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.
What is a Storm Window?
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:
- Adding additional protection to existing windows, increasing resistance to dirt, debris, high winds, and water.
- Reducing outside noise.
- Improving insulation, keeping heat inside in winter and outside in summer.
- Extending the life of existing windows.
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.
For more details read our article on the cost of storm windows.
Indoor Storm Windows
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
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
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.
What Are Storm Windows Made Out Of?
Each kind of storm window has several options for materials. The material choice affects their look, condition, lifetime, and cost.
- Interior storm window: Interior window models are composed of a single glass, acrylic, or vinyl pane. Their frames can be made from wood, plastic, rubber, fiberglass, or metal. The storm window is attached to the surrounding window frame by an adhesive strip, track system, caulk, magnets, or a compression seal.
- Exterior storm window: The exterior models are connected directly to the frame via screws, hinge systems, or swivel pins (these allow for easy removal later on). The panes are made of glass, and the frames from wood, plastic, or aluminum.
- Temporary storm windows: Temporary models are single, thin sheets applied directly over the interior of the window panel. These sheets are normally made from plastic polymers or film and are held in place with an adhesive seal, Velcro strip, or snapping mechanism.
What Are “Tracks” in Storm Window Frames?
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:
- Two-track windows: These are the standard, modern configuration that fits over most double-hung windows. They possess two tracks, with the exterior fitted with a pane of glass on the top and a screen on the bottom. The interior track has a single pane that slides up and down, allowing you to “open” the window by raising the internal pane above the external screen.
- Triple-track windows: This variation is similar to the two-track option but allows for airflow at the bottom or top of the window. The outermost track has a screen that covers the entire window. The two inner tracks have a single, movable pane that slides up or down.
- Slider-track: These windows can vary depending on the manufacturer, but they typically function similarly to two-track variations, except they slide horizontally instead of vertically. These windows are usually only used on windows that slide horizontally, like those going into basements.
- Fixed: These windows are a single, inoperable glass pane that fits over the entire outside of the window frame. They don’t open and are usually only on temporary or seasonal storm windows.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Storm Windows?
Pros and Cons of Storm Windows
- Improved insulation and energy savings
- Protection of existing frames
- Noise reduction
- Water protection
- DIY Installation
- Reduced curb appeal
- Restricted in some areas
- Moderate upkeep
- Opening and closing difficulties
- Improved insulation and energy savings: Storm windows provide an additional layer of insulation from winds, making drafty windows secure again. Some windows, like the Low-E glass storm window, also protect from UV rays, helping reduce energy bills by up to 30%, according to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.
- Protection of existing frames: Exterior storm windows can protect existing windows, frames, and weather stripping from dust, debris, high winds, and hail.
- Noise reduction: Storm windows provide an extra layer of sound-insulating air and glass, reducing outside noise like barking dogs, leaf blowers, mowers, and traffic.
- Water protection: Storm windows are water-resistant, adding an extra layer of protection for existing windows and their seals when faced with extreme weather.
- DIY Installation: Many models of storm windows are easy to install, making them ideal DIY projects. However, we recommend hiring a professional when installing outdoor models on second-story or higher windows.
- Low cost: Storm windows are more cost-efficient than window restoration or replacement, costing up to 50% less than new windows.
- Reduced curb appeal: Even the smallest storm windows are visible from the street, with older models being extremely bulky. Many homeowners and would-be buyers dislike the appearance of storm windows, resulting in reduced curb appeal.
- Restricted in some areas: If you live in a restrictive HOA or a historic home, you may not be approved to install storm windows.
- Moderate upkeep: Exterior storm windows require occasional maintenance and upkeep. Some models need repainting or resealing to maintain integrity. Those with weep holes must be kept clear of debris or clogs so moisture between the frame and windowsill can dry.
- Opening and closing difficulties: Most storm windows can open and close, but some models cannot. These are seasonal variations designed to go on when opening windows is uncommon. Another major downside to these windows is that you must remove them once the season ends.
How Much Do Storm Windows Cost?
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.
How Long Do Storm Windows Last?
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.
Final Thoughts on Storm Windows
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.