Weatherize windows to save on heating bills in Chicago

Windows that need weatherization.
The old windows of some buildings do not insulate the apartments from the cold (Diana Giambona/MEDILL)

By Diana Giambona
Medill Reports

As temperatures dip down near zero in Chicago and furnaces are running at full blast, experts recommend weatherizing windows. Simple weatherizing steps keep the cold out of homes and help residents avoid higher bills for natural gas, the most prevalent source of heat in Illinois.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, almost 8 in 10 Illinois households use natural gas for heating.

Windows are one of the key culprits through which heat is lost. “Heat gain and heat loss through windows are responsible for 25%-30% of residential heating and cooling energy use,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

In a city like Chicago, with very cold winters, it should be commonplace for homes and buildings to use insulated windows or storm windows to keep out the cold. However, many buildings have old windows that allow ice to freeze inside the panes when temperatures drop below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Icing on the internal side of the window.
Inside the windows, ice appears due to the cold temperatures during the winter in Chicago (Diana Giambona/MEDILL)

“The best thing to do, obviously, would be to replace the windows, but that takes a lot of time and money,” said Marjorie Hoffman, a member of the Chicago Conservation Corps.

Citizens Utility Board Communications Director Jim Chilsen said that “it’s not a bad thing to switch out your windows if you need to.”

Given the expense, he also advised to “weatherize your windows before you think about buying new windows.”

Hoffman said there are different materials and tools for weatherizing windows inexpensively. “They can be found at many hardware stores, and they’re basically plastic film that go over the windows,” she said.

Heat loss through windows in winter.
(Diana Giambona/Medill Reports)

Residents can take advantage of window and weatherization incentives included in the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as incentives offered by utility companies to save when gas prices rise.

According to the Citizens Utility Board, the Inflation Reduction Act states that all consumers can claim a tax credit for 30% of the cost of qualified projects that improve efficiency up to $1,200 annually. That tax credit could potentially include up to $600 for new efficient exterior windows or skylights.

Recently, People’s Gas and Nicor Gas requested a gas rate increase for consumers. If those hikes are approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission, People’s Gas bills would go up an average of $11.83 per month for residential customers, and Nicor Gas customers would see an average increase of $9.28 per month.

“These rate hikes could not come at a worse time when consumers are already dealing with high energy prices,” Chilsen said. “So, energy efficiency is more important than ever.”

Climate change, hurricanes, freezing temperatures and the Russian invasion of Ukraine are some of the factors that have caused natural gas prices to rise.

“Energy efficiency is the safest and most reliable way to cut your gas bills,” Chilsen said.

Energy efficiency not only helps to pay less money, but it is also good for the environment.

Chilsen said natural gas is already unaffordable in the sense it is bad for the planet and can be problematic for health. He advocates that it is necessary to move away from natural gas and use another type of energy that is more sustainable.


Diana Giambona is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @DianaGiambona.