In the past 12 years glass tile makers have emerged with products for contiguous glass floors. They have come up with floor coverings whose look and feel ranges from the familiar to the ultramodern. They are tiles whose reflective properties make the most of the light in a given space – especially useful in bathrooms and kitchen nooks.
The Practicality Of Light
Light makes us feel good. For health, well being, and productivity’s sake, designers and architects have responded with renewed emphasis on maximizing the use of southern exposures, skylights, and transparent glass block in new buildings. In cases where renovation isn’t an option, changing flooring and wall covering from a surface that absorbs light to one that reflects it can change the mood of a room, for the better.
A Hundred Years In The Making
Smalti tiles have been used as floor tiles since Roman times; fused glass tiles are a relatively new flooring variant, and have only been commercially available for the last ten years.
Clear glass has been used as a floor surface since the early 1900s, when glass block was introduced to provide natural light under city sidewalks and passages in manufacturing plants. Today, glass floor blocks are also used to provide illumination into a room when lit from below. Often installed in 4-foot by 4-foot panels that weigh up to 300 pounds, they are typically installed in industrial or commercial settings.
Glass floors can also take the form of laminate flooring. Glass laminate panels can be any size, and are typically made with sandwiched layers of tempered glass. They are versatile, coming in configurable colors, and also can be completely transparent or illuminated from below. They can be used in high traffic areas, such as shop or discotheque floors, where they are often textured to reduce slippage and to hide scratches.
Glass floor tiles bring some of the properties of laminate glass flooring into a more modular, convenient-sized form. Applied to a substrate like porcelain tiles, glass floor tiles do not introduce brightness from below, but make the most of existing light in a room, by reflecting it back from a floor that would otherwise be absorbing light.
Installation: What To Watch For
Glass floor tiles are usually set against a crack suppression membrane with a white, fast-setting and flexible thinset adhesive. It’s important that there are no pockets of air trapped under the tiles when they are laid, as an uneven underlay will weaken and eventually crack the tiles when they are walked on. To obviate air pockets, pieces should be back-buttered and settled into position when laid.
Wear and Tear
Will the glass support the weight? Will the glass get scratched over time? Will they break under our weight? Like ceramic tiles, glass floor tiles will shatter if they are hammered or subjected to sudden and violent impact. Glass floor tiles have typically passed stringent ASTM standards – if the floor is in an area of high impact use, they will need to be specifically floor-rated for this purpose.
Smalti floor tiles have a cloudy, rough texture that will not show scratches any more than a ceramic tile and also provide anti-slip protection. Translucent, fused glass tiles need to be etched or textured, to provide anti-scratching protect against scratching and to give anti-slip properties.
The color of both types of floor tile is extra durable. In the case of smalti floor tiles, the color is typically consistent throughout the tile; fused glass floor tiles have their color sealed in with a 10mm protective coating of glass.
Slippery When Wet?
Unless treated, a normal glass tile is no different from polished porcelain tile in terms of skid resistance. Like any high gloss ceramic tile, glass tiles are usually slippery when wet, and for safety reasons, commercial floors in high traffic areas that get exposed to rain or spillage are often marked with “caution – slippery when wet” signs. But in the home, and most workplaces, the use of such signs is neither practical nor desirable. If small format (1 × 1″ or smaller) tiles are used on floors, the relatively frequent grout lines create texture that inhibit slippage. For this reason, tile setters sometimes introduce un-textured glass tile mosaic inserts into fields of large format ceramic tiles. Glass floor mosaic tiles are also used in shower pans, creating a continuous surface with glass wall tiles.
If you are using large format glass field tiles on floors, you will need to choose a tile that is specifically floor-rated. Glass tile manufacturers Villiglas, Interstyle, Oceanside and Vetrotile all manufacture large format glass floor tiles. They are made with a textured surface that provides a high coefficient of friction, mitigating or eliminates slippage, while still delivering the luminous qualities of glass wall tiles.