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Archive for Metal Finish Restoration

Restoring Vintage Metal Cornices and Bay Windows

Chicago is well endowed with vintage masonry buildings that boast elaborate cornices and bay windows. Most of these buildings were built in a thirty-year period, ranging from the latter part of the1880’s to late in the1910’s. Some of these buildings were commercial in nature and were erected right next to the sidewalk. Others were residential and were often set back on the property. In either case, the maintenance of the metal ornamentation required the erection of scaffolding. Because of the high cost of creating safe access, the maintenance of the metal surfaces was often neglected for decades, often compromising the integrity of the metal structures. When the paint job looked bad enough, the owners often did the cosmetic work, but cut short the metal repair work. In doing our metal restoration work, we have encountered numerous situations where duct tape had been used to cover a hole and painted over.

Vintage Matal Cornice and Bay Window

Vintage Matal Cornice and Bay Window

This summer, we were contracted to restore the metal painted surfaces on two sides of an 1890 brick Victorian corner house. As shown in the picture, from a distance, everything appears pretty normal. However, a close inspection revealed that the metal surfaces had seriously corroded, split apart or fallen off in numerous places. These openings had created many points of access to water, as well as creating numerous habitats for birds. In all, about forty repairs had to be performed. In some cases, some pieces had to be fabricated to replicate the surrounding patterns. Some pieces had to be welded in place. For other pieces, rivets were used to secure them in place. We attached before and after pictures for your reference.

All the repairs were made using galvanized steel. As house painting contractors, before painting the new metal, we prep the steel by degreasing it and then priming it with an appropriate primer. Then we paint!

The clients that hire us see it as their duty and privilege to restore their “piece of history”. For us, doing this kind of work is our contribution to the preservation of Chicago’s architectural heritage.

Metal Restoration  Before 1

Metal Restoration Before 1

Metal Restoration After 1A

Metal Restoration After 1A

Metal Restoration Before 2

Metal Restoration Before 2

Metal Restoration After 2A

Metal Restoration After 2A

Two Newly Fabricated Pieces

Two Newly Fabricated Pieces

Secrets to Prepping New Galvanized Steel Before Painting

Prepping Galvanized Steel for Painting

We are currently working on the historical restoration of the façade of one of the three adjacent brown stone houses Potter Palmer had built for his three daughters in the late nineteenth century on Chicago’s Gold Coast area. The project involved the complete rebuilding of the metal 2-story bay window, cornice and slate roof elements. All the metal surfaces were faithfully recreated using galvanized steel, which we needed to paint in a high-gloss black.

The manufacturing process for galvanized steel leaves the surface of the steel coated with a thin oily film. It is essential to remove that oily substance before any primer or coating can be applied. To do the job properly, we used lacquer thinner, scrub pads and rags to clean the metal surfaces. Using a scrub pad really helps to loosen the oily film and rags finish up the job.

Failed Coating on Galvanized Steel

Not properly cleaning the new galvanized steel in this way will result in the premature failure of any coating put on the steel. A good example of this is the corner turret on the next-door neighbor’s house, as shown in the picture. As you can see, the coating has simply not adhered to the steel and is massively failing. Our client instructed us to strip and refinish her neighbor’s turret on her own dime, as a courtesy for her neighbor putting up with the scaffolding for three months, while her façade restoration was taking place.

Another important step in properly finishing galvanized steel is to use a bonding primer specially designed to adhere well to that metal. No oil-based primers should be used – only waterborne bonding primers. The paint we selected for the project was an industrial High Performance Acrylic designed for challenging environments like this.

As house painting contractors in the Chicago area for almost twenty-five years, we have long learned that surface preparation is key to a successful paint job.

The Maintenance of Chicago’s Historic Metal Bay Windows and Cornices Presents Major Challenges

Chicago is endowed with scores of old buildings, whose facades are adorned with historic metal bay windows, large crows and cornices. These buildings were largely built between 1880 and 1920. Every one of these metal elements were unique in design and constitute an important part of Chicago’s architectural heritage. Preserving that heritage and helping to restore its beauty is part of our role as painting contractors and historical restoration specialists in the Chicago area.

Chicago Historic Metal Bay Window

Attached are two examples of such beautiful historic metalwork in Chicago, one is a two-story bay window, the other a large cornice. Why is the maintenance of important architectural features like these such a challenge? Their location and the

Chicago Historic Metal Cornice

Chicago Historic Metal Bay Window – Failed Caulk and Flashing

Chicago Historic Metal Bay Window – Rotted Wood Support

Chicago Historic Metal Bay Window – Decaying Masonry

difficulty of access are two clear obstacles. They are often located on the second, third or fourth level of the building. “Out of sight and out of mind” often becomes the operating rule. Additionally, the building’s façade is often located next to a busy sidewalk or just a few feet away. The logistical aspects of going up to inspect these surfaces and perform the needed repairs most often deters the owners from doing the needed maintenance until serious and evident signs of distress appear.

These metal architectural elements are commonly mounted to masonry (brick or stone) and sometime on slate roofs as well. Masonry and metals have minds of their own when it comes to adjusting to temperature shifts and weather. As a result, caulking and flashing materials are subjected to great stresses. The progressive failure of these weather barriers is the entry point to the decay of the metal structures. The maintenance of these weather barriers is critical to keeping serious problems at bay. This maintenance can generally be performed off ladders at a relatively low cost.

However, when maintenance is neglected, water instruction begins to wreak havoc on the inner wood support and the masonry work behind those metal elements. The last two pictures show the damage that ensues. When water intrusion has gone on for a long time, the damage is so extensive that the metal elements have to be entirely rebuilt. Rebuilding the architectural features can easily cost between $20,000 and $60,000, depending on their complexity and size. We are on such a project right now. Stay tuned for pictures of the restoration of one of Chicago’s historic building façades.

Not Just a Great Looking Paint Job, but One that Lasts!

Surface Preparation

On a historical paint restoration project, the customer expects not only a great looking paint job, but one that will last a long time as well, because of the considerable costs involved. There are several factors that contribute to the higher cost of a paint restoration project.

First, such projects often require an extensive level of surface preparation because of the poor condition of the old coatings. These surfaces have often not been painted in fifteen or twenty years, or even longer. Consequently, surfaces will likely require epoxy restoration and even the reproduction of custom moldings or ornamentation.

Second, historical restoration almost automatically requires compliance to RRP rules to protect everyone and the environment from exposure to lead paint dust. That means additional containment steps and costs.


Finally, old buildings in a big city like Chicago, are often situated right next or close to the sidewalk and very close to the neighbors. Consequently, gaining access to the surfaces to be worked on can also require the renting of special equipment like a canopy, scaffolding, boom and the procurement of all the required permits.

On a recent paint restoration project, the rental and permit costs alone exceeded $10,000. If you are the owner of such a building, how long would you like the paint job to last? I would say as long as possible! This means that, as a house painting contractor, I must ensure that our surface preparation is as thorough as possible. Additionally, the primers we use must be the best suited for every surface we work on. For example, we recently used an alkyd, high-solid, direct-to-metal primer to give a full prime coat to 120-year old tin cladding. On old wood moldings, where the old paint had mostly been removed, we used a two-part clear epoxy sealer to prime those surfaces. The goal of each phase of our work is: the longevity of the paint job!