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Are Steel Windows Worth Saving?

Historic wood windows are kind of like the rock stars when it comes to preservation and restoration, but the steel windows don’t get the attention they deserve. Everybody talks about wood, most people understand the need to preserve them and you’ll find dozens of workshops around the country where homeowners can learn to restore them on their own.

I even wrote a book to teach people how to walk through the restoration process that we use in my shop every day called Old Windows Made Easy.

It makes sense why these are so popular. They are everywhere and they are simple to understand. They’re just wood, putty and glass.

Well, steel windows are not much different except instead of wood, you’ve got steel, so why don’t they get the preservationist’s attention? More to the point of this post, do they deserve attention like wood windows?

Are Steel Windows Worth Saving?

While not as common as wood windows, they make up a huge portion of the historic windows still remaining in this country. They were used heavily in industrial buildings in the late 19th and early 20th century and then became extremely popular in residential buildings in the early and mid 20th century.

From English Tudors to Mid-Century Modern homes, steel windows were a constant fixture in a variety of designs. They are an important part of the historic fabric and definitely contribute to the original appearance of the building.

Worse even than the replacement of wood windows, the replacement of steel windows almost always looks jarringly out of place, since the style of these replacement windows is so completely different from the original steel.

While the argument to save these windows simply for aesthetic reasons is pretty overwhelming in my mind, I want to offer you some other reasons why they might be worth saving.

1. Long-Lasting

But they rust, right? Yes they rust, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t some of the longest lasting windows ever manufactured. Rust is something that can be repaired and rust can be prevented. Just like wood rots, steel rusts. It’s only when you don’t provide your windows with a little maintenance that things can get dicey. If they lasted the first 80 years, they can last the next 80 years.

2. Exceptional Security

The frames and sash on steel windows are solid rolled steel that is extremely strong and, with the typical multi-lite designs, they create one of the most secure windows ever.

Security may not have been a big issue back in the day, but today having a secure and burglar-resistant window is a definite plus. It’s like having bars built into the architectural design of the window.

3. Extremely Efficient

Yes, I know the rumor about how leaky old windows are, but it simply isn’t true. Looking at an 80 yr-old steel window that won’t close because it’s bent out of shape and caked up with tons of paint is like complaining that your Porsche which has never been washed or had it’s oil-changed is a junker. No, it’s just not been cared for at all.

steel window anatomy

Testing done by the Windows Preservation Standards Collaborative revealed that restored steel windows are incredibly efficient. That efficiency comes from the interlocking design of the sashes and frames that, when closed, provide exceptional air sealing (even by today’s standards).

There are weatherstripping options, though they are rarely necessary, and replacing the glass with laminated or low-e options often can help make extraordinary gains in energy efficiency.

4. They Can Be Restored Simply

Just like wood windows, they can be restored fairly easily by homeowners and DIYers. I’ve written an eBook called Steel Windows Made Easy that outlines the specific step-by-step process for restoration.

Like I mentioned earlier, they are just steel, putty, and glass. Most of the supplies you’ll need like Sarco DualGlaze putty and Spring Clips are available in our store as well.

Hopefully, through this,  I’ve been able to convince you that steel windows are worth saving. I cheer on these underdogs whenever I see them because it’s too often that they are torn out and replaced. America was built by steel and these windows are just one example of our fantastic history. Just like most high quality materials installed in historic buildings, they were meant to stand the test of time…if you’ll only let them.

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27 thoughts on “Are Steel Windows Worth Saving?

  1. Hi Scott, Thank you for this article and for all the helpful, encouraging info you share! My 1920s house has steel casement windows and doors that swing outward. But my understanding is that doors and windows that open outward are more easily broken into by thieves. Is there any way to convert them to swing inward instead while also preserving them? Thank you!

  2. Hi Scott,

    Thanks so much for your wealth of information! We are purchasing a 1950s home with the original steel windows. Unfortunately, most of the windows are painted shut and inoperable. I have your E-book on restoring steel windows but “unsticking” windows is not covered. Suggestions? I have a Speedheater IR paint remover from a previous project. Can I use that on these old steel windows?


  3. I definitely agree. Old steel windows will stand the test of time. And it’s great to have a piece of history left on your house.

  4. Have a 1940s house full of original steel windows that I’d much rather restore than replace. But my big issue is that the steel is all painted with lead paint. How does a DIYer handle that?

  5. I purchased your guide to Restoring Steel Windows. I own a 1920’s Tudor with the original windows manufactured by Williams & Williams in Chester, England. They still function but need restoring. Your guide recommends Sherwin Williams Kem Kromick Primer and oil-based paint as a top coat. Oil-based paint is hard to locate in NJ. Is there a brand of paint you recommend?

  6. Is there a company you recommend for steel window restoration in the Cleveland Ohio area? I did not find anyone listed on your blog site. Thanks

  7. Great info here.

    Do you know of any good restorers or repair vendors in Atlanta

    1947 casement in Art Moderne Condominiums

    Residents are wanting to replace with vinyl and they look horrible. Some owners are trying to stop this and provide alternatives

    1. Hi Catherine,

      Great question. We wish we could fix everyone’s windows all across the country, so that’s why we made this handy directory on our site of licensed preservationists in different states and cities. I hope this helps you! thecraftsmanblog.com/directory.

      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  8. My steel casement windows are rusted on the bottom where they contact the cement after a hurricane and a subsequent leak in the roof. The rust has worked it’s way up into the casement frame. Is there someone in Miami, Florida that can restore them?

  9. I have a house full of 1937 steel casement windows. I personally paned, reglazed and restored every one, cranks, all hardware and the original copper screens with steel frames from the summer of 1994 through to the end of 1995. Due to hurricane damage to my roof last year the larger windows in one room have rusted where they make contact to the concrete at the footings. Do you have any suggestions as to how they can be restored? Who can help me in Miami, Florida?

    1. Our company actually does some work in Miami! Feel free to give us a call and discuss your project and get a quote. If we aren’t able to work on your project, we have a directory of licensed preservationists in other cities that we recommend. Here’s the site of our company you can contact to discuss your potential project. https://austinhistorical.com/

      Have a wonderful weekend!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  10. I live in Los Angeles and love my streamline style metal frame windows. We are converting the house to more nervy efficient. We would like to keep them or move yhem to the enclosed breeze way.
    First question: Can we put dual pane glass in them?

  11. Hi Scott,

    I have a 1930 Tudor home. Can you recommend a company to repair/refurbish steel windows in the New York/Long Island area?

    1. Hello Melissa!
      My name is Alyssa and I work at The Craftsman Blog. Thank you so much for your comment! On our site, we have a directory of people who do what we do in other areas of the country. Keep in mind, we have not personally worked with each and every one of these businesses, but they come recommended through other people we are in network with, so we are confident in suggesting them as a potential. I hope this helps! Feel free to shoot us a photo of your finished work so we can admire it and celebrate with you! https://thecraftsmanblog.com/directory/

  12. Hi Scott,
    We have steel windows on our garage that used to be a print shop back in the 1940’s. Unfortunately they have severe rust damage, to the point of total rusting through in several areas on the bottom, due to improper drainage around the perimeter of the building. I’m trying to determine at what point they are beyond saving. I’m also having trouble locating someone in the DC area who does this type of work. Any advice you could provide would be much appreciated!

  13. Hey Scott, great blog! I have an old Streamline Moderne house in Long Beach, CA with steel casement windows that are in sad shape. Since I am planning on a sandblast and re-stucco of the house, I am in the process of removing the windows, having them sandblasted and then re-coating them. In your e-booklet you recommend the kem Kromik primer, and oil based final paint, do you have a particular final coating that you like to use? Should I consider powder coat? Thanks in advance and keep up the good work!

    1. Brian, I like Sherwin Williams DTM paints for steel windows, but I’m also testing water based options since they are so much easier to work with and dry faster. As far as powder coating I have only done 2 projects that way and I am still watching them and testing. I’ll have some answers in a while after a couple years of exposure.

  14. Has anyone tried using the 3M (or other?) window films for climate control or security/strength concerns?
    If so, did you put the film on the entire pane of glass while it was out of the frame and then glaze over it?
    were you able to get the film and do it yourself, or did you have someone treat the panes before you reinstalled them?
    Anyone calculate out if it was reasonable compared to higher energy bills or the cost of exterior or interior storms?
    Anyone ever try these products on “wavey” glass?

  15. all of the windows in our 1930’s brick home are steel. I would rather not replace them. Is there a good storm window that works? The previous owner installed some “storm” windows on the interior side of some of the windows, but they are pretty worthless, big gaps and such. Any suggestions? Its a large 3 story in a historic district. Thanks!

    1. I’ve had good success with Indow Windows installed on the interior. You usually have to remove the crank arm operator to fit them but that it very simple.

  16. Thanks for this article, Scott! I have one steel window in my 1957 ranch that I plan on restoring with the rest of my wood windows. I love all of the info you provide. I’ll most likely do the steel window in situ but I’m going back and forth on attempting to take out my wood windows to work on or just leave them in place and do what I can with them. I bought a big container of Dual Glaze instead of Type M partly because of the steel window and partly because I’m not sure about how I’m going to go about the resto job. I’m not sure I want to have the windows out for long enough for the Dual Glaze to set up.

    1. Jamie, good to hear! With one window it likely makes sense to do it in place rather than the trouble of removing and reinstalling. Concerning how long the dual glaze takes to setup we’ll usually prime, glaze and reinstall. You can then paint in place or pull the wood sashes back out to paint when the time comes.

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