A clear set of options

When looking to create a unique home, glass gives you a wide range of options, especially when it comes to balconies and even atriums, as Susan Sinden of glass processor ESG Group explains

One of the most common themes we see in the creation of self-builds is a desire for space and light. Glass is therefore an unsurprising choice of material. If you are opting for an atrium in order to maximise light and emphasise spaciousness and height however, 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 Butyral.) 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.

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 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 flick of a switch. This can be used anywhere that the current can be applied, in doors, windows, atriums, partitions or balcony panels with equal success.

You can also use the interlayer to add colour 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 from each other 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, you can add 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 panel and leave the others clear. The permutations are numerous and allow a great deal of choice.

All these options 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.

The balcony itself 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. Monolithic glass 15 mm thick 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, 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, as well as far more scope to realise your vision.

Susan Sinden is commercial director at ESG Glass