shrink film kit by 3M brand for $18. I went for the cheaper one, but the 3M seems like it gets slightly better reviews. They come in a big sheet and also a couple of different sizes, so measure your windows first to make sure you use the sheets most efficiently.

Basically, you first tack up some double-sided tape on your window borders inside and then put on this saran-wrap type of plastic loosely over it. Then, you use the hot air from a hair dryer to “shrink” the plastic and remove all the wrinkles. The result: you can still see out your windows, but it reduces drafts and you have an insulative air pocket. Here are some quick pictures of my handiwork:

ShrinkWrap Window Insulation    Plastic Window Insulation
(click to enlarge)

The first one is after I put up the plastic and took out the wrinkles, and the second one is after I removed the excess plastic. I was a bit skeptical of the product beforehand, but it turned out pretty good. The wrinkles all came out, and the tape seems to be pretty airtight, at least for now. I can even tell where cold air came in by seeing where it fogs up the plastic. You can tell there is plastic sheeting there if you look closely or hit the glare just right, but overall it’s pretty unnoticeable especially if you use blinds or drapes.

I’m going to do the rest of the bedroom windows. At a cost of less than $20, it should easily pay for itself in heating bills. If I owned the house as opposed to renting, I might consider replacing the windows instead.

(This post is actually from a few winters ago, but it keeps getting regular search engine visitors so I have updated it and added more information.)

Comments

  1. How many windows does one kit fit? My roommates and I bought some simply masking tape and clear plastic last year to ‘winterize.’ It looks like poop, but we think it helps — and pretty cheap. This obviously looks better, but is it $14 per window???

  2. The first kit I bought actually contained two sheets that were each 62″ x 210″. So that’s about 5 ft x 17 ft, enough for 4 decent sizes windows for my house.

    After last night, it seems like the room heated up faster and kept its temperature better.

  3. I’m about to do this same exact thing…

  4. Does it work at -20C?

  5. Nathan Hawks says:

    You should find an affiliate program with that product, because I’m about to buy at that link you have there. I specifically found you looking for Home Depot’s listing and you’re right – they’re missing out sales cuz that product can’t be found there. :) Thanks for that link! My apartment windows have old leaky glass so this is going to help. I bet you’ve seen a benefit already (depending on where you live).

    PS I talked to a live rep at the link in the story – in case anyone else is wondering, yes, you can cut them in half or trim them to size and they still work fine. Sounds obvious but I checked :)

  6. I agree with Nathan Hawks. For some reason, this page is one of the top results when you Google the word “winterize”. I hope you’re making money when people click that “here is the exact product” link, because you should be. If not, you should see if you can find it on Amazon or somewhere similar and set up an affiliate link.

  7. Hey!! Funny story- I too was on the home depot site looking for this exact product, and could not find it as well. Thanks for the link and info!

  8. Mike hawk says:

    M gonna just winterize with regular plastic drop cloth found in the paint section. I’ll use 2″ masking tape to hold it up. Hope this works.

  9. I used this sheeting last year on just one window. I got it at Lowe’s for $1.97. I just bought one for the sliding glass door for this winter – it was $10. I’m doing all the windows that I can this year – it really makes a huge difference. I felt no cold air coming through, an my widows are single paned and very old – which is why I love them – but they are not energy efficient. I highly recommend these things.

  10. The link no longer works and Dawn’s page no longer exists. What was the brand you used?

  11. @n – Thanks for your comment, I’m glad someone is still finding this post useful! I have updated the entire post and included working links to the products that I used. You may want to read the reviews on Amazon as well. Good luck!

  12. Most of the reviews on the duck brand say that the tape loosens after 2 weeks. Did yours stay airtight?

  13. @n – I did not have any issues with the tape loosening, although the film did get a little loose over time. I took it down once spring came. I would recommend cleaning the window borders to remove any dust and let it dry completely before applying the tape to make it stick better. Also, it probably depends on how drafty your windows are. However, 3M is known for their adhesives, so they are probably going to be better in that department.

  14. To save even a little more (or a lot depending on the sale), try buying rolls of shrink wrap and the tape (3M is the best) separately. You can get the tape online cheaper, but I think the roll needs to be bought at at store (Menards is cheapest by me.) Don’t forget that the roll is folded in half or you’ll waste half of it.

  15. Nathan Visser says:

    Hi Jonathan –

    I’ve been following your blog for almost two years, thanks for all the good info. I wasn’t sure how else to get a hold of you, so i’m posting here. I have an idea for a post, if you’d like. I started a vanpool in Chicago two months ago, and have saved over $350 a month by being a driver – I drive 5 other people back and forth to work everyday, ride free myself, and get 300 personal miles a month in the van. In addition, my riders pay for parking downtown Chicago! There is more info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanpool. I use Pace, the program in Chicago, but there are other programs around the country. Also worth a post might be the transit pre-tax benefit: Internal Revenue Code Section 132(a) provides eight types of fringe benefits that are excluded from gross income tax. These include the qualified transportation fringe, similar to retirement fringe or health care fringe.

  16. Hador_NYC says:

    I used to use these things in college, and it was huge. I have 3 through the wall A/C units in my house, and I used this on them, on the inside. As I was using the hair dryer on one of them, my wife was going in and out of the house with groceries. I was stunned to see how the air pressure changes on the house drew or pushed air through the unit; and this is with a vinyl weather cover + proper caulking on the outside.

    FYI, let me suggest homeowners invest in a few tubes of caulk for around your doors and windows. I resealed my whole house with 4 tubes($3 each), the space between the windows(and doors) and the siding wasn’t much (in most cases 1-2mm) but it adds up when you think about that around the whole window; especially when you multiply that by the numbers of windows you have. The US government has a great PDF suggesting how to winterize your house, and it’s a great idea to follow. You can do only what you want, but most of it isn’t much cost. Adding a bit more insulation in your ceiling is not expensive either, not too difficult, and does have a huge impact. (I just bought a house this year, and did all of that this summer.) One these cold days we’ve been having here in the NorthEast, I have noticed the difference.

  17. Jonathan,

    Last year I put up plastic shrink film in the summer on some bedroom windows that we never open and it keeps the cold in too (and hot out). I can honestly say I’ve saved about $10 a month in cooling bill this summer and > $10 in heating bills last winter.

    We also winterized/summer-ized our front door (we live in an apartment building with the door directly to the outside) by hanging a full length curtain on a rod (like over a window) that we lined with a wool blanket over the door (blanket purchased on ebay, curtains was on a super sale at Marshalls and the seamstresses were given free computer help.) It cuts down on heat loss/cold loss, saves us money and regulates the temp a lot better (the thermostat is right at the leaky front door.)

    Keep up the great blog Blog!

  18. Can you tell us if you actually saved money with this idea? Was it worth the time and effort? How long did the film last? Etc.

  19. When you took the film off in the spring, did it leave gunk behind where the adhesive had been? How easy was it to clean off? I’ve been thinking of using something like this, but I don’t want it to leave a permanent residue.

  20. +1 to Cory. I live in a rental apartment with paper-thin walls. I have been considering this for a while but hesitant for left over residue.

    Can you cover AC as well with this one? We can feel cold air through our AC.

  21. Hadn’t you bought a house? Why renting? moved closer to work/ another city?

    Can you share how you rented out/ sold your house?

  22. It works fine in the winter. But in the spring when you take it off, the tape left a permanent stain on my vinyl window frame. I wont use it again.

  23. @Luke – Good tip, are there different grades/thicknesses of shrinkwrap to worry about?

    @Nathan – I sent you an e-mail to see if you would like to guest post. Sounds intriguing.

    @Hador_NYC – Caulking is another inexpensive and effective idea. Sometimes I could see the holes!

    @Greg – Thanks for sharing! We also made something similar with thick fabric as DIY “blackout curtains”.

    @bluecat – I did multiple things and the electricity bill did go down, so it’s hard to say exactly what contributed to what. The room definitely felt warmer, but I’m sure the real numbers depend on how bad the insulation was beforehand (bad for us).

    @Cory – Ours was taped over painted wood, and there was little residue. I remember just using the tape itself to remove the residue, perhaps a bit of Goo Gone in one area or two. It depends on your paint age/condition and surface type. I have read reviews of paint getting lifted off in patches and vinyl getting gunkified (see bobby’s comment).

    @whytax – This post was written back when I was still renting.

  24. bluecat wrote:

    “Can you tell us if you actually saved money with this idea? Was it worth the time and effort? How long did the film last? Etc.”

    This is pretty common practice in the upper Midwest, where winters can get very chilly and windy.

    If your place has any sort of leaking in the windows, this stops that immediately. Wait until a windy day to put this stuff up and you see just how leaky the windows really are as you put it up (sliding glass doors seem to always have serious leaking).

    Save money? Likely. Be more comfortable in the winter? More likely. For $20 and 20 minutes, well worth it.

  25. Noel, I did it on my A/C last weekend. IT worked for me.

  26. @Ron, thanks. I have always suspected that some of my windows leak, and definitely the sliding doors do. So maybe I’ll give it a shot!

  27. Has anyone actually tested to see how much you can save by doing this? I considered having an energy audit done to my home, but I hear they just show you where your are losing energy, and not how much you can actually save. Anyone know?

  28. Hador_NYC says:

    @Weston Terry, it all depends on how bad your windows are. I can say it will help and you will notice fewer drafts.

  29. KutieWiTaBootY says:

    The plastic wrap (duct tape liberally applied) and hair dryer finish works. I’m wasted and female and I got er done!

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