Going for glass block – Classic style is never out of fashion
As the Baby Boomer generation moves into their late 40s and 50s, nostalgia for the homes they grew up in can be a powerful influence. Born in 1958, I am considered part of the “tail” of the Baby Boomer generation, born from 1946 to 1964. I make my living working for this group, which tends to own its homes and is very active in the home improvement field.
As auto makers already know, nostalgia sells. Styling in autos, clothing and housing recall the warm memories of yesteryear. Fads may come and go, but classics last forever. One time-tested material that is reinventing its usage is glass block.
Glass block is a versatile, durable material that has a broad range of uses. It offers light transmission with privacy. It is waterproof, fireproof and lasts forever.
Glass block can be used for the interior of the home as a freestanding partition wall or for the exterior, installed as a window. The block panels can be straight, curved, or in a ziggurat stair-step pattern.
Glass block is traditionally available as loose block, which can be purchased at your local tile shop. Loose block is typically installed by a tile contractor. The block is manufactured in half a dozen styles – from almost perfectly clear to deeply patterned – to maximize privacy. Popular patterns manufactured by Pittsburgh Corning include Decora® and Icescapes®.
I also like look of the Vue® block, which reminds me of a large, clear ice cube. The block typically comes in 6-inch and 8-inch sizes that have a variety of modular, angled blocks and end caps to form almost any shape.
A recent breakthrough in shower enclosures is to prefabricate panels of glass block. Pittsburgh Corning manufactures shower systems that come with acrylic shower bases available in a variety of colors.
They offer three sizes: a two-sided corner unit, a diagonal neo-angle and a walk-in shower with curved wall. Installation of these prefabricated units is relatively simple, as the acrylic base is designed to fit the glass block panels. Only two walls need to have tile using this system.
If you have enough room, a stunning shower can be built using a freestanding curved or angled partition wall. A template is used to build a tile curb that supports the prefabricated glass panels, which are installed in sections.
This method reduces labor costs since a typical enclosure can be assembled in one or two days instead of a week or more for traditional loose block enclosure.
Lighting can be installed within or behind the glass block for a unique look. Fiber optic cable is placed in the joints between the blocks, which are filled with clear silicone.
Accent Lighting in Grass Valley has a glass block display with fiber optic lighting connected to an illuminator with a light wheel, which fills the block with ever changing colored light.
A cost-effective way to light the block wall is with neon lights installed behind the glass block, but you must have access to change the bulbs.
Glass block windows are now available with frames that can be easily installed by a carpenter. The window frame uses block that is 2 inches thick, which has an insulation value equal to roughly that of dual pane glass.
Since the block allows light but provides privacy, it can be a good choice for bathrooms or anywhere you want to restrict the view from either inside or out. I have also seen glass block work well in separating a laundry room and kitchen while allowing the light from the laundry window to pass through.
A great looking location to install a block window in a kitchen is above the countertop but below the wall cabinets. This lights up the counters and provides a solid, easy to clean backsplash at the same time. Glass block windows are not considered load bearing, so plan for a structural header to span the width of the block.
Glass block can also look great as sidelights next to entry doors. The glass is so strong that it is exempt from building codes, which require tempered glass for these locations.
If you need ventilation as well as light, this can be achieved by mounting a sliding window directly above the glass block panel.
The vinyl window and the glass block are mulled together within a single easy-to-install frame. This works well for locations such as showers.
More window types are available from Hy-Lite Products®, which manufactures acrylic block windows. Without the weight of true glass, the acrylic block can be configured as a casement, awning and sliding window. Shower enclosures and other interior partitions are also available in this lightweight material.
There is so much you can do with glass block; it is truly amazing. When you consider all the unique benefits and the timeless style of glass block, it is one classic material that will continue to be a good choice for home improvement projects for years to come.
Andrew Wright, CR is a regional and national award winning remodeler and a member of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and the National Kitchen & Bath Association. He may be reached at WrightBuilt Home Remodel & Design at 272-6657.
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