ISSUE   |  Hardworking Gardens

Hardscaping 101: Steel Factory-Style Windows and Doors

September 08, 2016 4:00 AM

BY Janet Hall

Last week Michelle inspired us with 11 Facades with Factory Windows. The aesthetic harkens back to the greenhouses, factories, and warehouses of the 19th century. And their elegant, narrow sight lines offer unobstructed views, blurring the lines between indoors and out. What’s not to like? They’re expensive, for starters.

Read on for everything you need to know about steel factory windows:

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Above: Photograph by Hufton & Crow courtesy of Gundry & Ducker. For more of this project, see Steal This Look: A House with Slate Shingle Siding.

What are the benefits of steel frame windows?

  • Due to the material’s strength, steel windows have very slender sightlines. A minimal amount of framing material is needed for structural integrity, offering clean and clear views.
  • Steel frame windows span architectural styles, working well in both traditional and modern houses.
  • All corners and joints of steel windows are welded, galvanized, and powder coated, forming an unbroken surface around the frame.
  • Extremely durable, steel frames are resistant to decay, weather, and fire. They are galvanized (coated with a layer of zinc at very high temperatures) to prevent corrosion.
  • Unlike wood, steel window frames do not contract and expand in response to weather conditions.
  • Require minimal upkeep compared with wood windows and doors.

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Above: The framing around industrial style steel doors can be pencil thin (unlike wood, which requires a large beam to support a door). London portrait photographer Abi Campbell’s kitchen renovation included new steel frame doors and windows with large openings to bring in as much light as possible to the north-facing room. Photograph by Matt Clayton.

To learn more about the project, see Reader Rehab: A Photographer’s Kitchen in London.

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Above:  Requiring minimal framework, steel windows are a great solution for open corner windows, such as this steel entry door and surround. Photograph via Portella Iron Doors.

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Above: In a Brooklyn renovation, Elizabeth Roberts Design/Ensemble Architecture opened up the back of the house with a double-height wall of windows that includes an indoor/outdoor dining room with the open feel of a greenhouse. The entire window slides open to create a double-wide opening to the garden. The windows are custom powder-coated steel from Optimum Window in Ellenville, NY. Photograph by Dustin Aksland.

For a full tour, see Indoor/Outdoor Living, Brooklyn Style.

Are steel frame windows energy efficient?

Bottom line is that metal is a poor insulator, and the thin steel and single sheet steel factory windows of the past did little to keep out the cold. The good news is that 21st century technology has caught up, and you can get the same historic looks with better materials and thermal efficiency.

Steel windows are available with insulated glazing panels; two or more pieces of glass are spaced apart and sealed, leaving an insulating air space. Another new technology called thermal breaks (whereby a material is placed between the inside and outside window frames to prevent thermal energy loss), common in aluminum windows, is available in steel windows. Steel fabricators will point out that steel itself has good insulating properties as compared to aluminum and thermal breaks may not be necessary. In fact, there are steel frame windows that meet LEED standards. Refer to fabricators’ websites for details.

Another consideration is that many fabricators roll their steel windows from 100 percent recycled steel. And, the new product can also be recycled at the end of its long life.

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Above: Like any window, the glass in steel framed windows can be UV-coated to protect indoor furnishings and art from sun exposure. Steel framed windows and doors lead to an outdoor dining pavilion in a Shelter Island project by Remodelista Architect and Designer Directory member Schappacher White.

Are there different styles of steel windows?

Steel windows are available in a range of looks from factory-style with a floor to ceiling collection of panes, to Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired style (his Falling Water House famously used steel windows), to a modern minimalist look with large panes of glass supported by pencil-thin sleek steel frames.

Steel windows are available in a multitude of operable variations including: casement, in-swing, out-swing, awning, horizontal pivoting, vertical pivoting, folding, and hopper.

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Above: Photograph courtesy of Design Hotels.

Steel-frame French doors connect a terrace to a hotel dining room at La Granja Ibiza. For more of this project, see Hotel with a History: A Landscape of Sun and Stone at La Granja Ibiza.

How much do steel frame windows cost?

Steel frame windows are expensive. Like many aspects of a home remodeling, steel window pricing is very site specific. Is it a single window replacement? A full remodel? Custom or standard sizing? The best way to estimate cost is to get a quote from your contractor or window supplier. In general, expect prices to be at least double that of wood, more than aluminum, but less than bronze. Remember to balance the cost with the longevity (we just had to replace a full wall of 15-year-old weather-worn wood windows) and other attributes.

Where can I buy steel factory-style windows?

Beware of cheap imitators. Suppliers of fabricated windows and doors that come highly recommended by several architects and builders include:

  • Crittall. This venerable company founded in 1889 in the UK has provided windows and doors to Yale University, Walter Gropius, and the New York Botanical Gardens.
  • Dynamic Architectural Windows and Doors.
  • Hope’s. Located in Jamestown, NY, Hope’s makes top-of-the-line steel and bronze windows and doors.
  • Bliss Nor-Am. This Rochester, NY/Canada-based company makes high-quality, beautifully detailed powder-coated metal doors and windows.

 

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  • Above: Torrance Steel Window Co. Based, yes, in Torrance, this company’s steel windows can be spotted around the US, from the Guggenheim Museum in New York to residential projects by Olson Kundig Architects on the West Coast. Photograph courtesy of Torrance Steel Window Co.
  • Bonelli. A Northern California favorite with architects (recommended by Gustave Carlson, who used them in a project in Inverness, California).

 

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Above: Shown here are custom steel frame doors from the Atelier Domingue Architectural Metalcrafts line.

Can I use reclaimed steel factory windows?

Yes! Reclaimed steel factory windows can be found at architectural and design salvage yards. Keep in mind that the price of fabulous vintage looks may include needed repairs and re-coating.

Reclaimed steel factory windows found architectural supply yards, such as Recycling the Past, cannot, obviously, be customized to your setting; rather, your setting may need to be customized to fit them.

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Above: Photograph courtesy of Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture.

A renovated San Francisco garden by Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture viewed through ceiling-height steel sash windows. “We wanted a garden form that would be harmonious with the contemporary style of the windows,” says Lewis. For a better look at the garden, see Scott Lewis Turns a Small SF Backyard into an Urban Oasis.

Steel Frame Windows Recap

Pros:

  • Strong
  • Slim sightlines
  • Work with a range of architectural styles
  • Durable and long lasting
  • Low maintenance

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Heavy
  • Not the best choice in climates near salt water. More protection and proper finishing is required to prevent airborne salt corrosion

For more window and door inspiration, see The Ins and Outs of French Doors.