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Budget-friendly DIY projects improve windows

On a recent trip to Brooklyn, my hometown, I noticed my aunt was using a piece of rope to “lock” a casement window closed. The locking lever snapped off and this rope trick was her way to “MacGyver” it shut. Although it was a makeshift solution, especially during a pandemic, every time the wind whipped past this window, it would pry it open. Between the intense draft, eyesore and obvious security issue, I was determined to fix it.

Finding parts to repair an old window or door can be daunting, especially if there isn’t a name or model number to identify it, which was the case for me. My search led me to a company in Canada, Reflect Window &Door (ReflectWindow.com). It sells nothing but window and door replacement parts and has an extremely helpful staff that was able to identify the exact part I needed. They had me email them photos of the broken multipoint sash lock and within two days, I had the part. They even helped me with installation questions. I installed it within minutes and it locks perfectly.

Meanwhile, my aunt had been convinced that the entire window needed replacing since the locking parts of the window are enclosed within the frame. It dawned on me, there are many ways we can repair and update windows that are perfect do-it-yourself projects.

Window replacement can be a hefty financial undertaking and if we’re not ready to make that kind of investment, we can make windows “better” on a budget. Here’s a list of practical and energy-efficient ways we can make window improvements.

Add muntins/mullions. Terms often used interchangeably, mullions are thick members, usually vertical, that divide windows, while muntins make smaller pane divisions. Together, they’re referred to as grilles or grids and create what’s known as “divided lites.”

Kits to add grilles to your existing windows are available through companies like Windows-balances.com or at big box stores. Companies like BigBlueWindow.com make custom grilles for you. It’s a quick way to make ordinary windows extraordinary.

Insulate drafty windows. Older windows that aren’t energy efficient can really impact how comfortable we are in our home and how much we rely on the heat and air conditioning to regulate temperature. There are several ways to insulate existing windows.

Insulation panels, for example, are designed to fit right over your interior window sash, creating a pocket of air that increases R-value (resistance to heat loss). Companies like WindowInserts.com make custom inserts that fit right into your existing frame.

You can also use exterior window caulking and interior weather stripping to seal cracks and spaces to keep drafts out and heat in.

Add a window film/tint. DIY window film kits are an easy way to control heat, and glare, in your home. Some films are designed to create privacy using texture, pattern or color. They are available in adhesive or static cling and with a variety of privacy and filter levels.

Add safety locks. Aftermarket window locks provide a variety of ways to secure windows that aren’t providing the security you need. A window stop or restrictor lets you control the “opening size.” Using them allows you keep a window open for ventilation, but will prevent a child from crawling out or burglar from getting in.

Install solar screens. In addition to keeping out pesky bugs, solar screens mounted to the exterior of the window can block as much as 90 percent of sun rays and heat, but won’t block your view.

Add a wooden valance box or DIY shutters. Create a rustic look with shutters using recycled wood boards and cast iron shutter hinges to bring a fun design element to your kitchen window. Build a wood valance or valance box to finish off the top of your windows with a bold statement.

Make faux stained glass. There are endless tutorials on how to make faux stained glass using a few inexpensive materials. This is a colorful and artistic way to bring whimsy to windows and a fun project to do with all of the family.

Norma Vally is a seasoned veteran of home improvement; her career includes four seasons as host of Discovery Home Channel’s Emmy-nominated series “Toolbelt Diva.” Email Norma@NormaVally.com.

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