It’s impossible to talk about construction materials without mentioning glass. As a construction material, glass has many uses, from improving the aesthetics of a structure to insulation and even lighting. However, it’s important to know the various benefits of glass to determine where and how to use them in construction.
The main advantages of using glass in construction include transmission of up to 80% of natural light, sound insulation, and thermal insulation. Glass is also weather-resistant, can hold up well to effects of rain, sun, and wind and it’s smooth (glossy) surface makes it easy to clean and maintain.
If you’re curious about the various benefits of glass in construction, then you couldn’t be in a better place. Continue reading for an in-depth breakdown of the benefits as well as the disadvantages of using glass in construction.
Unlike most opaque construction materials, glass is naturally transparent, a feature that allows it to absorb and transmit light to illuminate objects. The transparency facilitates smooth viewing of objects behind the glass on the other side.
While concrete is great at strengthening structures and keeping them compact, it’s exclusive use can leave buildings looking gloomy and unattractive. This explains why almost all commercial and residential constructions make use of glass.
The transparency of glass allows occupiers to have a view of the outdoors. The point to note, though, not all glass has the same degree of transparency. Some glass types are translucent such that they let in a considerable amount of light without compromising privacy.
Below is a brief description of some translucent types of glass:
- Frosted glass: This type of glass is mostly used in bathrooms, bedrooms, and even living room windows. At times, frosted glass is etched with acid for more decorative patterns.
- Glass Block: The appearance of glass blocks tends to vary depending on texture, color, and size. However, the most popular designs are usually textured, clear, and patterned, making this glass type among the best for commercial and residential buildings. This glass type lets in just the right amount of light, making it ideal for bedroom windows, internal walls, facades, and bedroom windows.
- Smart glass: Technological advancements in the building construction industry have led to the invention of unique glass types like smart glass, which can alternate between being transparent and translucent. Smart glass has a strategically embedded liquid crystal layer that functions by obscuring the glass while letting sunlight pass. However, the liquid crystal can align and allow for a clear view at the flick of a switch.
The ability of glass to come as both transparent and translucent allows for increased versatility. This allows designers to come up with unique designs and play around with natural light to make buildings more welcoming and appealing to potential clients.
2. Waterproof and Dustproof
When it comes to dustproof and waterproof properties, not too many construction materials compare to glass. These handy features arise from the glass’s smooth glossy surface, making it easy to clean and maintain for years.
Since glass is waterproof and dustproof, it can work best in both dry and wet environments without the need for regular maintenance. Glass’s waterproof nature means it will protect the building’s internal parts like floors and walls from rain, thus keeping appliances and potentially sensitive equipment safe.
Moreover, glass is easy to clean due to its glossy surface. Sprinkling water over glass is usually enough to eliminate built-up dust and debris, thus leaving the structure looking good as new. The ease of cleaning glass means not too much work will be needed in terms of labor or resources to prevent the glass from wearing out rapidly.
3. Glass Contributes to the Aesthetics of a Building
While architects might come up with breathtaking designs that make buildings stand out, glass completes the work by adding a touch of uniqueness and beauty. There are different types of glass, each of which has unique features.
By playing around with colors or blending different types of glass, designers can give a building a unique appearance that would otherwise be dull without the usage of glass. Even better, depending on the design of a building, glasses can be made in different sizes, which goes a long way in improving the atmosphere of the building from an occupant’s perspective.
Modern construction trends are leaning more towards large-scale glass usage because of its ability to transform the appearance of a structure. Glass walls are slowly being preferred to large concrete walls due to their beauty and ability to positively influence the internal atmosphere.The gloss and shine of glass make it a sight to behold, especially when used in place of concrete. Initially, glass was mostly used on windows and doors. However, recent developments in the real estate industry have seen glass used in place of concrete on walls in efforts to make the structure stand out.
4. Available in a Wide Variety of Options
There are several types of glass that can be used in construction. From floating glass to shatterproof glass, laminated glass, glass block, hardened glass, and extra clear glass, designers have several options to choose from, which enhances overall flexibility during construction.
Below is a brief description of some of the main types of glass designers can choose from:
- Floating glass: This type of glass is available in multiple colors depending on the coloring agents added during production. Floating glass works well in commercial buildings due to its high light transmission rating. It can also be used on glass partitions, doors, and windows, as well as facades in commercial buildings to enhance overall aesthetics.
- Shatterproof glass: Shatterproof glass has a high resistance to breakage. Its toughness allows for usage in skylights, railings, glass staircases, and exposed windows.
- Laminated glass: Arguably among the strongest types of glass, laminated glass is best reserved for use in insecure locations or areas that are prone to earthquakes and other natural calamities like strong winds, tornadoes, and hurricanes.
- Extra clear glass: This glass type is known for its ability to allow up to an impressive 92% of sunlight, making it one of the best glass types for clear views. Extra clear glass is perfect for usage in commercial applications where a clear view is desired such as museums, aquariums, glass elevators, jewelry showrooms, and beach hotels.
- Tinted glass: Known for enhancing privacy, tinted glass is also renowned for its energy efficiency as it absorbs and distributes heat inside the building. Tinted glass also helps to protect occupants from harmful UV rays.
- Hardened/Tempered glass: Hardened glass is commonly used in construction for its toughness. It can be used in facades, doors, exposed windows, and also interior decorative panels. This glass has a higher impact resistance than floating glass and is thus ideal for structures located in areas with unfavorable weather.
As evident above, there are several types of glass that can be used in construction. The wide range of options gives architects the opportunity to exercise their creative freedom and come up with stand out designs. Each type of glass has its unique properties that add value to a structure when used in construction.
5. Corrosion, Vermin, and Rust Resistant
Unlike steel, which is highly susceptible to rust once exposed to moisture and oxygen, glass is rust-resistant. This means that, even after years of exposure to moisture and oxygen, glass will maintain its initial appearance.
Glass is also resistant to gradual corrosion, unlike most construction materials that start to weather after exposure to elements. This makes glass a sustainable construction material since it doesn’t react to changes in weather such as rain.
While not as strong as materials like wood, glass is vermin resistant since it contains inorganic components. Therefore, when using glass, there is no worry about pests like termites compromising the building’s structural integrity.
Glass’s resistance to corrosion, vermin, and rust makes it a highly durable construction material. Moreover, glass doesn’t need regular maintenance like steel, concrete, and wood that must be painted or coated regularly to prevent gradual degradation. The low maintenance of glass translates to more savings in the long run.
Green construction is becoming increasingly popular due to the need to conserve the environment. Luckily, glass is 100% recyclable. And with cullet and various glass types available, construction glass can be produced through recycling.
Since glass has high intrinsic strength, low gas permeability, and is chemically inert, recycled glass cullet makes a great option when used as aggregates in construction. glass can thus be used in self-compacting concrete, mortars, and concrete paving blocks as coarse aggregate. Glass’s chemically inert property makes it ideal for use as a coarse aggregate since it can be used without altering the resulting paste’s properties.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, recycled glass reduces water pollution by an impressive 50% and air pollution by 50%. Recycling glass also helps to clear space in landfills that would be used up by bottles and jars. And since cullet melts at lower temperatures compared to making glass directly from raw materials, recycling is a more viable and environmentally friendly option.With global warming gradually transforming into a harsh reality, it’s important for the construction industry to take up environmentally friendly construction methods. glass provides civil engineers and architects with the opportunity to conserve the environment by using 100% recyclable material. The good thing with glass is that it doesn’t depreciate when recycled, which ensures it remains strong and effective even after repeated recycling.
7. Electric, Thermal, and Sound Insulation
Glass is widely used in construction due to its insulation properties. It doesn’t readily conduct electricity, making glass constructions safe even during an electric failure. Glass’s role as an electric insulator allows for its usage in the construction of ceiling lights, decorative wall lights, and other electrical appliances.
Besides electrical insulation, glass is also a great material for sound insulation, which explains its use in music studios and areas that need adequate soundproofing. An example of proven insulation glass is the Insulated Glass Unit that’s specifically produced for insulation purposes. Insulated glass unit contains a cavity that’s usually filled with non-conducting gases.
Glass is also great at thermal insulation. Insulated Glass Unit, for instance, is commonly used in areas with extreme temperatures. That is, it can absorb heat and distribute it effectively, thus preventing incidences of extreme internal temperatures. glass also comes in handy during winter as it helps to prevent the loss of heat, thus keeping occupants warm enough.
Not too many construction materials have admirable insulation properties like glass. Large amounts of concrete would be needed to provide adequate sound insulation, which can lead to heightened construction costs. Moreover, steel is a well-known conductor of heat and can thus lead to excessive heat if not well insulated. But with glass, there is no need for additional insulation since it’s a natural insulator.
Glass is a highly cost-effective construction material due to several reasons. First, it can be recycled and used as coarse aggregate when making cast in situ concrete, thus lowering the overall costs of acquiring additional material.
As a natural insulator, glass helps to absorb and distribute heat from the sun, thus keeping occupants cool even during hot summer afternoons. This explains why wide windows and doors are preferred in hot areas. The extra cooling helps reduce overall cooling costs, which more often than not rise when ACs are used throughout. Additionally, glass’s ability to transmit natural light helps to brighten rooms and reduce electricity bills due to lighting.
Glass is highly affordable as it’s mostly recycled. However, some glass types are costlier than others due to their properties. Either way, the cost of using glass in construction cannot be compared to the prices of precast concrete and prefabricated steel.
The reduced need for regular maintenance makes glass a suitable option for structures in acidic or salty conditions. Glass doesn’t need paint or galvanizing to prevent rust as it is naturally resistant to corrosion. This translates to reduced costs, especially over time as the structure is more exposed to weather elements.
Compared to other construction materials, glass is significantly lighter, making it ideal for high rise steel-structures as it helps to lower the overall dead load. Materials like concrete contribute to the total stress of a building, thus increasing the chances of failure over time. However, it is possible to keep the total weight of a building low with glass, thus promoting structural soundness.
10. Highly Workable
Besides boosting the appearance of structures, glass stands out due to its ease of workability. That is, it can be molded into different types and shapes when melted to suit the design of the structure. The ease of molding glass gives architects a wide range of options to choose from, more so when dealing with windows, doors, and glass walls.
Glass can be cut into smaller pieces, or modified into different patterns without requiring too much work, thus making it ideal for different types of construction.
11. Construction Ready
Unlike cast in situ concrete that must be allowed adequate curing time, glass is usually ready for installation once delivered on-site. This helps to speed up the construction process since no time will be wasted in mixing up elements like concrete.
Glass installation isn’t as complex or equipment-reliant as precast concrete. Installing precast concrete or prefabricated steel often requires heavy equipment in addition to experienced personnel. However, with glass, the most important thing is proper handling and careful installation since it’s significantly lightweight compared to the likes of concrete and steel.
12. Abrasion Resistant
The chemical content and physical properties of glass make it highly resistant to scratches. This feature makes glass a convenient material to use in highly accessed areas like doors, windows, and even glass walls. While glass might gradually lose its gloss, its surface is likely to remain neat and aesthetically appealing since its properties prevent it from forming scratches and unsightly marks.
13. UV Stable
Some materials are known to break down gradually due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation. However, glass is UV stable, meaning it can retain its physical properties for years without being affected by UV radiation. This explains why glass normally retains its color and doesn’t crack despite years of use.
Some glass types are known to absorb UV rays. A great example of UV-absorbing glass is tinted glass, which besides increasing energy efficiency, also protects occupants from harmful UV radiation.
14. Available in Many Colors
The availability of glass in many colors gives it an edge over other types of construction materials. To add color to glass, powdered metal sulfides, metal oxides, or other compounds are added to the molten glass mixture.
Below are some of the additives and the colors they produce:
- Cobalt Oxide: Blue violet
- Cadmium Sulfide: Yellow
- Antimony Oxide: White
- Gold Chloride: Red
- Chromic Oxide: Emerald green
- Uranium Oxide: Fluorescent yellow or green
- Sulfur: Yellow-amber
Compounds like sodium nitrate and manganese dioxide are also used with specific types of molten glass mixtures to clear impurities and consequently create clear glass.
As observable above, various compounds can be added to glass to produce different colors. This gives architects and designers a lot of room for creativity, more so when constructing commercial or residential buildings. The availability of glass in different colors also allows owners to integrate their preferred color schemes, which is impossible with almost every other building material.
The Disadvantages of Using Glass in Construction
All glass types (including toughened glass) need to be handled with adequate care during installation. This is because glass is amorphous in nature, which consequently makes it brittle. And since glass doesn’t have atomic planes that can slip past each other, glass can’t relieve load stress; hence it’s susceptible to breakage.Therefore, when exposed to excess stress, a crack will form at the point with a surface flaw. The particles in the cracked area become separated as the crack continues to grow, hence leading to more broken bonds. The broken bonds continue to widen until glass eventually breaks.
Chances of glass breaking are usually high when set up in areas with high wind pressure, heavy loads, and impact. While some glass types are naturally strong and durable enough to withstand stress, they can eventually break when the stress exceeds the acceptable limits.
Glass Can Lead to Injury
As a brittle material, glass can break easily when exposed to excess stress. However, since broken glass has extra sharp tips, the chances of injury increase exponentially when glass breaks due to impact. It isn’t uncommon for people to end up with severe cuts and injuries when glass breaks as a result of excessive impact.
Not Ideal for All Areas
Unlike concrete and steel that can be used in different locations, glass isn’t best suited for earthquakes, tornados, or hurricane-prone areas. Strong winds can easily break glass due to its brittle nature, thus leading to extra costs due to repair.
To install glass in locations prone to additional stress, it’s important to use specially designed glass that can withstand the pressure and load stress. Failure to use the right type of glass can lead to unwanted repair costs and even injury in case people are present at the time of impact.
Glass is known to generate high levels of solar radiation, which leads to trapping of heat, thus leading to warmer interiors. While this property can come in handy in structures located in cold environments, it can prove problematic when used on buildings in hot regions.
This means environmental factors must be taken into consideration when choosing glass types for building constructions. glass with a high R-value (energy saving) is preferred due to its ability to insulate against cold and heat.
Transparency Can Fade Gradually
In dust prone and humid areas, glass particles tend to stick to glass surfaces. The dirt can make the glass appear unsightly and shabby, which in turn can affect the transmission of light into the interior of the buildings. Reduced light transmission means the interior will need additional lighting to supplement the otherwise dim natural light.
Fairly Hard to Maintain
While some might argue that glass usage eliminates costs associated with applying paint on structures, the costs of cleaning glass can be astronomical, especially when used as a building façade. Painting is usually done once in a while when signs of gradual wear begin to show.
However, glass cleaning may need to be done frequently, especially in areas prone to dust. Regular cleaning will help to maintain the aesthetics of the structure, keeping it looking good as new.
Glass isn’t ideal for use in exposed areas close to markets or public places since they’re transparent. Granted, some glass types like tinted glass don’t compromise privacy. However, most types tend to provide visibility at the expense of privacy. On most occasions, glass that is opaque on the outside to preserve privacy tends to cost more, consequently increasing the overall cost of construction.
Generally, the costs of using glass in construction are usually high. This is because glass manufacture is an energy-consuming process since the raw materials must be melted before being cooled to form glass. The cost of glass usually varies depending on the type of glass needed. Extra hard and multicolored glass types tend to cost more than ordinary glass, which can increase the project budget significantly.
Glare is a common issue in buildings with glass facades or extra-large windows. Although the glare doesn’t affect the structural soundness of a building, it makes for uncomfortable viewing, especially during the day when the glass reflects sunlight. The cost of reducing glare from windows or acquiring anti-glare glasses is relatively high, which translates to additional costs.
Need for Increased Security
Although aesthetically appealing, glass structures are not as strong or consistent as concrete or steel, hence the need for heightened security features. Glass is usually preferred in museums and jewelry showrooms due to its transparency. However, more security is needed to keep the showcased valuables safe from burglars.
As a result, most buildings with glass walls, doors, and large windows integrate modern security solutions to minimize or eliminate burglary risks. Moreover, reinforced glass like hardened glass and laminated glass tends to cost more due to their extra toughness, which also translates to increased costs of construction.
Glass Can Lead to Construction Delays
Improper handling of glass once delivered on-site can lead to delays. This is because glass is highly sensitive (and brittle) and must be handled with utmost care. Spontaneous glass breakage is common and often results from chipped or nicked edges that occur when glass is poorly installed. And since not just any type of glass can be used as a replacement, the glass installation work will have to wait until a viable alternative can be found.
There are several advantages to using glass in construction. Besides the undeniable beauty that glass adds to a structure, it also provides a host of other advantages like thermal insulation, sound insulation, and transmission of natural light.
Glass is 100% recyclable, making it a sustainable material to use in construction. And since glass isn’t susceptible to rust or gradual corrosion due to weather elements, it can last for several years, provided it’s regularly cleaned to prevent dust buildup.
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- Pubmed: The Role of Glass a Barrier Against UV Light
- Researchgate: Glass Wastes As Coarse Aggregate In Concrete
- Physics: Breaking Glass Under a Microscope
- Buildings: Glass Buildings Reflect Many Benefits
- Understand Construction: Glass as a Building Material
- 99acres: The Pros And Cons Of Using Glass As A Building Material
- Wikipedia: Spontaneous Glass Breakage
- Gharpedia: Advantages And Disadvantages Of Glass As A Building Material
- Modern Glas:10 Advantages Of Using Glass As A Building Material
- Wikipedia: R-value