Are Glass Block Windows Making a Comeback? The Pros and Cons of This Debatable Design
The functional benefits of this popular ‘80s window style might just make it a viable design decision again, especially for use in retro homes.
It’s time for ‘80s lovers to rejoice: glass block tiles might be making a comeback. While the style is still not for everyone, more practical renovators will appreciate the functional benefits of this durable window option. The small 2- to 4-inch glass blocks are constructed like a brick wall using mortar and sealant and can serve as windows and privacy walls in bathrooms, entrances, basements, and bedrooms. The Art Deco blocks have pros and cons, ranging from privacy and safety benefits to style and installation concerns.
1. Pro: Retro Appeal
Fans of glass block appreciate this age-old material’s Art Deco style and ability to diffuse light. Interior designers are getting creative by using glass blocks not only for privacy windows, but also as dividing half walls and full walls in bathrooms, living rooms, and entryways. And the glass block of yesteryear has taken on a new look with more modern geometric designs and various color grout choices.
2. Con: Not Appealing to Everyone
Let’s be honest: there are a number of homeowners who will never embrace the look of glass block windows. Some decorators consider them dated, especially versions that feature the traditional cloudy, wavy design. No matter the functional benefits of glass blocks, the retro Art Deco style of the industrial material is simply not for everyone.
3. Pro: Privacy
Historically, one of the most common reasons to install glass block windows was for privacy. The thick glass is translucent, letting light through but blocking passersby from seeing clearly inside. This remains a major benefit today, and a major reason that the material is ideal for bathrooms or windows at the front of the house. Clear glass blocks are available, but are better-suited for use in interior design.
4. Con: Restricts the Outside View
For someone who likes to lounge on the couch enjoying a view of the outdoors, glass block windows probably aren’t an ideal choice. While the dense, designed glass keeps peepers from seeing anything on the inside beyond shadows and figures, it also limits the view of the outside. Even clear-glass versions will have the obstruction of the square pattern.
5. Pro: Flood Protection
It might come as a surprise that glass block windows can actually help protect your home from flood damage. The thick glass and silicone sealant make the material ideal for basement windows that are vulnerable to taking in water during storms. Since most basements are at ground level, glass block windows are also ideal for their privacy and security features.
6. Con: Installation Can Be Tricky
Installing glass block windows or accent walls is not a simple DIY project, especially for ensuring they prevent flooding. This project is best left to a professional, who will carefully measure and cut the blocks to size. Due to the weight of the blocks, additional structural support might be needed to create a sturdy base before installing glass bricks. Even though the material is often used to make a wall or half wall, it’s important to remember that glass blocks should never be used in any load-bearing capacity.
7. Pro: Safety
An excellent option for ground-floor windows, especially in rooms where valuables are stored, glass blocks offer an added layer of safety against intruders. Made of dense glass, the blocks are extremely durable and almost impossible to dislodge. This, combined with the mortar and caulk that hold them in place, makes them much more difficult to break into than other types of windows.
8. Con: They Don’t Open
On the flip side of the solid construction of glass-block fabrication is a con—these windows don’t open. For those that like to keep fresh air circulating, this could be a major drawback. Some glass block options have vents built into them, but this only allows for a small opening.
9. Pro: They’re Energy-Efficient
More energy-efficient than single-pane windows, glass block versions are similar in efficiency to double-pane windows. Because the glass blocks include a hollow center and are sealed with mortar and silicone caulk, they are generally airtight, and therefore effective for insulation against the heat and cold to help lower energy bills. Some factory-built glass or acrylic versions even come with Energy Star certification, so look for the label.
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10. Con: They Need to Be Resealed
While glass block windows are extremely durable and long-lasting, they will need some regular maintenance. For the windows to maintain their safety, flood protection, and energy-efficiency features, the glass blocks will need to be resealed every couple of years. Also, if any chips occur, it’s important to repair them quickly in order to keep the window stable.