Remodeling 101: Steel Factory-Style Windows and Doors

The aesthetic harkens back to the greenhouses, factories, and warehouses of the 19th century. And their elegant, narrow sightlines 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.

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 at 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.

Above: A steel frame window wall and folding doors blur the boundary between indoors and out, effectively doubling the living space. A project by Design of Wonder of Melbourne, it is featured in Steal This Look: Black and White Indoor/Outdoor Terrace. Photograph via Design of Wonder.

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.

  • They require minimal upkeep, compared with wood windows and doors.

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.

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.

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.

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 frame 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, New York, Hope's makes top-of-the-line steel and bronze windows and doors.

  • Bliss Nor-Am. This Rochester, New York/Canada-based company makes high-quality, beautifully detailed powder-coated metal doors and windows.

  • Torrance Steel Window Co. Based, yes, in Torrance, California, this company's steel windows can be spotted around the US, from the Guggenheim Museum in New York to residential projects (as shown) by Olson Kundig Architects on the West Coast.

  • Bonelli. A Northern California favorite with architects (recommended by Gustave Carlson, who used them in Architect Visit: Gustave Carlson in Inverness).

  • A&S Window Associates in New York fabricated the windows in An Artist's NYC Kitchen Renovation.

Steel Frame Windows Recap
  • Strong

  • Slim sightlines

  • Work with a range of architectural styles

  • Durable and long lasting

  • Low maintenance

  • Expensive

  • Heavy

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

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