Using Premade Glass Block Windows For Industrial, Factory and Commercial Projects

Energy and maintenance costs from inefficient old windows can be huge profit drains on commercial, industrial and factory building alike. Traditional solutions have ranged from storefront windows (which are easy for vandals to break) to blocking openings up (which can reduce employee productivity and detract from a commercial building’s looks). With advancements in prefabricated glass block window panel systems any size factory or industrial building can simultaneously improve curb appeal while reducing heating and cooling costs.

In this article you’ll learn 7 practical steps for a successful commercial or factory glass block window installation.

Step 1 – Choose where you want to use the block windows and the main benefits desired- Glass blocks can be used as an interior window (to move light through interior spaces) or for exterior openings (for basement, bathroom and upper story windows, transoms, stairwells, corridors, learning boards and sidelights etc.). Some of the main reasons to consider block windows are to improve safety and light transmission, reduce energy and maintenance costs, and to increase a building’s marketability and curb appeal.

Step 2 – Identify any special performance requirements – There are several specialty lines of glass blocks used in industrial factory and commercial projects. For higher security applications there are solid 3″ thick Vistabriks, for increased 60 and 90 minute fire ratings choose the Thickset series blocks, and for more decorative looks for interior and exterior windows consider colored and etched blocks. In addition there are high privacy patterns and frosted glass blocks that create more muted light transmission into interior spaces.

Step 3 – Consider ventilation needs – Most people think about using block windows in factories and architectural applications as solid expanses of glass, but operable air vents can be used inside the panel assemblies to increase air flow into building spaces. Air vents are available in both aluminum and vinyl hoppers and sliders to combine the need for security with the benefit of a fully operable windows. If security is a concern smaller air vents in 16″ x 8″ and 24″ x 8″ sizes are common.

Step 4 – Measure the size of the openings and evaluate the structural elements surrounding the windows – When installing block windows in masonry openings measure the height from the top of the sill to the header plate and the width from each side of the window opening (in most commercial remodeling projects the existing metal, aluminum or wood framed window will be removed for a successful block window installation). For commercial wood framed openings measure the area inside the existing window sashes.

Take a look at the structural materials around the window frame. Look above the window for the condition and type of header. For most metal framed windows in masonry construction there will be a metal lintel (i.e. steel plate at the top of the opening that is carrying the weight of the masonry above the window). See if the lintel is in good shape or if it’s excessively rusted or sagging. If you see a sagging header plate it may need to be replaced prior to a glass block commercial window installation. Also look at the condition of the supporting angles or beams the windows may be attached to.

Step 5 – Determine the size of the block panels and any structurally supportive material needed – For most smaller openings no additional structural materials (i.e. angles, I-beams etc.) is usually needed. In these instances after you have the measurements call a block panel fabricating company to see how many glass masonry units will be needed to fill your opening (note – the blocks can be made in 2″ size increments and the final panel sizes can be varied through the type (either mortar or silicone) and size of the joints).

Step 6 – Installing the commercial block assemblies – Since each individual block weighs about 5 ½ lbs. the size of the panels will be determined by trading off the ability to handle the units with the desire to minimize the number of panels that need to be joined together. Another consideration will be given to who(m) will be installing the assemblies (how much weight they can comfortably handle) and the location of the windows (how high are they to the sill and how easy they are to get to).

For smaller openings most window panels are set plumb and level and then are mortared into place (then the mortar joints can be field grouted).

Larger openings will often use mill finished aluminum channels at the tops (heads) and jambs (sides) to provide more ability for the assemblies to expand and contract. In projects with larger panels the channels are first screwed into the openings and expansion foam material is put inside the channels. The panels are set plumb and level in the openings, anchored to the channels and caulked into place. Vinyl stack panel assemblies then can be field grouted.


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