Winterizing – Sealing Up Old Windows With Plastic Shrink Film

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Extended review, updated prices, added tip using painter’s tape. Every year as winter arrives, search engine visitors find their way to this post about how we used to winterize the single pane, very drafty windows in the 90-year-old house we rented. We had electric baseboard heaters, which meant our electric bill doubled to quadrupled in the winter months. On a recommendation by a neighbor, we decided to install some simple plastic shrinkwrap insulation. You can find kits in hardware stores and online for only a few dollars per window. The film creates an insulating air pocket that keeps your heat (and thus $$$) from flowing outside.

Installation preview. Here’s how nearly all of these kits work:

  1. Measure your windows and cut the plastic sheet to the size of the wooden frame you’ll be sticking it too, being sure to leave a 1″ extra buffer on all sides.
  2. Apply one side of the double-sided tape to your window frame (indoors).
  3. Carefully apply your plastic film to the tape. Do it slowly from top border, then sides, then bottom border. It doesn’t have to be perfect but try to keep things taut.
  4. Use the hot air from a hair dryer to “shrink” the plastic and remove all the wrinkles.
  5. Trim away excess plastic film.

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.

Cost. Here are some prices along with average review ratings as of December 2015.

The 3M kits tend to be the most expensive amongst the popular brands. Some reviews state that the 3M brand is worth the extra cost as they stick to the windows longer and with cleaner removal (3M = Scotch tape brand). I was happy with the cheaper Frost King brand, but I didn’t try the 3M brand so I can’t offer a direct comparison myself.

Quick buying tip. Measure your windows first, and then compare it with the kit before purchase. Some kits come in separate sheets, while others come in a big roll. If you have odd size windows like myself, the single sheets may not fit your windows.

Use painter’s tape for easier removal? A few people had questions about the sticky tape removing paint from windows and/or leaving a residue. I just happened to get a good tip regarding this via e-mail from reader Ron:

If one uses “painters tape” before applying the two sided sticky tape, before applying the plastic film, there is NO problem removing in the Spring! I just wish I can eventually find a “clear” painters tape! THAT would be great! Are you listening 3M??!![…]

So, it goes like this… a layer of the painters tape, neatly trimmed…. the sticky tape on that, then the plastic film on top of the sticky tape. […]

I can’t believe the utter savings I enjoyed as a benefit! A 2/3rd savings over the previous year! It was nice not hearing my furnace come on very often.

I had concerns that the painter’s tape would come loose, but Ron assured me it stayed up for him. Other readers have indeed reported that the double-sided tape came loose from the painter’s tape, so you may want to do a test run with one window first.

Summary. I did the all big windows in our house for a total cost of under $25 plus a few hours of weekend labor. I don’t have exact numbers, but over the course of the season, this added insulation definitely paid for itself in heating bills. If I owned the house as opposed to renting, I might have tried to justify new double-pane windows, but otherwise this was a quick way to save on heating bills.

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  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. 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: 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. 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. @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!

  30. Does the tape, take the paint off your windows?

  31. I tried using the painters tape this year. The two sided tape with the Frost King kit pulled away from it once I started using the blow dryer and the plastic began to tighten.


  33. This is a great blog!
    Looking for advice to purchase a semi-permanent / long lasting film to install on rarely used large windows in a rental.
    What are your thoughts on the Duck® Brand Heavy-Duty Shrink Film Window Insulation Kit with Access Panels? It’s 2X Thicker than the standard window films so it should handle accidents better. Did anyone try it?
    I couldn’t find any useful reviews online. I also like the idea of having access panels but I’m not sure if anyone had problems with them.
    Please share your experience if you tried it.
    3M is well known quality brand and Frost King is another well known brand that specializes in insulation but I think Duck® Brand has a competitive edge with their Heavy-Duty film with patented Access Panels.

    • TBH it really doesn’t matter. I’ve used commercial grade thick and thin versions of window insulators as well as your regular painter’s plastic with duct tape. It depends on the amount of work you put into sealing the window and other contributing factors.

      1. On windows with AC units you should seal the AC and cover parts on the outside as well as the inside.
      2. Wipe down the walls and frame around the windows before applying the tape.
      3. Some tape are better than others (non-commercial). if you’re using stuff you picked up at the Dollar Store then you’ll find out a few weeks into winter than the duct tape probably pulling away from the window. Try using a clear boxing/sealing tape instead. The adhesion sometimes depends on the type of wall or frame you’re sticking it too.
      4. Heavily drafted windows tend to break the seals. If the plastic is noticably bowing in and out then you want to run a strip of tape across the median to prevent it from moving too much. Over time this will strip the plastic from the tape if left unchecked.
      5. Consider whether you are going to insulate the frame or the whole window (i.e. to the wall). Some older homes have draft that occurs around the outside of the frame so sealing to the wall may be mandatory if you heal the draft with some by some other method.
      6. Mini-blinds and curtains. Move your curtain rods outside of the frame. If you don’t want to nail the hooks to your walls then try using a plastic detachable hook or one of those suction hangers. Mini-blinds will be the bane of your progress. You could try moving them up to the top of the frame but that gives you little wiggle room. So hopefully you bought blinds that are attached inside the window frame. If not, measure the inside of your window frame and buy new blinds or take the blinds down for the winter and replace them with curtains.
      7. Don’t rush it. If you’re doing it by yourself then you might want to grab a couple to thumb tacks to hold the other end while putting up plastic. Get a step ladder and move around furniture if necessary. Putting up plastic in a rushed manner doesn’t pay off in the long-term.

      No it does not really matter how thick the plastic is. Your heat loss is coming mostly from draft/air flow. That’s what you’re trying to prevent.

  34. Carolyn Cornish says


    In my living room I have 3 almost floor 2 ceiling windows. The one in the middle doesn’t open. The 2 on either side do. Do I have to use plastic on the middle window which doesn’t open or just the end 2 which do?


    • I’m not sure I exactly understand your situation, but the overall idea is that you want to prevent any airflow between the outside and inside. If there is any draft, even with a closed window, you should seal it up.

  35. Lolita redden says

    I’m not sure how to use a shrink wrap on my windows. my window frames are stucco on a manufactured home. the windows are set inside the stucco frame by 5 inches. Tape would never stick to the stucco frame which is the wall. Any suggestions?

  36. It’s June 2019 – the second day of summer – and this is still an excellent post! Its good to read about the tests and trials and what everyone has learned and of course these products have improved over the past years. Thanks for the updates and great to see you replying to all the comments when possible.

  37. For the thickness lf the plastic, I do usually buy the rolls as it is I think more cost effective. The last few years we got 4mm but can’t really see outside. This year my wife has asked to be able to view the outdoors.
    What would be a good thickness to insulate and be able to see outside?

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