Here’s how to choose the right glass for your next project
Nov 16, 2023, 3:00 PM
Architects and designers consistently tell us there is no such thing as a bad material, just a bad use of materials. Glass in our homes is no exception.
Glass and light go hand in hand. When you consider one without the other, you risk choosing materials that are not up to their potential.
Right glass in the right place
So, where should certain types of glass go?
Clear Glass: Clear glass provides an unobstructed view through the panel. It is used in our exterior wall windows and doors to bring the view of our outdoors indoors. Clear glass invites natural light indoors as well. It has also been the most commonly used glass type. It can be used in our homes to separate spaces without sacrificing natural light and can work to make smaller spaces seem larger through a visual connection between areas of our homes.
“Glass has two properties; to let light in and to be clear to see through,” says Dennis Rusk, owner of ABC Glass & Screen Company, a Rosie on the House Certified Partner.
Frosted Glass: Made by taking a clear glass panel and lightly etching the surface with an abrasive product like fine silica sand or applying a film over one or both sides of a clear glass pane. This process creates a visual barrier while letting plenty of natural light pass through. This technique creates a modest sense of privacy and can be commonly found in bathroom windows and shower surrounds. Frosted glass can help create a soft aesthetic when diffusing natural or man-made light. The latest craze is putting LED lights behind it. Some people hang frosted glass on a wall for effective backlighting or use it in the panel portion of kitchen cabinet doors.
“We try not to put frosted glass as cabinet doors in the kitchen is because it doesn’t look nice, comments Dennis. “Dust, steam, and humidity leaves a film, and it looks horrible.”
Tinted Glass: This is basically used for countertops, room dividers and some windows. It comes in light gray and bronze. Green is hard to find.
“Bronze glass does not help at all with sunlight because the UV still comes through,” says Dennis. “Use low-e glass, which is part of every new glass made in the U.S.”
Over the past few decades, the glazing industry has experimented with and applied tinting to glass to control how light passes through. Exterior applications have been around for a while that reduce heat gain from direct sunlight. Dennis clarifies that the window has to be in an insulated unit because it has a shelf life.
In most glass blocks, some of the infrared waves band naturally. Tinted glass can also be used to accentuate lighting effects from artificial and natural sources.
Smoked Glass: This type is the same thing as tinted glass. Popular in the 1970s and 1980s, this glass was a translucent and somewhat transparent blocking of a glass pane used for room dividers and in bathrooms.
Stained Glass: Popular in churches for centuries, stained glass is an art form that transforms light into storytelling. Many colors are used in this art form to liven up a space with different light patterns. The sun is the traditional light source, but artificial light can also be used. Artificial light will often be used at night and can create dramatic effects. Stained glass artisans also create art pieces that can be hung in our homes, creating playful light patterns in our spaces.
Tempered Glass: Tempered glass is typically strengthened with heat. The process makes the glass harder and gives the pane more tensile strength than regular glass. It also has the added benefit that it shatters into tiny roundish pieces, not sharp shards, when broken. This glass is standard in older homes’ windows that are closer to 18 inches off the floor. However, Dennis points out that new codes require anything 24 inches or less off the ground to be tempered. This applies to new construction and glass replacement. Tempered glass is also used over countertops, window seats, or shower surrounds. In the bathroom the window, per code, glass must installed and be 60 inches from the drain up to the top of the window opening and be tempered.
Laminated Glass: Laminated glass, or safety glass, is like a glass sandwich. Two panes of glass have a piece of plastic (polyvinyl butyral) between them. This plastic can be clear or tinted. The advantage of this glass is that when broken, the shards stick to the plastic. Common uses for this type of glass are vehicle windshields, skylight glass, and large commercial applications.
Mirrored Glass: Mirrors have been around for quite some time and are used in many ways. Better technology in creating mirrored glass has increased its use in buildings as an exterior cladding, creating interesting effects. While cladding our homes in mirrors probably won’t go well with your HOA, they are common in bathrooms, dressing areas, and by the coat closet at our front door. One-way mirrored glass is often used for privacy windows and reflecting away the sun’s damaging rays. Mirrored glass can also create the illusion of a larger space by installing it on a wall floor to ceiling. This trick is used to make model homes look larger.
Textured Glass: Glass can be textured with patterns and designs to add to the aesthetics of any space. With textured or patterned glass, the surface is molded when the glass is still molten. Steel rollers pass over the glass panel to create patterns. Each pattern diffuses light differently. Patterns can mimic everything from rain streaks and geometric patterns to natural patterns like leaves or grass. Textured glass as a shower surround, room divider, or backlighting creates attractive patterns.
Smart Glass: Smart glass is relatively new on the scene. Smart glass uses electricity to make a glass pane go from clear to opaque in less than a second. There are basically two ways this happens; one is liquid crystals suspended in the glass as particles, or an electrocromatic film is laminated to the glass pane where molecular patterns are effected by introduction of electrical current. The crystals, or molecules when respectively in alignment, create a clear glass panel. When they are scrambled by electrical current, they render the glass panel opaque. You might have seen this where privacy is needed to conduct a meeting. While this option is expensive, it can be used to create openness when you want light pouring through, and visual privacy when required. It is all done with the flick of a switch, press of a button, or signal from your cell phone. Move over Star Trek, and hello Glass Trick.
Glass has wonderful effects on how our spaces are lit. Once you get an idea of what you want your space to be, consider a solution that includes glazing. If you already have such a space, send us a picture, we love looking at the creativity of our listeners and readers.
Join Rosie on the House every Saturday from 8 a.m.-11 a.m. on KTAR News 92.3 FM. If you’d like to send us questions or comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter and “Like” us on Facebook. For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program. Call 888-767-4348 with questions & comments.