Dear Umbra,

With the coming winter, our local news did a story on how to save on heating. The tips included window treatments, lowering the water heater, etc. But those of us in apartments are limited in what we can do. I can feel the cold air seeping through the cracks, and laying towels on the window sills doesn’t seem to help. Any advice?

Lafayette, Ind.

Dearest Carol,

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Yar. It’s going to be doom and gloom this winter across the country, what with natural-gas and oil prices on the rise, the economy heading to the toilet, and Bush’s touch turning everything to mud. We need to insulate our homes, or we’ll really notice the giant hole our heating bills leave in our wallet. (I do have one positive comment on the coming winter: expensive heating and unpopular war must lead to renewable-energy development.)

Help me, I think I’m falling.

I’ve touched on a few meaty heaty issues such as water-heater insulation, programmable thermostats, and space heaters in previous winters. So today, I’m all over your windows.

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First, go for window “rope” caulk, which looks like a roll of dirty string. It’s putty in a roll, made from whiting, which is ground-up chalk, and boiled linseed oil. Any hardware store will carry it. It’s pretty cheap (should be about $5 for 90 feet), and easy to install. You just unroll it and press it into the window gaps. I guess you could also chew a ton of gum and use that instead.

The next step up is heat-shrinkable plastic sheeting, also in any hardware store. These are thin plastic sheets which you cut to size, then stick onto the window with double-sided tape, using a hair dryer to shrink the whole thing taut. It creates an insulative air gap, similar to that described in our window discussion. Don’t freak out about buying the plastic. Although we don’t like plastic, our priority is wasting less heat and reducing our carbon emissions.

Those two steps are fairly inexpensive and easily reversible. You could also build interior storm windows, I suppose, if you know you will be in the apartment for some time and have high heating bills. These would be a wooden frame with plexiglass inside that fits exactly into the window interior and serves the same function as the blow-dried plastic, only better. Heavy curtains also provide an insulative effect.

In terms of other window treatments, such as more permanent weather-stripping that you might nail onto the window, etc., I agree with you that it is not worth it — unless you are there long-term, carpentry-adept, and can convince the property owner to pay for supplies in exchange for your labor.


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