5 cheap ways to insulate drafty rental windows ASAP

Keep out the cold for less

Apartment bedroom with big open windows and dog on boho styled bed
(Image credit: Getty Images | Cavan Images)

The cold has hit, and we're all feeling it. If your rental apartment windows are particularly drafty, and you don't have the budget or the time to insulate windows more long-term, rest assured that there are some super cheap and easy DIY solutions.

Plastic film and bubble wrap can make quick weatherproofing for windows, easing up condensation problems and making a huge difference to the atmosphere of your home, especially in cold winter months. There are a few more expert-recommended methods you can try, too, depending on the extent of your problem, on the time you have available, and on your budget.

1. Window film

By far the quickest way to insulate rental windows will be using a DIY window film. DIY home bodies and TikTokers like Shauna of homediydiary (opens in new tab) have used it with total success, and from the comments, it seems as though it's a super cheap quick fix that has actually been used for years — especially in Canada where temperatures drop low. So it's definitely worth a shot.

Made from plastic, window film is easy to apply and comes in a kit that generally includes the film and tape for the window.

How to install DIY window film:

1. Before you start, clean the window itself, as well as the frame. Shauna starts with Windex (opens in new tab) then uses White Spirit (opens in new tab) to remove grease and all debris so that the double-sided sticky tape can adhere to the frame properly.

2. You’ll need to measure each of the windows you want to apply it to, then cut the film to size with an allowance on either side following the manufacturer’s instructions. As Shauna mentions, you could get two windows out of one pack. 

3. Then, all you’ll need to do is apply the tape around the window frame and stick the film to it, positioning it so there aren’t any wrinkles.

4. Finally, use a blow dryer to heat-shrink it for a smooth finish.

You can remove the film from your windows when the season changes, but do bear in mind the tape can lift paint from the frame when you take it off if it wasn’t in the best condition beforehand.

2. Use bubble wrap to insulate windows

Bubble wrap is a good way to insulate a window if a warmer home is an urgent requirement. We have to admit that it’s not going to do any favors for your view, though.

To apply, you need to mist the clean panes of glass with water and then place the bubble side of the wrap against the damp window. You can use tape to hold the bubble wrap (opens in new tab) in place but, like the adhesive tape in a window film kit, it can lift the paint when you go to remove it in spring.

Again, this isn't the most practical solution, but it is speedy and effective if you're wondering how to insulate windows fast.

3. Use caulk

To insulate windows effectively, you may need to use a combination of methods for the best results. If you can feel a draft coming through the window, before you apply plastic film, try using caulk to seal the gaps. Always ask your landlord/landlady though first if you rent.

Caulk is easy to apply and can be used around all the joints in the window frame and the joint between the frame and the wall. 

"Use a knife to scrape any old caulk or peeling paint off exterior or interior window edges," advises home improvement expert Arnold Long, general ops manager at Mr. Blue Plumbing (opens in new tab). "Then, fill a caulking gun with silicone caulking."

4. Use weatherstripping

Got a gap where the window moves? Use weatherstripping (opens in new tab) instead, either fitting it where there is none or replacing old weatherstripping. 

"When weatherstripping begins to crumble, replacing it will be one of the quickest ways to improve your home’s insulation without having to replace the entire window," says Keith Gutterman, VP of marketing and business development at Storm Tight Windows, part of Leaf Home Enhancements (opens in new tab)

"Adhesive-backed stripping can be easily removed by hand without any equipment. Once the weatherstripping is removed, we recommend cleaning the window sash with a damp rag and household cleaner. Allow it to dry thoroughly before applying new weatherstripping."

5. Hang insulating curtains

Hanging insulating curtains over your windows can also help with insulation. This can be a solution you use after caulking and/or weatherstripping and combined with window film or bubble wrap.

One of our favorite window dressing ideas for chilly homes, insulating curtains are made with a thermal lining. In other words, the insulating part isn’t what you see, so they’re as stylish in appearance as other window treatments. 

Owner and chief operating officer of Colony Roofers (opens in new tab) Zach Reece recommends using curtains to insulate windows. "The simplest and most design-friendly way to insulate your windows is to buy thermal curtains," he says. "Not only do they add a touch of class to your room, but they are incredibly effective at blocking outside light and very effective at preventing cold air from entering your home."

Pay attention to the size of the curtains. They should be floor length and wide enough, too. "Make sure that the curtain rods are positioned so the curtains cover window frames fully," says Karen Condor, home energy expert with US Insurance Agents (opens in new tab)

How can I insulate windows cheaply?

It’s very easy to insulate all types of windows cheaply. Whether you use plastic in the form of window film or bubble wrap, you can insulate windows in winter for a very low cost plus just a little bit of your time.

You might also need to caulk any gaps and add weatherstripping to the windows, but, again, these are low-budget solutions and speedy ways to fix drafty windows.

Curtains with a thermal lining can be found at a lower cost. However, you may want to have custom drapes with a thermal lining made for your window; in which case, the price will rise according to the curtain fabric selected and the labor involved in making curtains of the right size for the window.

How do I insulate my windows for winter?

When the chilly season arrives there are two main ways to help your home stay warmer. To insulate windows in winter, you can put a stop to cold drafts and keep the warm air in your home with heat-shrink window film. 

If you don’t mind obscuring the view somewhat, bubble wrap, as mentioned, is an alternative that can keep a room cozier. And it will still let the light through. The bubble wrap boosts a single glazed window’s resistance to heat flow — its R-value — cutting the heat loss.

Check your windows for gaps, and if you find any, fill them in ASAP. Then hang curtains with a thermal lining and you'll be all set.

If your windows are actually super old or damaged, talk to your landlord about having new windows installed instead.

Sarah Warwick
Freelance Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For Realhomes.com, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.