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Home improvement: Keep your home warmer with window inserts

VOLUNTEERS INVOLVED IN last year’s window insert at Holley Hall in Bristol help deliver inserts to New Haven’s Beeman Elementary School. 
Photo courtesy of Maggie Eaton

With colder temperatures already creeping into our daily lives, many of us are thinking about how to keep our homes warm through the winter. This year, you could consider installing window inserts, a crafty alternative to cranking up the heat or throwing on an extra layer. 

Window inserts help keep the warm air in your home by creating additional layers of insulation, while still allowing you to see out and let light in through the glass panes. 

The technology is actually pretty simple. Each insert is made of a wooden frame with tightly sealed, clear polyolefin film wrapped on either side. The film creates a layer of air space inside the insert, which works in conjunction with the layer of air space between the insert and your window to keep the cold air outside. 

The insert is firmly secured into your window well with a compressible foam gasket. The foam keeps the insert sealed in place during the winter and allows for easy removal in the spring. 

Like other home improvement projects, there are options for purchasing custom-built window inserts. But you’ll find it’s cheaper to build them yourself or sign up for a community-build event in your area. 

For the past three years, the Bristol Energy Committee has taken part in these community builds. The committee works with WindowDressers, a Maine nonprofit that organizes volunteer efforts to measure and build window inserts throughout New England. 

Those who purchase their inserts through WindowDressers are asked to volunteer at the community-build events, where residents work together to build inserts for those in the area who ordered them. These volunteer efforts help keep WindowDressers’ inserts affordable. And Bristol Energy Committee Chair Sally Burrell says they’re also a lot of fun. 

 “I find it to be probably one of the most satisfying energy committee projects we’ve done in that it’s satisfying to work together having people coming together in the community. It builds community and saves money. I love it,” Burrell said.

Inserts purchased through WindowDressers range in price based on size, though Burrell said they typically cost around $30-$40, and there is financial assistance available to cover part or all of the cost as well. 

 Constructing your own window inserts is a bit pricier, with materials coming in around $80, based on window size. The price of the project can vary depending on the materials you use; some tutorials call for plexiglass, which can be a lot pricier than polyolefin film or shrink wrap. 

Though, part of the beauty of window inserts is that they eventually pay for themselves. 

A WINDOW INSERT in a library window at Beeman Elementary School in New Haven was installed last year. 
Photo courtesy of Maggie Eaton

“Because you’re not losing heat through the window, your heater doesn’t have to come on as often. It’s keeping the air in the house warm longer,” Burrell said. “Your bills, whatever you’re paying for either wood or oil, are going to be cheaper, and you usually find that within two years, you’ve broken even for what you’ve paid for the inserts.”

WindowDressers estimates that installing 10 inserts can save an average of 105 gallons of heating fuel each year, in addition to keeping your house warmer for longer. 

But how many inserts does someone have to buy or make to feel the difference? Burrell says just one. 

“If you happen to have a favorite chair by a window and you put the insert by that window, you can feel that difference,” Burrell said. “Wherever you put them you’re going to feel that difference.”

And those who have installed window inserts in their homes are certainly feeling the difference. Burrell shared the testimony of a Bristol resident who took part in a previous community build. 

“Last year I had the pleasure of helping to measure and make the inserts (window dressings) to fit inside a number of my windows in Bristol. I can’t tell you how much cozier my house is now! No drafts at all in those windows,” they said. “Sometimes I think about how to contribute to helping stave off global warming. I have young people in mind when I think these thoughts, and I am so glad that this was one concrete thing I could do to help make my house much more energy efficient!”

Meanwhile, Rotary Club of Middlebury is helping neighbors reduce home heating bills this upcoming winter by working with WindowDressers to provide window inserts to insulate drafty windows. Low-income households in the Middlebury area can receive 10 free window inserts.

For more information, email [email protected], call us at 802-458-1210, or look online at windowdressers.org.

Whether you’re ready to build inserts this year or opt to wait for next year’s local community build, adding window inserts to your list of home improvement projects is worth considering before you reach for the thermostat.  

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