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Window Maintenance 101: Three Ways to Keep Your Windows Looking and Functioning Their Best

By Gates Dearen

Fall is a great time to do a thorough check of your home’s windows and frames to assess their appearance and functionality. Even if your windows have been replaced in the last few years, it’s a good idea to do a cleaning and a quick survey of the frames and caulking. If you have drafty windows, now is a good time to address that. Despite the fact that the weather in our area isn’t extremely cold in winter, a windy day with temperatures in the fifties can feel a lot colder if your windows aren’t properly sealed and are letting air in. Additionally, poorly sealed windows can cause your energy costs to skyrocket. Here are a few simple ways to make sure your windows are airtight, as well as some tips for good window maintenance.

This is one of those occasions when you will be glad you recently replaced your windows – or when you might decide it’s a good time to do so! Vinyl window frames require only a wipe-down once or twice a year. Use a mild detergent solution and a clean cloth, or hose them off. For higher windows, the latter is a better option. Not only is it easier and safer to just spray them with the hose, but higher-level windows – on your home’s second floor, for example – probably won’t be as dirty as the lower ones. Lower windows, being closer to the ground, tend to get splashed on when we have hard rains. Never use a pressure washer on or around windows; it’s unnecessary and could break the windows. If you have older windows, especially those with wooden frames, you can use the same cleaning method as for vinyl frames, but if the frames are chipped or exceedingly dirty, you might also need to apply a new coat of paint. When cleaning your windows and frames, don’t neglect the sill and the tracks. Dirt and dust tend to accumulate in those places and can cause problems over time.
For the windows themselves, you can give them a good inside and outside cleaning with a commercial spray cleaner and paper towels. Interestingly, the less expensive paper towels work best for this, as they have fewer fibers and leave less lint, or you can make your own from common household ingredients. For lightly soiled windows, put a tablespoon of white vinegar into a one-quart spray bottle. Fill the bottle with water. Older generations swore that this mixture, sprayed on and wiped off with newspapers, was the best formula for clean windows. Of course, you can wipe with paper towels instead. For heavily soiled windows, you need a stronger brew: mix a half-cup sudsy ammonia, two cups rubbing alcohol, and one teaspoon of dish detergent with a gallon of water. Wipe with newspapers or paper towels. Your windows will shine like never before!

Silicone caulk can be used as a basic sealant ...
Silicone caulk can be used as a basic sealant against water and air penetration. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There are a few ways to make sure your windows are airtight. Some are more obvious, holding your hand near the window to see if there is a change in air temperature, for example. Movement of windows is also a good indicator that air is going in and out. If your windows rattle when the wind blows, they’re probably leaking. Check out our previous article, “How Do You Check for a Leaky House” and for other tips on finding air leaks and for other energy-saving strategies. If you find a leak, sometimes it’s an easy fix. Check the weather stripping and caulk to make sure they are in good repair. If the weather stripping is damaged, you should replace it or have it replaced by a professional. If you have gaps in the caulk between the wall and the window casing, you can fill them yourself. Remember to apply caulk sparingly with a steady hand. If your weather stripping fits snugly and the caulk seems to be in good shape (no gaps or cracks) then the problem is with your windows themselves. This is an indication that it’s time to replace your windows.

As with anything else, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to window maintenance. Regular upkeep prevents small issues from becoming big, expensive ones. It’s a good idea to perform the cleaning and assessment we mentioned above twice a year, on whatever schedule works best for you. Fall and spring are generally good times to plan these maintenance tasks, as we are between the two weather extremes. New windows will require less maintenance to keep looking great, and will also negate the need to constantly check for drafts. New vinyl windows in particular are virtually maintenance free, necessitating only a quick wipe or rinse of the frames. Whichever types of windows you have, it’s important to keep all moving parts properly lubricated. You can do this by spraying on a small amount of oil spray or silicone spray, waiting a few moments, and then working the moving part a bit to make sure the lubricant gets into the parts to keep them moving well. Don’t forget to check that all locks are moving freely; if they aren’t, apply the same lubrication process to them as well.

If you have older windows with wood frames, these twice-a-year maintenance times might be more difficult. If your window frames are peeling or chipping, include scraping and painting as part of your semi-annual window check. If any of the wood has rotted, it will need to be filled or replaced before the problem gets worse. These tasks can be cumbersome, but they’re necessary to keep your windows airtight and you home looking good. 

Clean and well-maintained windows are an asset to your home’s appearance and comfort. Keep in mind that the better the windows, the lower the need for maintenance – and vice versa. High-quality windows allow you spend less time on maintenance, and more time enjoying your home.

In this article we’ve discussed the three most important ways to keep your windows looking and working their best. We gave tips for cleaning your windows, checking them for leaks and damage, and maintaining

If you would like to receive an official factory authorized 30% discount coupon for your next window replacement purchase, print out this article with the coupon on it  and bring it with you when visiting HomeRite.

Gates Dearen is the co-owner of HomeRite Windows and Doors in Jacksonville, Florida. Owners Dearen and Richard Walden have been serving the building products industry in Florida for over 25 years. They know the products, the industry, the market and what adds great value to a home. Their approach is a somewhat different than others. They strive to match the homeowner with the right windows and doors for their home and budget. They know that home improvements projects can be a hassle. They strive to make the process pleasant with first-rate, energy efficient products; affordable prices; and expert, award-wining installers that employ the best practices and who respect your home as if it were their own. 

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