Woman cleaning her windows. A regular cleaning is all most windows need, but some window problems need more.
Photo Credit:
Adobe Stock
Window Maintenance Mastery

Window Maintenance: How to Fix Common Window Problems

Steve Hansen
/
November 21, 2023

If you’re lucky enough to have nice new windows, your annual window maintenance will probably consist of basic cleaning and removing the occasional stuck-on feather. If your home has older windows, though, taking care of a few basic maintenance tasks can both extend their lifespan and nip some potential problems in the bud. So let’s get out those bud-nippers!

What Goes Bad With Windows?

First off, some windows tend to be high-use items that you open and close a lot, work the locks often, and so on. Those should get a bit more attention. Some others don’t get any use at all. I have windows that I never even see, as the blinds are always closed, but I still need to check them out now and then.

What tends to go bad depends on the type of window. Casement windows, the type that just slide up and down, don’t have much hardware. You really just need to keep the tracks clean and lubricated. Casement windows, the type that open like a door and have a rotary handle, have a lot more parts in there, and those need some attention. Awning windows are in the middle.

The Most-Common Window-Related Tasks

Weatherstripping

After basic cleaning, when I’m looking at my windows, I check out the weatherstripping. That’s a part of air sealing, and weatherstripping does wear out over time, and sometimes it can tear. Fortunately, you can replace it and get that window completely air-sealed pretty easily. The best way is to pull the existing but failing or ripped weatherstripping out and buy an exact replacement. Some of them have a special profile with a rib that fits into a groove. You might have to contact the manufacturer to get that same profile.

Someone putting weather stripping

If you can’t find an exact replacement, you can also use a variety of generic versions like this, which you just stick into place to make a tight seal. Sometimes it’s better to go to the hardware store and put your hands on the product so you can get a better idea. Plus, you can always just buy two or three and return them if you don’t use them.

Maintaining the Caulking

If you notice some air leakage around any of your windows, sealing that leakage should be a high priority. If you notice a draft around the perimeter of the window, you can use some clear or color-matched caulk where the casing, which is the window trim, meets the window. You may need to do the same at the wall.

A man applies caulk to a window

If you have double-hung windows that don’t fit tightly together where the sashes overlap, you could get a lot of air leakage. Rope caulk is the fix for that. It’s a bit like Play-Doh, and you just work it into the gap between the sashes. It will need to come out in the spring when you want to open the window.

At the bottom of drafty double-hung window sashes, you can add some compressible weatherstripping that sticks right into place and is invisible when you have the window closed.

Adding Window Film

After air sealing with caulk and weatherstripping, window film may also be necessary. This film is effective at blocking drafts, but you will have to remove it in the spring or whenever you want to open the window again. The installation is straightforward, too:

  • Wipe the window casing with a damp rag and let it dry.
  • Apply the tape across the top casing of the window.  
  • Apply the film to the tape across the window, according to the instructions.
  • Apply the tape to the side casings and bottom casing.
  • Unroll the film and press onto the tape on the sides and then to the bottom.
  • Shrink the film with a hair dryer.
  • Trim the film with scissors.

And you’re done! You can get kits large enough for patio doors, which can be massively leaky. Getting those sealed up will save you some money and keep your space substantially warmer!

What Does Condensation Mean?

If I see condensation on the windows, I know I need to figure that out. If it’s located on the outside of the window, that’s just humid air outside. If it’s located on the inside surface, there might be too much humidity inside the house. Why is that? Is it from cooking? Or a dryer vent that’s come loose from the wall? Or is a humidifier running too much? The preferred indoor humidity is about 30–50%, so I’d like to know what the humidity is when I see condensation on the windows.

Condensation on a window

If the condensation is between the panes of the window’s glass, that’s a big problem. That means that the seal has failed, and that window pane is basically done for. At that point, you are looking at replacing the pane, which is the glass panel itself, or the full sash, which is the pane and the frame around it. I would start by contacting the window manufacturer and see where that goes.

A couple of things could happen: you might get a replacement sash from the manufacturer, which might be quite easy to pop right into place. You might also end up working with a local shop to replace the pane in your existing sash.

Check for Leaks

Do you see evidence of leaks at any of your windows? Water staining on the casing would be a big clue, as would standing water during and after a rainstorm. If so, your windows may need to be re-caulked on the exterior.

Lubricating and Tightening

Someone lubricating the lock on a window

If you notice any type of window sticking or being sort of clunky to operate, a bit of lubrication should help. You can lube the tracks of double-hung windows, and all the working parts of casement and awning windows, as well. This is a good time to look for loose parts and tighten those, too. Don’t go crazy; hand-tight should be sufficient.

Condition of Window Frames

How do the window frames look, overall? If they’re wooden windows, do they still have a varnish or polyurethane finish on them? Do you notice water staining or that they look dried out? Or do they have a paint finish on them? Often, you can give windows quite a refreshed look with a new finish, whether it’s a clear finish or paint.

For wood or vinyl frames, are they clean, or are they grubby looking? Sometimes, just a good scrubbing makes a huge difference! Melamine sponges and water go a long way (Magic Eraser is the brand name, but melamine sponges are actually quite cheap without the brand).

Condition of Screens

Screens can get beat up over time, but they’re easy to fix with a screen repair kit. These only work if the screen frame is still in good condition, but it is an easy DIY project. Sometimes, though, screens just need to be rinsed and dried to release the gunk stuck to them.

Someone repairing a screen

What About Storm Windows?

Lastly, replacing windows is a big project with a big price tag. Choosing Energy STAR storm windows instead might hit the sweet spot. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that this type of storm window will give homeowners a three-year payback on the investment, as they’ll save money on their heating and cooling bills. Not bad! These storm windows are available in both interior and exterior models, so there’s a good chance you can find storm windows to fit your home.

Most recent posts
Save money. save energy.

Related Articles

See all >
A woman who replaced her gas stove with an induction cook top
Stirring up cleaner air

Breathe Easy, Cook Clean: It’s Time to Replace Your Gas Stove

The quiet culprit: how your gas stove impacts climate and health. Discover the ample health and environmental benefits of bidding farewell to your gas stove.

A woman sits in a NYC loft space that’s older and doesn’t have enough outlets
Plugging into vintage charm

Not Enough Outlets? Here’s How To (Safely) Deal

Practical advice on how to safely maximize the use of limited electrical outlets in old apartments.

Man closes window coverings for energy savings
Curtains down on bills

Stay Comfortable and Save: Choosing the Right Window Coverings for Energy Savings

Discover how the right window treatments can significantly reduce your home's heating and cooling costs.