By Sam Wasson
Updated Nov 3, 2022
Worn and weathered windows pose several problems for homeowners. First, they lose their power to insulate, becoming less energy-efficient and raising utility bills. Second, their seals weaken, allowing drafts and water. And worst of all, they’ll eventually break down to the point where moisture begins to seep into your walls, creating serious water damage and mold growth.
As old windows break down, you’ll have two options for remediating the situation: full window replacements or installing storm windows. But, if you’re new to homeownership or aren’t experienced in home improvement, you may have never heard of storm windows. We’ve created this comprehensive guide to help you better understand storm windows. Below we’ll explain what they are, how they work, and everything you need to know before deciding if they’re the best option for your home.
A storm window, or impact-resistant window, is an installation placed over existing panes. You can attach storm windows yourself or have them professionally installed. In either case, storm windows are typically cheaper than a full window replacement. Storm windows serve several important functions, such as:
There are three primary types of storm windows: indoor, outdoor, and temporary. Each of these types comes in various styles, with different materials and costs.
Indoor storm windows fit within the inside-facing part of the window opening. These are typically the most cost-efficient storm window model and the easiest to install. These models also allow you to reap all the insulating benefits of storm windows while maintaining the look and curb appeal of your original panes. As a result, these windows are a popular option for DIY-minded homeowners and those with older homes that possess a unique look. The only downside of this model is that it doesn’t protect the original window and frame from weather and debris.
Outdoor storm windows provide the most protection, keeping your windows safe from harsh weather conditions, dust, debris, and water. While more expensive and difficult to install (especially on the second story of homes), these windows are preferred for their superior levels of protection and better insulation. Unlike interior storm windows, exterior models fit over the entire window frame, protecting the frame from the elements. Exterior storm windows also come with “weep holes,” which allow moisture to evaporate, reducing the chance of mold and mildew buildup.
While these windows provide excellent mechanical benefits, many dislike the look they provide to the outside of the home. When placed over window frames, they can appear bulky and “out of place,” depending on the design of your home. This clunky appearance is especially true for older three-track storm windows, which are larger than more modern two-track models.
Temporary storm windows are narrow, single-pane windows that fit inside the window frame. As their name suggests, these models are designed to be temporarily inserted onto your current windows to help with energy efficiency and temperature control. These window inserts can help reduce the heat from the summer sun and provide an extra temperature barrier holding warmth inside during winter.
Each kind of storm window has several options for materials. The material choice affects their look, condition, lifetime, and cost.
When looking to purchase storm windows, you’ll come across two-track, triple-track, slider-track, and “fixed” configurations. A track is the small raceway in which windows slide up and down. The more tracks a window has, the more screens or panes it possesses. Older storm windows had three tracks, with one outer screen and two movable panes. This system made them extremely bulky and unappealing. Modern storm windows typically have two tracks, although you can still purchase three-track windows.
Here’s a quick look at the different track options for storm windows and how they function:
The price of storm windows can vary depending on their size, materials, glazing, and type. Lighter materials like plastic and aluminum will be cheaper, while wood frames are typically custom-built and much more expensive. On average, you can expect to pay between $150 and $400 per window. For a typical 24-by-48-inch aluminum storm window (the standard size in the U.S.), you can expect to pay between $90 and $150.
On average, the lifetime of a storm window is between 10 and 40 years, with most needing to be replaced after 20. While storm windows can have a long life span, if not taken care of, they’ll need to be replaced every few decades.
Storm windows are an effective additional layer of protection you can add to your original home windows. They can save you money in the long run, reducing utility costs by providing more effective insulation. They also bring secondary benefits like noise and UV reduction.
However, these windows have their drawbacks. They can be difficult to install, need consistent maintenance, and can reduce curb appeal. Furthermore, they don’t last as long as new replacement windows, which have a lifetime of over 40 years. Storm windows can be an excellent choice if you’re looking to save money and don’t mind doing the occasional work to keep them in tip-top shape. They can be a good seasonal buy, helping you reduce energy costs while protecting your windows in extreme weather.
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