Glass Half Full

It wasn’t many years ago that glass was considered to be a difficult and limiting material to work with, but that really isn’t the case any longer. Given that the options available to homeowners who want to extend their properties or to improve the windows, doors and general light source in their homes are enormous, it would seem that people are completely willing to try ‘new’ materials.

glass extension

It’s obvious that technology has played its part – and we are much more knowledgeable as customers – because of it. But it isn’t just the internet that has improved the credentials of glass as a material; it is now a highly technical product. New gasses inside sealed unit double glazing has improved thermal efficiency and made heat loss through the window almost a thing of the past (if the same double glazed windows are fitted throughout the property.) ‘Low e’ glass bounces back UV light in the summer and retains warmth in the winter. Suddenly conservatory roofs keep a snow cover and can even clean themselves! The advent of motorised window blinds that are installed inside the double glazing also enables you to completely block out light – without having to maintain the fabric of the blind because it never comes in contact with any dust or grubby finger tips. For a roof light, that is a real step forward!

window blinds

And there are structural uses too that have crept across to domestic usage from the commercial world.

Glass, which has been used as splash backs and work surfaces for quite some time, is now being used as balustrading, flooring and as stair treads, cheating the eye into thinking that the building is without boundary. Because of its simplicity, glass has an uncluttered look and is now high up the list of ‘must have’ features when considering the options of new fit outs.

glass stair treads and bannister

glass stair treads and bannister

So apart from its good looks, what makes it a desirable material to work with in a domestic interior? It’s rigid, it’s very precise, it’s easy to clean, it doesn’t harbour bacteria, it can be recycled, it can be decorated – painted, sandblasted or etched – but it has to be admitted, it really throws up problems in production!

It has to be templated to get the accuracy of fit precise. For many specialist uses, it has to be toughened and any cuts, or drill holes have to be done before the toughening process. If something is forgotten, the whole job has to be done again! Even toughened glass is still vulnerable to stress, if something presses a constant weight onto one small area of the glass, it can blow and shatter into a thousand tiny cube like pieces. It’s heavy! And has to be supported.

work surface splash back

work surface splash back

In smaller pieces, say a metre or less in height, the up stand of a work surface will do that job nicely, but if you’ve opted for a glass ‘splash back’ in your shower instead of the more conventional tile, it has to have a solid base. If you’ve decided to tank the room and do away with a shower tray, what then? A mechanical support will have to be inserted. This can be quite simple and involve the inclusion of a right angle trim to support the lower edge. It’s virtually invisible when the glass is in place, but in fitting it the the wall, the fixings will pierce the tanking membrane and that too will have to be sealed otherwise the warranty on your method of tanking will be void. (The reason this is so important is that water finds its way and is the cause of so much accidental damage within the home that documentation supporting your work is vital to protect you against any variation to your insurance policy.)

full height shower splash back

full height shower splash back

Getting the glass fitted is another stressful business. Because of its weight, many hands are required to manoeuvre it into place. Sometimes a bracing system will have to be employed until the mastic used as an adhesive is set and this can take a number of days to go off.

There is more to consider than just how it looks! But that’s not to suggest you should avoid using it. Glass delivers a high impact solution. In being so simple it gives a major WOW factor – but the process involved to achieve that is not for the faint hearted which means homework is required – even for people who have worked with it before.

inspiration for replacement balustrade

I’m currently involved in replacing a rather nasty wooden balustrade on a first floor landing with two glass panels and a wooden ‘hand-cap’. That doesn’t sound terribly difficult, BUT how do you support it? In a vertical sheet, glass has a flex to it that is anything but rigid. We investigated channels in the floor and a brace at one end that would return to the wall. It all sounded completely doable, but the supplier arrived on site and totally backtracked on everything that he’d quoted for. Back to the drawing board! We investigated taking the glass lower and attaching it to the cover board of the floor joists, again that sounded completely doable. But the templating team failed to turn up! So, because the client has paid a deposit, we are committed and will have to follow through.

My lesson in this? Do not EVER let your client’s enthusiasm drive the project. I should have said ‘we go no further until all the quotes are in’. Usually that’s what I would do, but this job was already nearing completion and if the workmen had pulled off site, we’d have had problems rescheduling this portion of the job. In hindsight (oh how I hate that phrase – I should know better!) the whole landing refurb should have been scheduled for a later date! Ah well. Pictures will follow when the balustrade is complete and, I digress!

If you feel you are able to take on a project that has glass as a major component, remember:

Access – how will the glass be fitted, can it be lifted into place easily?
Support – what will it sit on, can the floor take the additional weight?
Type of glass and thickness – is it to be toughened, do you want it to have a green tint or not?
Details – drill holes and cuts – note this on the order sheet and check the locations.
Decoration – include any paint references or embellishments on the job sheet.
Precise instructions – make sure the glass supplier has a site visit and templates the area that the glass is cladding.
Waterproofing – seal all the joins and any mechanical support used.

A local glass merchant might not be up to the level of specification you need for something like this – but there is no harm in asking and it helps to know that the costs can be vastly different from one supplier to another.

verre eglomise treatment on reverse of glass

verre eglomise treatment on reverse of glass

But this is where specialist knowledge does pay off. If you are nervous of taking responsibility for this type of project, use someone who can supply and fit and deliver the whole project from start to finish. What this means is if anything goes wrong at any point of the process, you can come back to them. It is their risk, not yours, because you have paid them to take the responsibility for every aspect of the job.

And once you’ve got over the trauma of the fitting, you will love it so much that you’ll forget how stressful the process was!