Angie's LIST Guide to
Glass block

As strong and secure as masonry, yet able to allow light to pass through, glass block can be a great option for bathrooms, basements and other projects.
 

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Glass block has the strength of masonry but allows light to pass through. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Larry B.)
Glass block has the strength of masonry but allows light to pass through. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Larry B.)
 
 

What is glass block?

While the materials and installation is much closer to masonry than window installation, glass block windows can offer homeowners unique privacy, security and decorative benefits that other window products don't feature. Glass block can be used in any almost window opening, but the most common applications include bathroom and basement windows.

Glass block windows are available prefabricated in vinyl frames, or they can be custom-made for a home's window opening, on or off site. Glass block windows are available prefabricated in vinyl frames, or they can be custom-made for a home's window opening on or off site.

Privacy and security

glass blocks
Patterns and designs in glass blocks help provide added privacy for areas like bathrooms. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Lesley G.)

Glass block windows permit plenty of visible light, but also feature patterns and designs that obscure home occupants, making them a great choice for addign daylight to private areas like the bathroom. While glass block windows cannot be open or closed, when used areas such as the bathroom, several of the blocks can be replaced with a ventilation opening to help expel moisture or introduce fresh air from the outside.

Because glass block windows are generally at least 3 inches thick, they make a great option for a homeonwer looking to improve the security of burglar-prone areas such as basement windows. Because the blocks fit securely in frames cemented in place, it is difficult to break through the glass.

Energy efficiency

Glass blocks offer insulation values equivalent to a double-paned window.  Glass block windows are also sealed with caulking and mortar, meaning there is little air infiltration. While glass block windows offer less insulation than standard walls, energy loss is offset to some degree by the admission of natural light, which decreases the need for artificial lighting during the day.

Glass block applications

1. Walls

Glass blocks are often used to create walls and partitions, both curved and straight, that strike a contemporary note and add natural light to a room. While glass blocks cannot be used in load-bearing walls, they can appear in many areas of the home. Walls exceeding 6 yards generally require reinforcement with steel rods. Straight walls are available in prefabricated forms, while curved walls typicall need to be be constructed on site.

2. Shower enclosures

Although costly, a glass block shower enclosure makes a dramatic statement in a contemporary bathroom.  Glass block walk-in showers eliminate the need for a shower curtain or shower door system.

3. Kitchen islands

Islands featuring glass block bases become a striking focal point in the kitchen.  Homeowners often top the bases with laminate, solid surface or granite because glass block itself does not make a good countertop surface.

glass block windows
Glass blocks are often a preferred choice for basement windows. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member William D.)

4. Basement windows

Basement windows present safety concerns because they are close to the ground, and glass block windows offer additional security. Because glass block windows are airtight, the window closest to fuel-burning furnaces and water heaters typically needs a vent to supply fresh air to the areas around these appliances. Homeowners should also note that local code officials may require an egress window if there are living areas in the basement.

5. House walls

When building a new house or making an addition, some homeowners use large expanses of glass blocks in exterior walls to make a unique style statement. These glass block areas admit natural light while maintaining energy efficiency.  Installation of large quantities of glass blocks requires careful consideration of structural implications.

6. Deck privacy walls

Homeowners who enjoy spending time outside but want their privacy can use glass blocks as an attractive deck wall.  Translucent panels prevent homeowners from feeling hemmed in and offer wind protection.

7. Water features

Glass, water and light combine beautifully in outdoor areas featuring glass block accessories.  Glass blocks can be used in walls around pool areas to block views from the second stories of neighboring houses.  Blocks are also attractive in the construction of koi ponds, water fountains and reflecting pools.

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