Thursday, 19 June 2008

7 Steps to Design and Install a Glass Block Wall With Style and Structure

For many architects, interior designers, homeowners, and even general contractors there is a mystique surrounding the design and installation of glass block walls. First you take a self supporting structural glass material (a unique element to begin with) and then mix it with some type of bonding material (usually mortar or silicone) or installation system (aluminum or wood are most common) to create stylish and functional walls. You might feel you have to be part chemist and part contractor to do this work, but don't fear, it's not too tough if you follow these 7 steps.

• Step 1 - Know the Shape of Your Wall - Glass block walls can be built in any shape -straight, with a curve or radius, a 90 degree turn, or even one that stair steps down for design interest and style. Straight walls are generally the easiest to build and can now be completed with finished bull nosed end blocks. Curved or radius walls (walk in showers are an excellent place for this type of design and can save money vs. other rounded glass wall systems) are a more involved installation, but newer angle blocks or the Arque shaped units from Pittsburgh Corning can make the rounded look easier to achieve. If you like the idea of stepping the wall down in 8" increments the Encurve block is the product for you. With the introduction of the Tridron block from Pittsburgh Corning you can even make a glass block column and light it for extra effect.

• Step 2 - Know the Size of Your Wall - A cool glass wall that doesn't stay put in it's original place at your home or business is not cool at all! Form and structure have to work together. If you're designing an outside glass wall greater than 144 square feet, and inside wall greater than 250 square feet, there is a need for horizontal or vertical support. Most residential glass shower or partition walls do not usually exceed these dimensions, however. Inside the walls there should be horizontal or vertical spacers or reinforcing wire for strength and support. Some newer interior installation systems are even using aluminum grids or wood frames to put the blocks together, a very stylish alternative to the standard mortar or silicone processes.

• Step 3 - Determine what is going Above and Below the Wall - Glass block are not a structurally supportive material but they can carry their own weight. It is OK to mount a wood counter over the wall for a bar application, but usually a granite countertop should be supported independent of the glass masonry units. Underneath these walls the best base options are concrete floors, acrylic or corian or tile shower curbs, or wood floors with framing below.

• Step 4 - Consider how you're going to anchor the wall - While most of these walls are grouted together with mortar and spacers you still will want to anchor the wall into an existing wall(s) for support. Panel anchors made of aluminum go into the horizontal courses of the blocks and are screwed into the side of the wall to ensure that the wall doesn't move. If you don't have a side wall to anchor into it is still possible to have a glass block wall by providing vertical supports through the wall and into the floor below.

• Step 5 - Figure out the Style, Design, and Pattern of Block - This is not the old-style block any more - a clear colorless cube of glass. Now there are vivid colored glass blocks, artistically designed murals or patterns, beveled edge blocks, and blocks in all sorts of shapes, patterns, and styles. Look at a web site that shows the full line of possibilities. Different block sizes can combined in walls (for example combining 6" x 6" blocks with 12" x 12" blocks or 4" x 8" blocks with 8" x 8" blocks in the same wall) to create distinctive designs. If you need privacy there are fiberous insers available in the blocks and privacy patterns as well.

• Step 6 - Consider any special needs, fire ratings, or privacy requirements- Glass block roll in showers without an entry curb are an excellent way to combine style, function, and accessibility for those with special needs. You can get a wheelchair through the rounded, radius shower opening and cut the hassle of the maintenance at the same time. There are also 60 and 90 minute fire rated blocks for exterior walls where you want to achieve light and privacy together.

• Step 7 - Know your skills or don't be afraid to call or search for the experts - The skills to install a glass block wall involve a combination of masonry, carpentry, glazing, or grouting expertise. If you've got these types of skills jump right into the project. You can purchase the individual glass blocks, spacer systems, or even (in some markets) have wall sections built to make the job easier. If on the other hand you're not too handy, check out the Internet for your local specialty glass block contractor. Many general contractors or masonry contractors are not that experienced in doing glass block work and will usually subcontract the work out anyway.

Now that you've got the 7 steps you're ready to get started!

Mike Foti is the President of Columbus Glass Block, Cleveland Glass Block, and Mid America Glass Block Cincinnati, Dayton, and Akron, and Eastern Glass Block of New Jersey and New York nationwide suppliers and specialty installers of glass blocks.

Tel. 614-252-5888 glass block wall styles, patterns, and shapes glass block walk in or roll in showers and walls

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