Weatherstripping Windows and Doors: Technology and Techniques
Which Materials Make Good Weatherstripping?
Theoretically, you can use about anything for blocking air leaks, but some materials do a lot better job than others. The very best weatherstripping does two things: it physically blocks drafts and it acts as insulation, slowing the transfer of indoor heat to cooler air outside via convection. Just blocking air flow isn’t enough to stop heat loss when the material blocking said cold air is a poor insulator.
These are some of the most common materials used for modern weatherstripping:
- Felt. Matted fabric fibers do seem like they’d be a great insulator. They do ok, but they’re also really super visible.
- All-Wool Felt. Felt made of wool is more durable than the standard grade stuff. It’s still really visible, but at least it’ll last and last.
- Vinyl. It’s not the most durable material, but it can get the job done if you have a low traffic spot with a draft.
- Foam. There are several different kinds of foam used as weatherstripping, they pretty much all do the same thing, though some are easier to install than others. Bonus: PVC foam weatherstripping is basically one long, skinny pool noodle.
- Aluminum and stainless steel. While not particularly good insulators by themselves, aluminum and stainless steel are used in high traffic areas along with plastic, vinyl, foam and felt. The combination helps the less durable materials survive the stress, while slowing the heat loss you’d normally expect from metals.
Each of these materials can be used to plug up common sources of leaking air around windows and doors. When you add a nice heavy caulk bead to the mix, suddenly you’ll find your home is a lot warmer than you might have imagined it could ever be.
It might seem strange to talk about weatherstripping and technology together, but without some kind of way to put it into use, you’d just have a bunch of garbage. When you go to the home improvement store to buy weatherstripping, you’re going to find tons of different configurations requiring a whole variety of installation techniques and tools (check the package before you leave, just in case you don’t have all the necessary equipment!).
Mostly, weatherstripping is pretty self-explanatory once you find the right thing for the job. But when you’re shopping for, say, weatherstripping to squish in the window sash to stop the leaks there, you may realize there are more options than you bargained for. This rundown of some of the most common should help you find just what you need:
- Tension seals. They’re best used inside the track of a double-hung or sliding top windows. When they’re properly installed, they’re practically invisible and the self-stick vinyl makes them easy to install.
- Reinforced foam. Great for door and window stops or the bottom or top of window sashes. They work well, but can be tricky to install and even with a good install, can be very visible.
- Compressible tape. It comes in a variety of materials, all are great for blocking irregular spaces or in corners where it’s often hard to effectively seal. These tapes work best when compressed, but they are visible and should be used in light duty areas because they can’t handle a lot of wear.
- Rigid strip gaskets. Use these for door or window stops, at the top or the bottom of a window sash or at the bottom of a door. They have a low price point, are easy to install (often self-adhesive) and are highly visible, but come in a variety of colors to help them better blend in.
- Door sweeps. Generally your best choice for the bottom of a door, hence the name. They’re easy to install, can be adjusted for uneven thresholds, but are highly visible and can catch on carpets if not set properly.
- Magnetic gaskets. Welcome to the future! Magnetic gaskets work a lot like the gaskets inside your refrigerator door. They’re best installed on the top and sides of doors, double-hung windows or in sliding window channels. They’re not cheap, but they are extremely effective and have few downsides.
Installing weatherstripping is a matter of choosing the right kind of weatherstripping, both in materials and technology, cleaning the surfaces well and, after cutting to length per package instructions, simply sticking the self-adhesive materials (or nailing non-adhesive ones) to the cleaned surface. Truly, the harder part of weatherstripping is buying it.