Metal windows were traditionally steel providing for a very strong frame and sash assembly. With small profiles, steel assemblies allow for larger glass to frame ratio than any other material. Typical sash and frame profiles were simple L and T shapes.
While very attractive in certain design applications, steel windows are the most expensive of the typical window materials. Usually steel windows are a painted finish. They are built to last but can have rusting problems in coastal areas. The most common method of operation is casement, awning or hopper. They do not lend themselves to a double hung or sliding configuration. Steels biggest operational drawback is thermal. Steel conducts temperature extremely well and has little insulation value. The profiles are solid and within those simple standard shapes steel cannot achieve high thermal performance.
Most metal windows you see today are aluminum. They have come a long way from the inexpensive windows of the 1970’s. While the inexpensive flimsy aluminum windows we grew up with are still readily available, vinyl windows have captured that market. The aluminum windows and doors that are popular with designers lean towards a heavier duty frame with much better hardware.
Everyone has been frustrated with an aluminum sliding door popping off the track and requiring a broom handle to secure since the lock failed. This does not happen with the newer “Fleetwood” style aluminum doors. Heavier profiles have created very sturdy, long lasting door and window systems. In contemporary architecture you will find aluminum operating windows integrated into commercial storefront units. These systems allow for a relatively affordable way to have large areas of glass with the freedom of selected operable portions. The now popular disappearing or pocketing sliding door systems are easily achievable in these new heavier duty doors.
A new look in aluminum is coming out of Europe in a big way. These are door sliding door systems that achieve incredibly small frame sections allowing the glass to visually float with little encasement. While not inexpensive, these units are dramatic allow finishes to flow from interior to exterior with little interruption.
Bi folding exterior door and window units are also available now with hardware and strength that allow them to actually work. Bi fold systems were problematic in the past but the advances in hardware and the rigidity of new material shapes make this an attractive operating method for homes.
Inexpensive aluminum windows are well suited to vertical hung and horizontal sliding operations. The heavier aluminum product can handle those types of operations along with projection methods including casement, awning and hopper. Aluminum crosses many price points. Finish can be mill (natural aluminum), anodized (a metal coating with limited coloration) or painted. If kept clean the material is suitable in coastal areas. Although aluminum is also a conductive material (like steel) aluminums typical section shapes allow for thermal breaks and can be used in achieving high thermal performance window and door systems.
At the outer edge of metal window and door materials are exotics like stainless steel, copper and bronze. While not common they are used (and we have installed them). They are expensive materials and have their own quirks. While Architectural Traditions, along with a few other manufacturers are making solid bronze systems these materials are almost always found as cladding over a wood based sash and frame. The exception is stainless steel. There are a few companies in both the U.S. and Italy that use stainless as a primary window sash and frame material. All of these exotics use a natural finish and handle the elements very well. Bronze and copper patina will age - while stainless steel (with minimum upkeep) stays bright for many years.
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