Glass blocks are decorative items and foundational elements that are coming back into their own, after a long period of disuse. Once the staple of housing in the 30s and 40s, they are making a spectacular comeback, and the types and styles of blocks made from glass available is pretty astounding.
The standard series of glass blocks is typically clear glass, brilliant and white-toned in appearance, usually handcrafted and available as square, ends, corners and in varying thicknesses; the standard size of these is 8 inch x 8 inch x 3 inch, but smaller thicknesses, 5 inch to 2 inch, are also available.
Designs include the wave, the most typical kind of block which replicates a wave or curl on all four sides of the glass; this is the one all those college students propped their bookcases with. Also standard is the wave satin, with a milky-white frosted texture which has a sandy feel to it (unlike the smooth glass of the wave).
Wave end-blocks and corners have an interesting curlicue to their design, a flourishing finish that gives a sense of completion. In addition, there are 90 degree square corners and 90 degree curved corners with waves inside.
For the absolute glass block purist, there are also clear blocks made of glass in all the squares, corners and ends previously mentioned.
Glass blocks also come in green and light blue tints, and can be measured to fit imperial sizes as well as metric (thus making them very European in their appealGermany has the most glass block manufacturers, by the way). They can be special ordered in round corner pieces and radius pieces for fitting in tight places and corners, in both wave and clear views. Hexagonal blocks and hexagonal corners can be ordered also, as well as the retro look of cross ribbing, where the glass is etched throughout with fine straight lines in a classic 30s look.
Glass blocks are also available in fire-rated models for installation into fireplaces as clear/wave/silky alternatives to solid brick; this gives a spectacular look to the finished fireplace, and a special glow to the room when the fire is lit.
Perhaps the classiest piece of block made out of glass is a hexagon that alternates clear and silk finishes, called the Essex. It has to be seen to be believed.
Why install them? They have a 30s retro look, and they add beauty and class to a bathroom or living room. Imagine a wall of blocks made of glass between kitchen and living room, or a series of glass block windows instead of a traditional side or corner window along the side of the house (to give you privacy as well as light), or even a shower with a glass block enclosure.
They are practical as well. Having glass block windows are a great security measure for basement windows which would otherwise have easy access; they give light, privacy and security, and theres no way for burglars to pry them open, since they are not only set into the wall, but are shatterproof.
They also weatherproof the basement, and are airtight, durable insulation for any room in the home. Want extra privacy? Choose to install the silky wave glass block, with its frosted exterior, letting in light but keeping it a secret.
And the price is right--$100 for a set of eight at Home Depot. Depending on the type of block used, a window runs between $150 to $500 (smaller 2 x2 windows run $100-$300) and an installation, such as a brick and glass fireplace or a glass block shower, usually runs around $3000 installed (a good mason makes $50 to $60 an hour for this).