Suitable for new construction and remodeling projects, glass and acrylic blocks are growing in popularity with homeowners—mainly in shower surround and replacement window applications—because they allow light in but maintain privacy. They also offer low maintenance and stylish good looks.
“They have a very clean look and eliminate the need for window treatments,” says Bob DeGusipe, marketing manager for Pittsburgh Corning, which makes glass block and other products.
Acrylic- and glass-block units come in a variety of clear and opaque finishes and patterns that prevent onlookers from peering in, and are available in standard and custom shapes and sizes.
Proponents of prefabricated acrylic block tout the sturdiness of the material in window applications and note that acrylic block units have the same structural and thermal properties as traditional, dual-glazed windows.
Acrylic is suitable for bathroom window applications but should not be directly exposed to water in a shower, says Erick Felsch, marketing and sales director for Builders Accessories, a glass- and acrylic-block manufacturer.
The material's light weight makes acrylic block windows easier to install than glass ones. “Where a 4-foot-by-4-foot glass window unit weighs 200 pounds, a 4-foot-by-4-foot acrylic unit weighs 50 pounds,” Felsch notes.
Glass block manufacturers are keeping pace with acrylic, introducing lighter, 2-inch-thick block windows.
“It's still heavier than acrylic, but it's a very manageable weight,” says Kurt Hodson, general manager of the glass block maker Pacific Accent. Two-inch-thick glass block weighs one-third less than traditional 3-inch-thick glass block. Acrylic block weighs 75 percent less than all glass blocks, manufacturers say.
Hodson notes that 2-inch-thick block is overtaking traditional 3- and 4-inch-thick block and more companies are offering it.
Manufacturers estimate that acrylic and glass blocks are about the same price, but it costs more to install glass because of the heavier weight.
Lighter weight and easy installations are acrylic's “greatest strengths,” says Lexington, S.C.-based builder Dan Peck, who recently used Hy-Lite acrylic block in his own bathroom. Hy-Lite, the leading manufacturer of acrylic block, makes an aluminum-frame kit that comes in a variety of arcs up to 180 degrees.
NOT FOR EVERYONE Despite lower-cost installations and lighter weights, acrylic block windows aren't for every application. Brian Wright, president of Seattle Glass Block, a design, installation, distribution, and product development firm in Seattle, contends that acrylic blocks just don't look as clear as glass ones and can begin to yellow after a few years. Acrylic block manufacturers dispute that point.
“We're using the latest polymers that have built-in UV inhibitors that guard against yellowing and fading,” claims Felsch.
In addition, installers say that acrylic scratches easily. “You have to keep acrylic covered with a protective sheet during the construction phase,” notes Wright.
Furthermore, the installer adds that bleach, ammonia, and other bathroom cleaners can damage acrylic block. “Some manufacturers even discourage the use of paper towels on their products because they're too abrasive,” Wright says.
Although acrylic manufacturers admit that their products require gentle handling during and after installation, they are quick to point out that scratches and minor damage easily are repaired with furniture or acrylic polish.
FUTURE FOCUS With more emphasis on easy-to-install pieces, manufacturers and installers predict that prefabricated glass and acrylic block products will become predominant. Wright, for instance, is developing a vinyl spacer system and a designing and estimating software package for glass block with Pittsburgh Corning.
“Everything will be very Lego-oriented. Everything will easily snap together and nothing will assemble incorrectly,” he claims.
Pittsburgh Corning Pittsburgh Corning. IceScapes glass blocks come in eight square, triangular, hexagonal, and curving shapes and sizes that can be used in shower, bathroom divider, radius wall, and partition wall applications. IceScapes provide maximum light transmission while maintaining even greater privacy than the firm's Decora pattern, says the maker. 800-624-2120. www.pittsburghcorning.com.
Hy-Lite Hy-Lite. These acrylic block windows come in wave and cross rib patterns; there are five color options for the wave pattern. Both patterns are available with white or tan vinyl frames. Prefabricated acrylic block windows and radius walls are available in a number of sizes and arcs. The company recently added a line of glass block windows. 877-712-4013. www.hy-lite.com.
IBP IBP. Featuring acrylic shower pans and aluminum frames, two mortarless glass-block shower kits are available from this firm. The Model 5151 neo-angle kit for corner showers comes with a shower door and all elements needed for a complete installation. Model 6032 is designed to replace standard bathtubs; it's available for right- or left-hand drains. 800-932-2263. www.ibpglass block.com.
G.L. Downs Design G.L. Downs Design. Made from clear acrylic, Windecor tiles, which make clear windows look like block units, come in three sizes. They adhere to the interior and/or exterior of existing windows with clear silicone sealant and can be cut or trimmed to specific dimensions. Each tile has an air pocket to help block out noise, says the maker. 800-741-0818. www.windecor.com.
Seattle Glass Block Seattle Glass Block. This glass block installation and distribution firm can fabricate block panels and partitions, floor systems, and more. It is developing a vinyl spacer system as well as glass-block design and estimation software in connection with Pittsburgh Corning. Many styles and designs are available for various applications. 800-829-9419. www.seattleglassblock.com.
Pacific Accent Pacific Accent. Factory-assembled glass block units install like traditional windows and are available in more frame colors and shapes than any other similar product, claims the maker. The glass block can be used in applications including bath and shower windows and walls, sidelights and transoms, and kitchen cabinet trim. 888-522-4527. www.pacificaccent.com.
Builders Accessories Builders Accessories. Crystal View prefabricated glass block windows feature vinyl-clad aluminum frames and structural vinyl spacers. The 2-inch-thick glass block units come in several configurations in white, almond, and clay-color frames. They are lighter and easier to handle than thicker glass block windows, says the firm. Acrylic block products also are available. 888-921-7086. www.acrylicblock.com.
Beyond Bathrooms In addition to shower and window applications, acrylic and glass block products are being used to create interior walls, spruce up kitchen islands and cabinets, and add focal points in many parts of the home.
“Now we're doing floors, stairways, hallways, and stair treads with it,” says Brian Wright of Seattle Glass Block. His firm recently created a deck with block accents, though he admits that's not the norm.
And for those who want the look of block but don't want acrylic or glass units, G.L. Downs Design makes acrylic stick-on tiles that look like the real deal.
“The pieces adhere to existing windows and doors to allow sunlight to come in but obscure the view,” says company president Gary Downs.
Clearly, block looks are big.
Acrylic Block DOs and DON'Ts
- Use mild soap and water to clean after protective packaging is removed.
- Use approved cleaning products such as Fantastik, Tilex, Windex, or Clorox Clean Up.
- Use furniture polish, such as Pledge, for added sparkle and to make the block even easier to clean in the future.
- Use cleaning products containing gritty abrasives.
- Use brushes or scrub.