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Brookline, MA

The other day we had a new home owner in Brookline MA that just went through their first New England winter and experienced cold and drafty windows. These windows were not just any window but steel windows.


Although metal windows were available as early as 1860 from catalogues published by architectural supply firms, they did not become popular until after 1890. Two factors combined to account for the shift from wooden to metal windows about that time. Technology borrowed from the rolling industry permitted the mass production of rolled steel windows. This technology made metal windows cost competitive with conventional wooden windows. In addition, a series of devastating urban fires in Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and San Francisco led to the enactment of strict fire codes for industrial and multi-story commercial and office buildings.

As in the process of making rails for railroads, rolled steel windows were made by passing hot bars of steel through progressively smaller, shaped rollers until the appropriate angled configuration was achieved. The rolled steel sections, generally 1/8″ thick and 1″ – 1-1/2″ wide, were used for all the components of the windows: sash, frame, and subframe. With the addition of wire glass, a fire-resistant window resulted. These rolled steel windows are almost exclusively found in masonry or concrete buildings.

A by-product of the fire-resistant window was the strong metal frame that permitted the installation of larger windows and windows in series. The ability to have expansive amounts of glass and increased ventilation dramatically changed the designs of late 19th and early 20th century industrial and commercial buildings.

The newly available, reasonably priced steel windows soon became popular for more than just their fire-resistant qualities. They were standardized, extremely durable, and easily transported. These qualities led to the use of steel windows in every type of construction, from simple industrial and institutional buildings to luxury commercial and apartment buildings. Casement, double-hung, pivot, projecting, austral, and continuous windows differed in operating and ventilating capacities. In addition, the thin profiles of metal windows contributed to the streamlined appearance of the Art Deco, Art Modern, and International Styles, among others.

Historic metal windows are generally not energy efficient; this has often led to their wholesale replacement. Metal windows can, however, be made more energy efficient in several ways, varying in complexity and cost. Caulking around the masonry openings and adding weather-stripping, for example, can be do-it-yourself projects and are important first steps in reducing air infiltration around the windows. They usually have a rapid payback period. Other treatments include applying fixed layers of glazing over the historic windows, adding operable storm windows in combination with caulking and weather-stripping, these treatments can produce energy ratings rivaling those achieved by new units.

The other problem solver for drafts and high energy costs is the use of Harvey deadlight storm windows. These are fixed storm panels with clips that make it easy for take-down and put-up by hand can be placed on the exterior or interior of your homes steel windows. For our customer in Brookline we decided on interior storm fixed windows so the home owner can access and use their windows on the second floor. These Harvey storm windows are an economical, effective way to increase the energy efficiency of older, single-pane windows when replacing them isn’t an option. They were custom made to fit the exact dimensions of our customers’ existing steel windows, the Harvey storm window is easy to operate, self-contained unit and our customer loves them!


Another weatherization treatment is to install an additional layer of glazing to improve the thermal efficiency of the existing window. The decision to pursue this treatment should proceed from careful analysis. Each of the most common techniques for adding a layer of glazing will affect approximately the same energy savings (approximately double the original insulating value of the windows); therefore, cost and aesthetic considerations usually determine the choice of method. Methods of adding a layer of glazing to improve thermal efficiency include adding a new layer of transparent material to the window; adding a separate storm window.


Finally Repair of historic windows is always preferred within a rehabilitation project. Replacement should be considered only as a last resort. However, when the extent of deterioration or the unavailability of replacement sections renders repair impossible, replacement of the entire window may be justified.

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