Tom Shafer

Glass block: windows go retro

November 15, 2011

Glass block windows, a popular design component of mid-twentieth century Modern architecture, are back.

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Stylish glass block windows have always suggested a wealth of applications from practical to purely decorative. Because of the way glass blocks diffuse light, they can be used anywhere you want light and prefer privacy.

The new glass block windows

Today the generic term "glass block" refers to either glass or acrylic. The windows can come preassembled in a vinyl window frame or may be constructed the old-fashioned way, with mortar and individual blocks. Glass block windows in vinyl frames are only about two- to three-inches thick, allowing for installation just like any vinyl frame window. They are available as replacement windows or for new construction applications.

Glass blocks in a vinyl frame are lighter than traditional glass block windows. Acrylic block windows are even lighter--about the same weight as a traditional-style window of the same size. However, glass blocks, unlike acrylic, do not easily scratch, cloud, fade or discolor.

Available glass block window styles include picture windows--the most popular -– casements and sliders.

If by now you are glassy-eyed with desire for block windows but worried about heating, cooling and ultraviolet rays fading your furnishings, low-e coatings can be included on both glass and acrylic units. Look for glass block windows that are Energy Star-rated.

Applications for block windows

  • Privacy and security. Block windows are not only private, but also an excellent security choice. While acrylic units are breakable, they are much more impact-resistant than glass.
  • Bathrooms. Because acrylic glass blocks are safer than even tempered glass, they are often used above and around bath tubs, where building code requires tempered glass.
  • Basements. Glass block windows make excellent replacement windows for a basement. Although heavy, operating windows are also available.
  • Decorative windows and doors. Decorative glass block with leaded or non-leaded, beveled or etched designs is ideal for a feature window or as a sidelite for a door. Acrylic units, for example, are available from Hy-Lite Products Inc., a U.S. Block Windows company. Shapes include octagons, ellipses and ovals.

Glass block windows are available from many home improvement dealers as part of their replacement window offerings. If you want to make a style-statement with your windows, this is one great way to do it.

About the Author

Tom Shafer has decades of experience in window sales, marketing and product development. He's worked closely with window design engineers in testing, design, and building code interpretation. Past employers include United Windows and Doors and Norandex, MI Windows. He currently works at a home improvement retailer.

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