The versatility of glass

The versatility of glass

When creating a unique home, glass gives you a wide range of options, not just for use in atriums and balconies, but also as a versatile room divider to make the best use of your internal space, as Susan Sinden, Commercial Manager of leading glass processor ESG Group Ltd, explains.

One of the most common themes we see in the creation of the ideal home is a desire for space and light. Glass is therefore an unsurprising choice of material as there are many ways in which it can solve practical challenges and enhance aesthetics.

If, for example, you are opting for an atrium in order to maximise light and emphasise spaciousness and height, you have a few choices to make. Glass can now provide added security, privacy and even sound attenuation, as well as protection from the weather and great looks, so you should consider its purpose as well as the setting.

You can, of course, use single panes of glass, known as monolithic glass, very successfully. However, many architects and self-builders are choosing to use toughened laminated glass, such as ESG Tufflam, for practical and aesthetic reasons. Toughened laminated glass is manufactured by taking two panels of toughened glass (which is four to five times stronger than untreated annealed glass of the same thickness) and laminating them together with an interlayer of PVB (PolyVinyl Butyrall.) Should either of the toughened glass panels break for any reason, the interlayer holds the glass fragments together, so that although the glass is visibly cracked, it can be left in situ while you arrange a replacement.

Toughened laminated glass can be used effectively in dividing up and zoning your living spaces. Well known for its use in commercial settings, it can also add value in providing partitions in a domestic context. For example, you may wish to create the illusion of an open plan space from kitchen to living and dining areas, but you may also wish to contain cooking smells. A glass wall between two well-defined areas will give the illusion of open plan and allow you to see and share in life beyond the kitchen, but it can also keep unwanted aromas from seating and relaxing areas.

The interlayer between the glass panels can be used to fulfil a number of purposes. One of the most popular options at the moment is privacy, or Switchable glass, which is created using an interlayer through which an electric current can be passed. When the current is switched off, the glass will form an opaque panel, but when the current is switched on, the glass becomes transparent, letting in light and creating a clear view, at the touch of a button. This can be used anywhere that a current can be applied, in doors, windows, atriums, partitions or balcony panels with equal success. Our most recent product, Secure Vue, even allows you to install a switchable glass panel to the front door, using battery rather than mains power.

You can also use the interlayer in laminated glass to add colour. A wide range of coloured Vanceva interlayers can allow you to choose different colours of glass panel. This could allow you to paint internal walls white but enjoy a changing colour wash according to the movement of the sun, for example. A sound reducing interlayer can also be used to help insulate different choices of music within the home, or to provide a quieter study area, so adults, as well as children, can be seen and not heard. Neither are you restricted to a single purpose interlayer, as it is entirely possible to add sound attenuation, added strength, privacy and colour to a single panel. For the simplest solution, we can provide a simple satin or frosted interlayer, for light with permanent privacy, but interlayers can also be used to encapsulate motifs, decorative films or even fabrics. You could apply a special effect to just one atrium or wall panel and leave the others clear. The permutations are numerous and allow a great deal of choice.

There are, of course, instances in which you don’t want to be seen at all, and this is where privacy glass scores very highly. Using this highly innovative building material, you can screen off entire areas, allowing you to create a mezzanine bedroom, a study, or even more impressively, an ensuite, which allows light to pour through when unoccupied, but provides complete privacy when needed, especially when bathing or dressing. As you have to turn the current on to make the glass transparent, the risk of getting it embarrassingly wrong is minimal.

Privacy glass is proving very popular in conversion projects such as warehouses, and other buildings which start as large open spaces. Instead of constructing exclusively solid walls, glass partitions can be installed to allow for natural light when desired, but to shield areas from view at the touch of a button.

Switchable glass can also be used as a window treatment. If you favour unimpeded clean lines and are not fond of curtains or shutters, you can opt for privacy glass; turn the current on to enjoy the view, then switch it off for total privacy.

Toughened laminated glass can be applied to internal and external balconies and balustrades. There are several types of balustrade and balcony construction currently in use. Balustrades are often fully framed, with the glass panels being fixed within a steel or aluminium framework, but frameless structural balustrades are now proving very popular. These are fixed solely along the bottom edge with glass panels aligned and sealed against each other without a framework, providing exceptionally clear, uninterrupted sightlines. For frameless balustrades, toughened laminated glass is normally used, even at ground level, as its added strength helps to provide a very robust structure. Glass can also be used as on staircases. Banister elements can certainly be made from glass panels, but we can also use multi-layered toughed laminated glass to form the treads, making the staircase appear to float. For those converting historic mills or riverside properties, glass floor panels also often hold great appeal.

Balconies can be constructed as a platform integral to the structure of the building, or bolted on afterwards. Increasingly, we are seeing a trend towards the use of pre-fabrication, in which the entire balcony is fabricated and glazed off site. With all types of balcony construction, you must ensure that the loading of the balcony from the weight of the frame and the glass is firmly within the appropriate safety standards. The glass processor, although they can advise on options for type of glass, functionality and finish, cannot specify panel size, load bearing or structure. For this you should consult the balustrade constructor and a structural engineer.

On the patio, at ground floor level, you might also wish to consider a glass balustrade to provide protection from the wind while dining or enjoying the view and the garden. 15mm monolithic glass is frequently used as a highly practical solution, but if you have keen cricketers and footballers in the family, you might still wish to consider toughed laminated glass here too.

Undoubtedly, when creating your dream home, the advances in design and functionality in glass have resulted in there being far more glazing choices to make than simply the size of your windows.

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