Feel my pane.
February 22, 2011 5:15 PM   Subscribe

Apartment rental. Subdivided house circa 1910. Help us tweak these original single-pane wood frame windows so as not to freeze.

Two months ago we moved into our new rental, a top-level apartment in Oakland that takes up half the floor in a subdivided house built in 1910. Since we're in the Bay Area (and since it's an old house), the frame has settled over time, and not everything is perfectly true.It's about 1500 square feet and has lovely, original windows everywhere - 16 in total, of various sizes, plus two doors - the windows mostly look like this. Here are some details of the frames, and the (original?) rope pulley mechanism. Any thoughts on how we can plug up the many small leak points on these or otherwise make the place less freezing? We've started to install weatherstripping, but I don't really understand where/how you could use caulk on these windows, and I'm loathe to go the plastic shrink wrap route in late February. I'm looking for any suggestions, tips, or renter-friendly insulation fixes (they don't necessarily need to be cheap - just cost-effective!) that would work on old wooden windows like these?

Other notes:
- Our landlord is very proud of having kept all the original architectural details of the house, so we have limited options as far as discussion of replacement, storm windows, etc.
- I've read this thread, and am not seeking advice on how to bundle up and/or otherwise acclimate to the cold.
- I've never caulked a window.
posted by deludingmyself to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go to the home center and get the plastic sheeting made for this particular problem. It is not attractive, but it does the job. You could also consider some heavy curtains and weather stripping to limit convection and air flow. I commend the plastic sheeting solution and the curtains to cover put the ugliness.
posted by humanfont at 5:25 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Rope caulk is kind of like Play-Doh in consistency, but stays kind of pliable and doesn't damage the surfaces when pulled off. You just find your leaks and cover them with however much rope caulk you need. amd you can cover or fill longer stretches as well as odd little holes.
posted by dilettante at 5:26 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bubble wrap.
posted by ahaynes at 5:27 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's a method involving insulation which doesn't look very renter-friendly, but there's a neat trick to block the pulley hole at 2:30.

The windows are called sash windows, by the way. I do ours with shrink wrap.
posted by caek at 5:28 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is what we used. Window weatherstripping foam tape.
posted by raisingsand at 5:36 PM on February 22, 2011

If you plan to open the windows again in summer I think you should probably just go the plastic route. Or heavy curtains down to the floor. The thing about the double hung windows is that a lot of air comes through the place where the windows meet in the middle. We have the same issue in our 1885 Oakland Victorian apartment. You can't really weatherstrip the parts that are leakiest.

Looks like you're on Broadway... right by Mama's Royal?

Welcome to Oakland!
posted by oneirodynia at 5:45 PM on February 22, 2011

Rope caulk is fine, but stay away from caulk in a tube or spray foam insulation or anything else that will be messy and somewhat permanent. These products are more difficult to work with than you think. Trust Me.

Weather stripping tape or taping plastic over the windows is just fine. I also think heavy drapes help.

We're through the worst of it this year so this next suggestion is overkill... but in a room with heavy drapes that just wouldn't stay warm back in November, I built insulated removable window plugs. I upholstered them to make them pretty to the outside. This room had super drafty windows, stone floors, not so great heating vents, and no requirement for daily outside light. YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 6:29 PM on February 22, 2011

I use clear shower curtains instead of the window film; it's thicker, and if you find the right ones, easier to see through (not just let light through). And if you are careful with your taping, it's not that noticeable.

Also, there is clear silicone caulk that can be good for the outer edges of the window frames, where they meet the walls.
posted by lemniskate at 6:36 PM on February 22, 2011

I use janky plastic sheeting in my current drafty apartment in freezing New England. It's ugly but gets the job done. If you're planning on staying a while you might try this reusable plastic solution. It looks much nicer.

My old apartment in Sacramento had very similar windows. We just wore sweaters in the winter. I know you don't want suggestions on how to keep warm, but it may be easiest to just dress warmer.
posted by apricot at 7:37 PM on February 22, 2011

For maximum efficiency you really need a two pronged approach. First use the aforementioned rope caulk (I like the Ace brand) to seal up and gaps, cracks, and air leaks. You can seal up around the ropes and rope pulleys as well. In addition to all the mechanical joints of the window check around the window frame itself. I found significant cold air coming in a gap between the bottom of the frame molding and the wall on a number of windows. Basically anywhere you can feel cold air is a place that should be sealed if at all possible (this might include non-window places too, like around outlet boxes or the joint between wall and floor).

The second step is the shrink-fit window film or similar. It's pretty straightforward, just measure carefully. Make sure to clean the frames with a damp rag and allow them to dry before you put up the double-sided tape. Clear a big enough space on the floor to do your measuring and cutting.

It's tedious work and takes long enough to do properly that you'll probably want to make modern double-glazed windows a must-have the next time you look for an apartment. I know that was my feeling!
posted by 6550 at 8:11 PM on February 22, 2011

Consider drapes. They can make more of a difference than you'd think for drafts.
posted by maryr at 8:41 PM on February 22, 2011

I like V-seal and 3M Weather Stripping Tape for the gaps where windows meet frame.
posted by zippy at 9:00 PM on February 22, 2011

Response by poster: Alright, looks like it's time for us to buy some rope caulk and evaluate some of these other options. We're uncertain on drapes due to crazy dust allergies, but we may have to bite the bullet and just wash them every month or so.

Caek, thanks for giving me the right search term, and for that great little trick at the end of that video - for anyone curious, he's cutting a little rectangle of foam carpet padding, pulling the cord out a few inches, and then letting the padding plug the hole as the cord retracts.

Oneirodynia, thanks for the welcome - good eye! We're enjoying the neighborhood so far.

Oh, and jbenben, any good hints on building plugs? My parents put some in their windows, but they found frame spacers from an art supply store that fit perfectly and just covered them with fabric.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:32 PM on February 22, 2011

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