doors, windows, hardware

Steel Casement Windows: Restore or Replace?

Original steel casement windows often can be restored for far less than the cost of replacement windows.

Click here for a list of steel and bronze window suppliers and restorers

Steel casement windows were widely used in early 20th-century buildings -- both commercial and residential -- and thus have become "historic fabric." When restoring or renovating old buildings with steel windows, often the architect or contractor will take a look at rusted frames and announce, "These windows must be replaced."

This pessimistic advice is often wrong and expensive. Hundreds of successful projects across the U.S. -- residential, commercial and institutional -- have shown that not only can original steel windows be restored in place, but also that restoration costs less and yields a higher-quality product than all but the highest-cost premium replacement metal windows.

RESTORATION. In the past 10 years, a small group of contractors has developed the processes and procedures for restoring casement windows. The technology has been proven on everything from individual residences to large university buildings. On historic projects, in-situ restoration has the additional advantage of gaining easy approval from review boards because window restoration retains original building fabric. However, because the procedure requires a highly specialized set of skills, before hiring a contractor to recondition original steel windows, you'll be well-advised to inspect recent examples of the contractor's work.

DOUBLE-GLAZING. One frequently heard objection to traditional steel windows is that they are not energy efficient and are subject to high heat loss in cold weather. However, inside-mounting secondary glazing has been successfully used on many projects to increase the insulating value of steel windows. Several of the companies on the accompanying list of storm window suppliers have experience with retrofitting secondary glazing to steel casement windows.

SALVAGE. An option midway between restoration and replacement metal windows is the use of reconditioned steel windows salvaged from demolished buildings. Using recycled windows has the advantage of being a "green" option, and it invariably costs less than specifying new steel windows of comparable quality. Most companies that restore steel windows will also have an inventory of reconditioned salvaged windows. One drawback to salvaged windows is you may not be able to find the exact size you need. If possible, it's best to design the openings to the size of the salvaged windows available.

NEW STEEL WINDOWS. Sometimes new metal windows are a necessity. If the project is in a historic district, it's particularly important to see that muntin profiles, size and shape of the panes, operating hardware, and other details conform to the originals. When budget is a controlling factor, you may be able to find replicas made of aluminum that will resemble the originals closely enough to pass muster.

BRONZE WINDOWS. For seaside environments, bronze windows were often used instead of steel -- and are still specified for high-end new construction near salt water. As you'd expect, bronze windows are considerably more expensive than steel or aluminum windows. The metal window supplier list contains a few companies that also do bronze windows.

Click here for a list of steel and bronze window suppliers and restorers