The phrase "attention to detail" is something of a cliche in the building trades. But if there's one architectural element where it applies, it's glass block. The difference between an acceptable installation and an excellent job -- one that turns heads and that you can really be proud of -- is all in the details. I have been installing glass block for over 14 years, and some of the techniques I've picked up along the way may help demystify what otherwise seems a difficult installation. With practice, any skilled tradesman can do a clean, well-laid-out, crisply executed job. Glass block has been around since the 1930s. In the past, it was commonly used where additional daylight was required but where security was a concern, such as in factories or commercial spaces. But because it's attractive as well as durable, glass block has enjoyed a recent renaissance in residential and light commercial applications. Shower walls, kitchen and bath partitions, and workspaces in professional offices can all benefit from the thoughtful use of this material. I use only real glass block (Premier Series, Pittsburgh Corning, 800 Presque Isle Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15239; 800/624-2120; www.pittsburghcorning.com) because it's time-tested. I have my doubts about the long-term durability of acrylics, and I doubt if any synthetic could be as abrasion- or UV-resistant as glass. Glass block is not structural, so it must be set on a firm foundation, and no loads can be imposed upon the wall after installation.

There are four steps to any glass block installation: layout, setting, grouting, and cleaning. If you need to spend a little extra time anywhere in the process, it's in the layout. If you don't get the layout right, nothing else you do will save the job. Do the math. Before anything else, measure the opening where the block is to be installed...

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