Remodeling 101: Steel Factory-Style Windows and Doors

Remodeling 101: Steel Factory-Style Windows and Doors

Steel frame windows and doors: 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 boundaries 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 and doors.

Above: In A House United: Reimagining a Brooklyn Brownstone, a two-story wall of steel frame windows blurs the boundary between indoors and out.

What are the benefits of steel frame windows and doors?

  • Due to the material’s strength, steel windows have very slender sight lines. 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.
  • They require minimal upkeep, compared with wood windows and doors.

Above: Custom steel frame doors from the Atelier Domingue Architectural Metalcrafts line. The framing around industrial-style steel doors can be pencil thin (unlike wood, which requires a large beam to support a door). Requiring minimal framework, steel windows are a great solution for open corner windows.

Above: An interior steel frame door adds industrial structure to an all-white bathroom; see Bathroom of the Week: Steel-Frame Shower Doors in a Fanciful London Project.

Are steel frame windows energy-efficient?

The 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.

Like any window, the glass in steel frame windows can be UV-coated to protect indoor furnishings and art from sun exposure.

Above: A bright and airy London renovation, steel-frame doors with square panes included. Photograph by Matt Clayton; to learn more about the project, see Reader Rehab: A Photographer’s Kitchen in London.

Are there different styles of steel windows and doors?

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.

Above: In a Brooklyn renovation by Elizabeth Roberts Design/Ensemble Architecture, a double-height wall has folding steel doors that open into a garden. For a full tour, see Indoor/Outdoor Living, Brooklyn Style.

Steel windows can be used in interiors as light-permeable room dividers. Doors are not commonly offered as sliders, so those seeking a full open outdoor wall experience often go with folding steel doors.

The folding doors above create a double-wide opening to the garden.

Above: Not always black, gray factory-style doors complement the adjacent gravel courtyard at a Brooklyn townhouse by architect Steven Harris (a member of the Remodelista Architect & Designer Directory).

How much do steel frame windows and doors 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 frame windows) and other attributes.

Above: A steel frame door brings light into Remodelista co-founder Francesca Connolly’s Brooklyn Heights kitchen. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.

Where can I buy steel factory-style windows and doors?

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

  • C. 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

Above: In a renovated mews home in London, a steel frame wall by Cantera Doors replaced a solid partition, creating a divider that still feels open.

Can I use reclaimed steel factory windows and doors?

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 at architectural suwpply yards, such as Recycling the Past, cannot, obviously, be customized to your setting; rather, your setting may need to be customized to fit them.

Steel Frame Windows and Doors Recap

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Above: In Hotel with a History: A Landscape of Sun and Stone at La Granja Ibiza, steel frame doors modernize rustic interiors.

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