4 Cures For a Drafty Old House

By Scott Sidler January 13, 2014

4 cures for a drafty old houseOld houses can be drafty. It’s a fact. But just because they are drafty doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. The good news is that it doesn’t require a huge sum of money spent on big projects like windows replacement to stop the drafts.

There are several very affordable and easy things you can do yourself to stop the drafts and save lots of money on your heating bill.

1. Weatherstrip Doors & Windows

These are by far the biggest offenders of air leakage in any house, not just old and historic houses. Unless they are completely painted shut, your old windows will likely have several gaps to the great outdoors. If your doors are painted shut, well, I guess you’ve got bigger problems.

A. Spring Bronze Weatherstripping

Spring Bronze weatherstripping
Spring Bronze

Spring bronze or other permanent weatherstripping is a great solution to make your windows efficient year round. It requires more work upfront, but it’s once done, it requires little to no maintenance to keep your windows functioning with top efficiency. Install some spring bronze along the sash tracks in the window jambs and you’ll keep the air from whipping around your sashes and into your house. Below are tutorials for installing spring bronze on both windows and doors

B. Other Options

  • Rope Caulk – If you live in a northern climate, you may have heard of this. Rope caulk is simply unrolled and pressed into place around the window perimeter to seal out drafts for the winter. You can’t open your windows until the rope caulk is removed, but who needs to open a window when it’s 8°F outside anyway? Then, at the end of the cold season when you want to open your windows again, you simply peel away the caulk and voila, your windows work again. Minimal effort, big payback!
  • StopGap
    StopGap installed on a window

    StopGap – This handy little item installs on double hung windows at the meeting rail/parting bead junction to seal up the largest gap most windows have by design. Its attractive bronze escutcheon and felt gasket give it very long life and a nice look. The bonus is that you can install without any modifications to the windows and it can stay on permanently while still leaving the window operable year round.

Another important part of weatherstripping doors is the sweep. Underneath your door needs to be airtight. There are no shortage of options at your local home store for doors sweeps. Some are attractive, others not so much, but all of them are effective at sealing your door bottom. They are easy to install and cost so little that you would be crazy not to do this step first. $20 spent on one of these today will save you at least 3 times that much in energy costs over the year. As Nike says, just do it.

2. Caulk Baseboards & Trim

This is an area not many people think about when it comes to a drafty house, but it does pose a problem sometimes. In old houses the original baseboards and trim were often installed first and then the plasterer would come in and plaster up to them. This means that behind your trim there is nothing but empty space which makes a great place for drafts to start.

Chances are, your baseboards and trim have been caulked in and any joints are caked with layers of paint, but I’m surprised how often I find houses where this isn’t the case due to settlement. Air can pour out of these gaps if they aren’t sealed up leaving you with mysterious drafts.

Grab your caulk gun and go around the house to seal up any joints in the boards and any gaps between the trim and plaster that may have opened up over the years. You’ll be thankful you did.

3. Seal Electrical Outlets

electrical outlet gasket
These provide helpful cutouts for each type of switch or outlet

As many electrical outlets and light switches as we have in houses today is like a going around a well sealed house with a hole punch. Every one of these are major offenders of leaky air and drafty houses. Behind that switch plate cover is nothing but empty space that is open to the wall cavity. You need to seal this up and a standard switch plate cover won’t do it.

There are foam gaskets available that cost about $0.40 each, are very easy to install and they can seal up every type of outlet like switches, dimmers, plugs, etc. I used them on my own house because I could feel the cold air pouring in behind an outlet one day. No more!

You can spend an afternoon on Saturday and do your whole house for less than $20. The payback is immediate and can be big if you have lots of drafts. These are much safer than trying to use spray foam which is never a good idea in electrical boxes.

4. Foam the Gaps

Great stuffIn every old house there are gaps to the outside. The biggest offenders are usually done by plumbers. The pipes under your sinks, the water supply risers to your claw foot tub, the drain line for that same tub. Wherever a pipe goes through a wall or floor, there is a good chance you’ve got a gap. You may not notice the gaps because of the decorative escutcheon hiding it, but it’s there.

Pull the escutcheon away from the wall and check for gaps. When you find them, use either caulk for small gaps or some spray foam like Great Stuff for larger gaps. Expanding foam is a great product for sealing these gaps since it expands so much and fills every little space. Just remember, that this stuff expands like mad so don’t over do it. Once the foam has completely hardened (usually 30 mins to an hour) trim off any excess and put the escutcheon back in place. You’ll never know it’s there except when you look at your heating bill.

 

And that’s it! Follow those simple fixes and you won’t have to live in a drafty old house anymore. Let me know what your experience is. For me, these fixes made a big difference in our heating bills which more than justified the minimal expense. Good luck and stay warm!

Share Away!

15 thoughts on “4 Cures For a Drafty Old House”

  1. Wall is cement. Top portion has new windows. Bottom part is cold to touch and feel draft from it. How do I insulate this bottom portion of window inside to stop cold. I have already covered new windows with weather seal plastic inside, but still feel cold from cement wall.
    Need insulation assistance on this. I have heavy insulated drapes covering windows from over top to floor, have to put heavy towels along floor where bottom of curtains are. Still cold & drafty .
    Help, please ?

  2. Scott, I’m just ordering some spring bronze weather stripping for my front and back doors. While some cold air is coming in on the sides and top, most is coming in underneath. I have tried a door sweep, per above, but the one I got is not working too well. Is it possible to remove the door and install the spring bronze along the bottom of the door? It seems as if this would be both more effective and more attractive than the sweep.

  3. Hi! My husband and I purchased a 1910 farmhouse a year ago and the winds from the west can get up to 60 mph. We live in NW Missouri so we are the summers are hot and humid and the winters can be down right freezing. We are working on the third room in our renovation and had to pull the interior wall out and the ceiling out. We love your blog but we were wondering if you had any tips for insulating the wall. There is a small hole in the exterior from a cistern that did but up against the house that we had to pull out next to this room so we know it is wood clapboard siding with tar paper under it and then 1×8 under that then there was lathe and plaster. (we had to pull the lathe and plaster wall down because it had been tampered with by some previous owners and was not fixable.) What we are wondering is how would you insulate the walls to help with the winters? What ever we try to do here we want to do when we replace the clapboard in a few years with clapboard keeping it as close to original as we can. We have talked with tons of people that say rolled insulation with the paper and then when we take the siding down put the white plastic sheeting under as a vapor barrier. But that would not allow breathability like we have now. Is it worth us insulating at all? Should we stick with the clapboard tar paper 1×8 and then drywall. And lastly my husband would want to know why you chose your answer. I know this is quite a loaded question. Thanks so much. I plan on fixing the old windows that are left from the info you have posted on your blog. Previous owners replaced several.

  4. Help, I have old brick house built in 1948 with original wood floors. I just replace the original window and realizing I getting draft from the baseboard between the floor and quarter rounds. Which is the best way to stop the draft coming in. Thanks

          1. Thank you Scott. We been in deep freeze here – 35C & lower, for long period, no sign of temp. rising, draft is cold. !!

  5. Hi Scott,
    Great website. I’m really glad I came across it.
    Regarding spring bronze: we have wooden storm windows that hang from brackets on the outside of our victorian house. They fit into the opening for the windows, and are well made, but air still gets in. Would spring bronze be the right weatherstripping for these windows, or is there another, easier solution? I would like an attractive and longterm fix as well.
    thanks!
    Philip

    1. Philip, it always a good idea for wood storm windows to not be 100% airtight so they can allow moisture that gets inside to escape. I would probably install a compression bulb type weatherstripping inside the storm rabbet on the exterior trim and see if that gets you a little better seal. Just don’t seal them up completely or you’ll have bug rot and condensation issues.

  6. These are great recommendations for making a home more comfortable and reducing energy costs. A lot of older homes are very well built generally, but many have these air infiltration problems. The good news is it doesn’t cost much to remedy the situation; and in most cases these repairs will pay for themselves in just a few months.

  7. Great tips Scott! I really need to get on weatherstripping my doors. My windows are painted shut, except the upstairs ones and I can feel cold air coming in from where the bottom sash meets the top sash (in the middle). I’ll have to look into that rope caulk since that sound relatively easy to do!

    I know this is slightly off topic, but do you have an idea on how to add insulation to a crawl space that you can’t get into? My old house’s crawl space is maybe a foot high. Our utility room is an addition and from the basement, you can see that there is nothing under that floor except dirt. Maybe I have to rip out the floor and do it that way? All I know is that it is freezing in that room! Thanks!

    Toni

Leave a comment!

Keep the conversation going! Your email address will not be published.

*