A practical and unique way to enhance a home is to use glass and acrylic block. With lots of new products, colors, shapes, and custom configurations available, there are unlimited creative ideas. While looking great, they are also strong, sound-deadening, thermal insulated, good security and fire protection, and allow natural light to enter while still giving privacy.
Traditional Glass Block
The traditional glass blocks are similar to the laying style of bricks or concrete blocks. Each row is set in mortar. Then the mortar is cleaned off as it is drying to create nice clean joints. This can be a difficult process and is often best left to a professional installer.
With the popularity of glass block growing, more companies now offer several options. Many new styles are more affordable, such as acrylic blocks, silicone grouts, pre-assembled window units, and operable block windows.
Most manufacturers are now building pre-assembled blocks that are set into a frame. These can then be delivered to the building site and installed as a single unit like a window frame. They still look like the traditional installation, but save money and mess over building them on the construction site. Most of the frames they are built in are either white or almond aluminum, although vinyl wrapped aluminum is available. The window sizes range from a single block, which is usually eight inches, to square or rectangular up to about four by seven feet.
You can also use silicone grouting with pre-assembled glass block windows. It is easier to maintain, lighter in weight, and improves flexibility in areas of high wind or where moving the window could be a problem.
Acrylic blocks offer a great alternative to traditional glass block. It looks just like the real thing, but weighs and costs less. Acrylic is durable, energy efficient, and easy to install. You can use them for partitions, shower walls, or clock windows. They allow light to flow through naturally yet still offer privacy. Since it is not as heavy, they can be used virtually anywhere without reinforcement.
You can purchase acrylic blocks in the same sizes and textures as glass blocks. They are made from virgin acrylic instead of glass. Most are pre-assembled with synthetic rubber caulk in aluminum or vinyl frames. Because they are lighter weight, there is greater flexibility in the manufacturing process. This allows a wider variety of shapes and custom configurations, such as triangles, half-rounds, octagons, and more.
The window sash is light enough to allow the entire window to operate with acrylic blocks. Both awning and casement styles are available so you can get the same result as a traditional block installation when they are closed. Yet, they will open easily. With acrylic, you also have the curved wall option that is usually prefabricated and shipped as a single unit.
Combining Traditional Glass Block with Acrylic
If you prefer the traditional glass blocks to the acrylic, you can always combine a glass block assembly with an operable window in one unit. The window uses glass blocks grouted with silicone for flexibility, set into a common frame with an operable awning window, which can be placed above, below, or even in the center of the block assembly. The entire unit is factory assembled, and the common frame gives the unit a unified look while making installation very simple.
Most window companies, large lumberyards, and home centers have glass and acrylic block window assemblies available through special order.
Curved and Specialty Glass Block
Curved blocks have unlimited possibilities for curved construction. Think how beautiful columns would look made from curved glass blocks.
At one time, glass block designs had to be enclosed. With end and double end blocks available now, you can design without limitations.
Glass Block Precautions
Don't put glass blocks in areas where they will be required to support part of your home's structure. They are not designed for bearing loads.
Will the blocks scratch?
Acrylic blocks are possible to scratch. There shouldn't be a problem with normal use though. If you do find that you have some scratches, just use a plastic polish to easily remove them.
How do I clean the blocks?
Washing with a mild soap or detergent and lukewarm water should do just fine for cleaning. If you must use plastic polish, at least use a good quality product. Use a soft cloth or clean sponge to minimize scratching and rinse well with water. If you have used a high quality acrylic product, your glass block will not need a large amount of cleaning. Don't scrub or use any brushes. Harsh cleansers are not necessary and if you do choose to use a cleanser at all, make sure that it is compatible with acrylic.
DO NOT USE: Tile cleaners, or abrasive cleaners, such as Tilex(r), SoftScrub(r), or Clean Shower(r) and never clean in hot sun or elevated temperatures.
How long does it take to get a glass block window?
The normal timeframe is two to four weeks to receive your windows. This can vary on your location and the manufacturer you purchase from. Some of them will offer quick shipping programs that may get your window to you in just two days without additional shipping cost. The windows will most likely have to qualify for this though.
How do installations costs for acrylic block compare to glass block?
Most of the time the installation cost will be the same or less for acrylic block windows as the traditional mortared glass block.