Temporarily insulate a drafty exterior door?
November 10, 2010 5:20 PM   Subscribe

My apartment's back exit has a windowed door (similar to this, although it's only a single door) and no storm door. It's drafty and I'd like to insulate it as much as I can, sans all but the most rudimentary carpentry skills. What's my best temporary solution?

Yes, a storm door is probably the best option longterm, but my semi-absentee landlord is not going to get it taken care of by the time the snow flies. He's ok with me making minor improvements, etc. and lets me take supplies off the cost of rent.

I have access to some basic tools and a power drill/screwdriver, and am comfortable caulking, installing weatherstripping, etc. I almost think I could install a storm door myself (the tutorials don't look too bad!), but am leery of screwing up a $100+ project on someone else's property.

Snow makes it inconvenient to use the back door for most of the winter, so any solution that makes the door un-openable for the duration is fine. I don't care about aesthetics, although I'd prefer to be able to see out the windows at least occasionally.

Is there an equivalent of this product for a regular hinged door? Surely there's some way I can attach plastic sheeting to the exterior/interior frame without leaving a permanent residue?

Thanks for your help!
posted by Knicke to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would just use a thick, heavy curtain. It may not be the absolute best solution, but it's easy and in my experience curtains are excellent insulators.
posted by brainmouse at 5:23 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you don't care about aesthetics, heavy plastic or, better yet, bubble wrap works pretty well. Even hanging sheets of it from the curtain rod will make a noticeable difference.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:27 PM on November 10, 2010

If you're looking for cheap, temporary, extremely effective and don't care much about aesthetics, extruded polystyrene sheets are your new best friend. (These are the huge pink pieces of foam in the lumber section of a Home Depot/Lowe's-type store.) A piece big enough to cover your door will run you about 8 bucks. (If you cut it to fit exactly you can just pop it in and out as needed.) You can hang a curtain or something on the inside if you don't want to stare at pink foam all winter.

Bonus fun: all the sunlight will be tinted pink and you'll feel like you're living in a womb.
posted by phunniemee at 5:59 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should clarify that when I say "I don't care about aesthetics", I mean that I don't care how the finished product looks. However, light and transparency are basic functions of windows. light is at a premium at this latitude this time of year, and I need to be able to look out when I choose.

Thus, curtains = fine, polystyrene = problematic, because it's opaque and I can't easily remove it (it would have to be on the exterior side). Clear plastic sheeting seems ideal, but what's the best way to seal/tape it up?
posted by Knicke at 6:28 PM on November 10, 2010

At least some hardware stores sell purpose-made plastic sheeting for window insulation... I am pretty sure it comes with a way to put it up. I've done it before but don't remember the details. It's easy, whatever it is. I was covering large bay windows in a high-ceilinged old house, so I think this stuff is made in a big enough size for your French doors.

I guess asking for window insulation vs. asking for door insulation might make a difference?
posted by equivocator at 7:42 PM on November 10, 2010

My ex and I put this stuff on his door last winter and it worked like a charm. You have to stick the runners to the walls, but it's better than tape, and he told me that they removed without much residue.
posted by patheral at 7:49 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

What equivocator and patheral said.

First… check to see if your door is already insulated. We have a large window/door that insulated and double paned, so it does a good job of keeping out Winter. We just have to make sure we close it all the way to keep out the wind. Check to make sure there is an insulation strip between the outside of door and the jamb. If it's missing or worn, it's easy to install. If air is coming in underneath, block it with a towel or pillows.

We use a plastic "shrink and seal window kit" for our windows that works great (similar to your second link and available at Home Depot or Lowes, ask for the window insulation kits). The kit includes 2-sided tape and enough plastic for 5 windows, so it should work for your door provided the plastic sheet is wide enough. You could even use them on your windows for more energy savings!

You apply the tape on the inside, around the frame edges of the door, attach the plastic sheet and then blow dry it to shrink it so you can still see out. Don't forget to clean the door windows, push it tightly shut and lock it. If you have pets, expect to get a tear or two but you can just tape it up with clear packing tape. Once Spring comes, you can pull it all down and the 2-sided tape comes up pretty easy.

The key to insulation is having an airtight barrier. Curtains don't do that and they block sunlight that helps to heat your house. You could buy a thick plastic and duct tape it to the outside of your door but it will look butt ugly and we've tried every permutation of duct tape and plastic to keep our place warm and they always fail.
posted by jabo at 7:53 PM on November 10, 2010

Actually, the link I put up has plastic tongue and groove hardware hold the sheeting. I guess that's the best way to explain it. It's meant to be easier to put up, I guess? But the hardware allows you to take it off of the door temporarily if you need to and put it back up without having to worry about retaping. We still got an air tight seal -- but not a lot of tape.
posted by patheral at 8:13 PM on November 10, 2010

Debbie Downer here, but are there regulations where you live about keeping a second exit clear in case of fire? Although ripping the plastic is relatively easy, would it melt in a fire and cause a big problem should you need to exit that way? I really don't know, but you may want to double-check your lease to be sure.

Are the windows themselves drafty, or is it just drafty around the door? You could weather strip around the door, and caulk the windows. You could also apply the plastic just around the window area, leaving the door itself free to open and close.

At night, when you presumably wouldn't be looking at the view, a thermal curtain or drape would help a lot.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:21 PM on November 10, 2010

I am putting weatherstripping tape and a door sweeper on similar doors today. Here's a youtube video showing how easy it is.
posted by Xalf at 9:42 AM on November 11, 2010

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