If you have older windows in your home, there’s a good chance that they are drafty and none-too-insulating. Maybe they’re single pane. Maybe there are gaps around the frame that icy winter breezes and ambitious summertime insects can squeeze through. Whatever the case, you have a problem.
What’s the solution? You could have the windows re-sealed. This can be time-consuming, and options like caulking may need to wait until you have a stretch of warm, dry weather. Meanwhile, completely replacing the windows is highly effective.
It’s also quite an investment. Well sealed, double pane windows can offer you big savings in your energy bill over the long run. However, they are a hit to your budget in the short run.
Crafty DIY-minded homeowners have been turning to a creative alternative: Saran Wrap. Here’s what you need to know:
Why Saran Wrap Your Windows?
Saran Wrap (and other brands of plastic wrap) come in long sheets. It sticks to itself and many household materials. You can probably picture how this works with drafty windows.
The idea here is to apply Saran Wrap over the entire window, including the frame. By overlapping the strips, you create a continuous surface of the plastic.
In theory, this plastic prevents icy breezes and moisture from getting into your home. It also won’t damage your windows. When you want to remove it, you simply peel the Saran Wrap away.
Does It Work?
So how well does Saran Wrap on windows work? Is it time to toss away your caulking gun and invest in a few dollars’ worths of stretchy, clingy plastic? Can a humble roll of plastic wrap be the answer your window insulation needs?
The short answer: Sort of.
The long answer: It depends on how you apply the plastic wrap and what you’re looking for.
There are two ways to apply a Saran Wrap. You can stick it directly to the window panes. This is the easy route. You can also use it to trap a bubble of air between plastic and glass. This is considerably trickier to pull off. Both of these methods are detailed below, but how effective are they?
Sticking the Saran Wrap directly onto the glass can be useful if you have loose panes, cracked or chipped glass, or a draft sneaking in at the edge of the frame. If smoothly applied, it can look invisible to a casual glance.
However, it won’t offer any significant insulation against temperature loss. You may not be tickled by icy drafts, but your heating and AC related bills will still take a hit.
Applying the Saran Wrap offset from the window glass creates an effect similar to double pane windows. There will be a pocket of air trapped between the layers of glass and plastic.
This air creates an insulating effect. Unlike the previous method, offset Saran Wrap is quite visible, especially when looking at the window from an angle.
Is this method as effective as a professionally produced insulating window with multiple layers of glass? No. But it can help. According to a study by Energy Star, shrink-wrapped plastic windows can reduce your energy bills by up to 20%.
What Else Can You Try?
If you’re looking for Saran Wrap alternatives, some options include:
Thick Plastic Sheeting Cut to Fit the Window
- This is easier to work with as it doesn’t stick to itself.
- More durable than plastic wrap.
- Plastic sheeting is unlikely to deform under its own weight, so it’s a good fit for big windows.
- You can probably store and reuse it next winter.
- This won’t shrink-wrap in place.
- The tape may loosen or peel off paint from the frame.
- Thick sheeting lets less light through.
- It may look less attractive.
- Just like plastic sheets, bubble wrap is easier to work with as it doesn’t stick to itself.
- You probably have some bubble wrap already lying around the home.
- The tiny trapped air bubbles let you insulate windows without time-consuming shrink wrapping.
- It creates a unique visual look that many find attractive.
- You may end up hating the unique visual look.
- This material blocks more light, leading to a darker indoors.
- You and your family will have to resist the urge to pop the bubbles.
Heat Shrink Plastic Kits for Windows
- These kits are specially designed for window applications.
- They include most of the supplies you need.
- The heat-shrink plastic sheets are one continual piece, no seams or overlapping required.
- You can get kits for windows of different sizes.
- More expensive than a simple roll of Saran Wrap.
- Larger pieces of heat shrink plastic are tricky to install solo.
- If the plastic gets damaged or you mess up an application, you’ll need to buy another kit.
- These don’t have all the supplies needed; you’ll still have to find a hairdryer.
How To Apply Saran Wrap On Your Windows?
Is Saran Wrap the right method for you? If so, your next decision is whether to apply directly onto the panes or offset to create an air gap. These methods require mostly the same supplies.
You Will Need
- Plastic Wrap (thicker, more expensive versions are easier to work with and may be more effective)
- Double-sided tape
- A measuring tape
- A hairdryer or heat gun (for offset applications)
Step One: Prepare Your Area
Brush or wipe around the window frame to remove dust, dislodge spiderwebs, etc. Clean the inside of your windows if they’re dirty. You won’t be able to do this chore after the plastic goes on. Finally, lay out your supplies.
Step Two: Attach the Plastic
Lay down double-sided tape along the edge of your window frame next to the wall. This will let you anchor the Saran Wrap as you work.
Your roll of Saran Wrap is probably too narrow for your window. For this reason, you’ll need to apply multiple strips.
Offset instructions: Pull the plastic strips taut along the width of the window. Secure the cut edges with your double-sided tape. This will ensure that you’re trapping that layer of air in place.
On-pane instructions: Cut strips of the right length and press them directly against the glass, securing the edges on the tape. Smooth each strip down with your fingers and palms. This will create a tight seal with the window panes and the frame.
Both methods: As you go down, one stripe at a time, overlap them by about an inch. This will create a solid surface with no place for drafts to sneak by.
Step Three: Check the Seal
Go around the edges of the frame and make sure all the plastic is secured by tape.
Look over the window, checking that each sheet overlaps the next.
On-pane instructions: See if there are any unsightly air bubbles or wrinkled bits that still need to be smoothed down. No? Congratulations, you finished the job!
Offset instructions: Proceed to Step Four.
Step Four: Shrink Wrap It
This step is not strictly necessary. Your window now has an insulating layer of trapped air. However, you’ll get more draft prevention and insulation benefits with a shrink-wrapped seal.
Turn on your hair dryer or heat gun. Aim it an inch or two from the plastic. You’ll want to use low to medium heat. For the dryer, choose a low airflow setting so you don’t accidentally blow your work off the frame.
Work around the edges and seams, taking your time. You should see the wrinkles lighten or vanish as you go. This is the Saran Wrap shrinking and tightening to a secure fit.
There are a few things to watch out for as you work. First, have you ever wrestled with tearing your Saran Wrap on that serrated cutter on the box lid?
If so, you already know the biggest challenge of this DIY job. Plastic wrap clings to itself. It balls up easily. It can stretch and deform when you try to straighten it out. Flat sheets stick together neatly. Damaged sheets won’t do for this project.
For this same reason, wear clothes that you know don’t attract static. After all, you don’t need to make this job tougher on yourself.
Try to work slowly and carefully. If a strip of plastic seems too damaged (holes, ripples, stuck-together places), you’re better of scrapping it and getting a fresh piece. Next, be careful if you’re using heat on the Saran Wrap. You could burn yourself. Another danger is of melting a hole in the plastic.
Try to patch it with a square of plastic wrap and you’ve created a weak point that wind and moisture can get through. You may also fill your home with the smell of scorched plastic and have to air it out during unpleasant temperatures.
Finally, figure out how you’ll protect your shrink-wrapped window. Keep pets away from it, especially cats. Talk to your kids about not playing with the plastic.
Again, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to patch any holes. Shrink wrapping your windows is time-consuming and may be frustrating. You don’t want to have to redo this job anytime soon.