How to insulate an apartment during the winter

The weather outside is frightful, but your home can still be delightful—even when you’ve got old, drafty windows, or clanging steam heaters to contend with. If you need a bit of extra help getting your home to an optimal temperature this winter, you’ve come to the right place. Snuggle under your blanket, and read on for tips on dealing with common winter woes.

When your home’s too cold.

If you’re dealing with a chill in your home, the first step is going on draft patrol—figure out where cold air is entering and how to insulate an apartment. Common culprits include:

  • Windows. If you’re dealing with a drafty window and need a cold air blocker, your landlord may be open to replacing the window with something more insulated and energy-efficient, particularly if your landlord is footing the bill for your heat.

That said, landlords aren’t obligated to upgrade your windows just because they’re letting in a little chill, so if new windows are a no-go, you can also ask about simpler, less-aggressive draft-busters like caulking and weather-stripping. Caulking involves using a weatherproof sealant to fill gaps around your windows, while weather-stripping refers to using strips of material—usually rubber, foam, aluminum, or stainless steel—to cover gaps around windows and doors. If you’re feeling ambitious, caulking and weather stripping are both things that you can DIY, but it’s best to get the landlord’s permission first—they’re both semi-permanent solutions, and you’ll want to make sure that they don’t violate your lease.

If your landlord isn’t down to help and you’re feeling less than handy, there are simpler, more temporary drafty windows solutions. You can purchase a window insulator kit, which includes sheets of clear plastic that hang over windows and block out some of the chill. Look for one that uses tape, rather than a more permanent adhesive. And before you hang anything, be sure to test out the tape in a discreet place to make sure it won’t pull the paint off your window frames.

Heavy curtains can also be a surprisingly effective way to deal with a drafty window that needs a cold air blocker. You can also try using long strips of foam or long, narrow pillows that can lay along your windowsill.

  • Window ACs. When you’re figuring out how to insulate an apartment during cold-weather months, another thing to look at is your window air-conditioning unit. Ideally, your landlord or super would remove your window AC unit for the winter to help with drafty windows solutions. (It may be tempting to do it yourself, but it can be dangerous, so consider leaving it to the pros—it’s one of the many questions to ask your landlord before renting.) Often, however, window ACs are left in place because they’re a hassle to take in and out, or because renters have nowhere to store them. If you’re leaving your AC where it is for the winter months, hit up your local hardware store for a padded air conditioner cover to prevent cold air from seeping in through the unit.
  • Doors. Drafty window blockers are also sometimes called “door snakes” because they’re frequently used along the bottom of—you guessed it—doors. If there’s cold air coming in through the gap under your door, get yourself a door snake (and yes, if you dig around on Etsy you’ll find plenty that look like actual snakes) and lay it down in front of the gap. If you have enough space under your door, you can also purchase a temporary foam or rubber draft stopper that fits around the bottom of the door and doesn’t need to be removed and replaced every time you leave your apartment. If you’re looking for a more permanent solution, you can also weatherstrip your doors but, again, ask your landlord first.
  • Outlets. Drafts aren’t just for windows and doors. Cold air can also come in through the spaces behind outlets and switch plates. If you can unscrew the plates from the wall, you can fill those spaces with fire retardant plastic inserts, which are sold at most home improvement stores.
  • Floors. Hardwood floors can allow heat to escape from your apartment, particularly if you live in an older building. Check to see if there are gaps in your floors—between the floorboards, or where the floor meets the wall—and ask your landlord if they’ll seal them up. If you’re looking for an easier fix, cover up chilly floors with a nice, soft rug.
  • You. Once you’ve done your draft-busting, break out your plushest slippers, fluffiest blankets, and softest sweats. Keeping cozy isn’t all about staying warm; it’s also about being as comfortable as possible, whether you’re snuggling up with a good book, that work you brought home with you, or your latest Netflix binge.

When your apartment’s too hot.

Believe it or not, some people contend with a home that’s too hot in the winter—particularly apartment-dwellers whose buildings rely on old, hard-to-regulate steam heaters. In these situations, you’re largely at the mercy of your finicky heating system, but you can still make your apartment feel a little less like a sauna.

  • Turn off the heat. If you’ve got steam heaters, they probably have an unmarked knob on them. Though the knob doesn’t regulate the heater’s temperature, it can be used to turn the heat on or off. Just be sure you turn the heater all the way on or all the way off—otherwise you’ll have to deal with a noisy, clanging radiator in addition to one that’s too hot. (If you’re getting banging even when the knob is turned as far as it can go, ask your landlord or super to come bleed your radiator, a process that releases trapped air and can help cut down the clanging.)
  • Crack a window. When you’re home, leave your window open a crack and let in a little bit of that crisp winter air. Be sure that your windows have the appropriate safety mechanisms, particularly if there are children or pets in your home.
  • Turn on the AC. It’s not energy efficient, but it may be your only hope. If you have a window AC that’s separate from your apartment’s heating system, you may find that it’s just as handy during the winter as it is in the summer. If you’re looking for a lower-energy solution, try using a fan to circulate air and create a nice breeze.

These tips for how to insulate an apartment should keep you nice and warm (or cool, as the case may be) through the winter.