Glass block is a versatile design element that allows light in while maintaining a home’s privacy.
Source: REMODELING Magazine
Publication date: 2005-01-01
By Nina Patel
The need for light, privacy and decorative accents are the driving forces behind the use of glass block in bathrooms. Designer Peter Lawton says glass walls allow light to pass through so they give the perception of a larger space. “In a 37-inch-deep shower with a solid wall, you feel like you are in a cubby,” he says. Replacing the solid wall with glass block makes the space feel larger and brighter.
Lawton says glass block is a chameleon because it can be used in both traditional and contemporary designs. Though he mostly uses it in modern layouts, some of the conservative clients of Worcester, Mass. – based design PLUS who don’t like stainless steel or other modern materials are more open to glass block as an accent. “We’re just finishing a very traditional bathroom with earth tone colors and a large radius glass block shower,” he says. The material is also ideal for windows in close-set urban houses where privacy is an issue.
Even in San Francisco, many of the clients of designer Peggy Deras, Kitchen Artworks, don’t often choose glass block. “It takes a special client and special home to be able to take it,” she says. The first time Deras used glass block was in a bathroom for an adventurous client. Her preference is to repeat a design element, so she used it in several places. “I used it in the shower, then in a window behind the shower, then brought it across the room and used it in the toe kick,” she says.
Deras also likes combining different glass patterns. For a recent San Francisco apartment remodel, she chose glass block for the shower divider and the low window in the shower. The lower section of both the window and divider features obscure blocks and the upper sections boast clear block.
Bob DeGusipe, marketing manager of Pittsburgh Corning, says the company does not recommend cutting glass block. Instead, he suggests finding a way to use the variety of pieces and shapes his company offers, which include curves, 45-and 90-degree corners, and shapes to finish the edges. The product is also not designed to be load-bearing. For islands or under countertops, engineers at Pittsburgh Corning advise installing a structural support to hold the weight of the counter and then wrapping it with glass block.
Lawton asks his installers to set the block on a solid base of tile and to tile the surface where the glass block meets the wall. “This is so if a joint fails or water gets behind the seam, it won’t ruin anything,” he says. He adds that many installers think they can put up an 8-foot-tall glass block wall in one day. “They don’t realize you can only let it set three or four blocks high,” he says. Due to the weight of the glass, the first courses have to dry before the installer can set the higher blocks. When Deras specified a glass block window in a shower, she wanted the glass tile to be flush with the tiled wall. (At that time, pre-made window units were not available.) Her contractor created an aluminum frame to set the blocks in the opening.
Glass block manufacturers have introduced new products and systems to make the product easier to specify and install. Pittsburgh Corning’s new design tool, Easy Design, is powered by SketchUp software. “A designer can configure a shower and draw it up by pulling and dragging components of block. You can see it in a 3-D configuration, and it gives you a materials list,” DeGusipe says.
For designers who are working with standard shower openings, the company offers pre-designed shower kits. “It takes the mystery out of it for the designer,” he says. The kits come in three configurations and include the shower pan and accessories. The company also introduced a mortarless installation system, where glass block is attached with silicone adhesive to rigid vinyl spacers. “The joints are finished with tile grout. Anything you can do with mortar, you can do with this system. It is ideal for tile setters,” DeGusipe says.
Remodeler John Tabor of Tabor Construction in Silver Spring, Md., likes having these design and installation options. “There was not enough information before — you were on your own,” he says. “I might use it more often now that they have this.”
Glass Block Windows
Pittsburgh Corning offers the LightWise line of pre-assembled vinyl frame glass block windows that come in 78 sizes and install like standard windows. The company’s new 2-inch-thick glass block is lighter than the standard 3-inch glass block. The windows are shipped ready to install. www.pittsburghcorning.com. Hy-Lite offers glass block windows in 100 sizes. Gary Good, marketing manager, says the new Glacier pattern is more obscure than the original Wave pattern. Designers order the windows through a window distributor or lumberyard. The white vinyl windows take two weeks to ship, and the tan frames take three weeks.www.hy-lite.com.