Your Guide to Understanding Glass Types and Finishes 

Choosing the best glass types and finishes for windows and doors in your home is challenging. For people outside the industry, most glass seems the same.

Glass Types and Finishes 
Hugh Jefferson Randolph Architects

With modern technology, manufacturers have been able to craft glass to insulate, protect, and obscure vision, all while letting light stream through.

Glass Types and Finishes

Glass types and finishes are common categories in the glass industry. Type refers to the formulation or the chemical composition of the glass and finish refers to the surface style.

Types of Glass

According to the Corning Museum of Glass, there are six different types of glass. Industry experts base these types on different chemical compositions.

  1. Soda-Lime Glass – Soda-lime glass, also called float glass, is a combination of soda, lime, and silica. It is the most common and least expensive type of glass in existence. This type accounts for 90% of all commercial glass produced. It is also known as window glass because fabricators use it for windows, doors with glass, as well as glass containers in your home.
  2. Leaded Glass – Artisans use lead glass to create windows and decorative glass because of its reflective qualities. It is also softer than soda-lime glass. Because of its high cost and potential toxicity, fabricators use lead glass in electrical applications rather than for home use.
  3. Borosilicate – This glass is long-lasting and heat resistant. Manufacturers use it in cookware, light-bulbs, headlights, and laboratory equipment.
  4. Aluminosilicate – This glass has a high heat and chemical resistance. Companies use this glass to create high-temperature thermometers, halogen light bulbs, and smartphone displays.
  5. High Silica Glass – Manufacturers create this glass by heating it to a high temperature and removing non-silica elements. Manufacturers use this glass in the fiber optics and semiconductor industries.
  6. Fused Quartz – This glass is the most heat resistant of all glasses because it is created using high temperatures. It is expensive and used in specialized applications.

Glass Finishes

Glass finishes refer to the surface of the glass rather than the chemical composition.

There are two broad categories of glass finishes: clear glass finishes and privacy glass finishes.

Builders use both kinds of glass in the home for windows and doors.

  1. Clear Glass Finishes – Clear glass finishes and films are common everywhere there needs to be a clear line of sight. This includes window and front door glass options like laminated, tempered and insulated glass. This category also includes tinted glass that you can see through.
  2. Privacy Glass Finishes – Privacy glass finishes obscure the view through the glass through treating the surface with a finish or a film. There are different types of opaque glass which includes finishes like frosted glass, pebbled glass, fluted glass, and mirrored glass.

Popular Glass Types and Finishes for the Home

Most glass in-home use is soda-lime glass and for some historic homes leaded glass. The surface of these glasses are finished in various ways and depends on the usage and location in the home.

Tempered Glass

Tempered Glass
Peter Eskuche, AIA

Tempered glass for home use is soda-lime glass that has been treated to make it stronger than standard glass. When tempered glass breaks, it shatters into small pieces without jagged edges. This makes it a safer glass in areas where glass may shatter.

This is one of the most common types of glass doors or glass for a front door panel. Tempered glass interior doors are also common if they are a full pane glass door and the pane exceeds 24 inches in size.

Tempered glass windows are necessary if they exceed 9 square feet.

Frosted Glass

Frosted GlassView in gallery

Frosted glass or translucent glass, is treated to give the glass a misted look. It obscures the view but still allows light to flow from one area to another. This glass is popular for an exterior door with glass-like frosted glass entry doors to maintain privacy from your neighbors.

Bathroom entry doors with frosted glass and frosted windows are common in interior spaces to maintain privacy without sacrificing light. Not every frosted glass entry door has complete coverage.

There are some frosted glass front door options where the frosting creates unique decorative designs.

Leaded Glass

Leaded Glass
Imperfect Interiors

One of the most common types of glass for doors and windows in historic homes is leaded glass. This is also common if you have a new house built using old glass doors like a vintage glass door or windows with stained glass.

Leaded glass has fallen out of fashion because it is expensive and contains lead, but if you need an antique door glass replacement and you want the same style glass, look for a supplier that sells leaded glass.

Insulated Glass

Insulated Glass
Clark Hall Doors

Insulated glass is one of the most common types for exterior glass doors and windows. Fabricators make insulated glass using two glass panes with a layer of air between them. This creates a more insulated seal that keeps your home more energy efficient.

Smoke Glass

Smoke Glass
transFORM Home

Smoked glass doors and windows are clear but have a darkened color. This is a good type of glass for doors and windows where you want to maintain a clear view but increase privacy. Smoked glass doors and windows work best in homes with a modern or contemporary style.

Textured Glass

Textured Glass
Clark Hall Doors

Textured glass is another way to increase privacy but obscure the view. Textured glass includes any glass with an embossed design on the glass like hammered glass or bubble glass. All textured glass has different levels of obscurity. A fluted glass door or window obscures visibility well, but this design preserves the clear light that comes through.

Satin Glass

Satin Glass
HoneeDo This’n That

Satin glass is similar to frosted glass but it is not shiny and has a smoother texture and finish. Builders use satin glass in interior and exterior doors with glass panes where privacy is a priority. It is also used as glass for bathroom windows and shower doors where increased opacity is important.

Acoustic Glass

Acoustic Glass
ZeroEnergy Design

Manufacturers create acoustic glass by attaching a polyvinyl butyral layer (PBL) to the glass. The PBL softens the sound as it passes through the glass. Consider this type of glass if you are building a room like a home theater where sound quality is important. This kind of glass is a good replacement for exterior glass doors if you live in a noisy urban area.

Switchable Privacy Glass

Switchable Privacy Glass
Alair Homes Plano

Switchable privacy glass is a modern type of glass that allows you to have the best of both privacy and visibility. This glass looks clear but can become opaque with the activation of an electric polymer dispersed liquid crystal (PDLC) film.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What are the most common glass types for doors?

Tempered glass is one of the most common types of glass for exterior and interior doors because of residential building codes. The International Residential Code (IRC) requires tempered glass for all storm doors. Insulated glass doors are also common to maintain internal temperatures and to block outdoor sound.

What are the most common glass types for windows?

Residential permits require tempered glass in windows if the window measures more than 9 square feet, is near a walkway, or a certain distance from the floor. Insulated glass is common in most windows. Privacy glass is popular in bathrooms.

What are the strongest glass types?

Fused quartz is the strongest type of glass. For example, they use this glass in the aerospace industry for manned spacecraft windows.

What are the best types of glass for shower doors?

Because of safety concerns, modern shower doors are made from tempered glass. Manufacturers also have versions of this that are laminated. This means, if the glass breaks, the laminated sheets will keep the glass pieces in place. This would be a good option for a kid’s bathroom where breakage is a concern.

How are different types of antique glass different from modern glass?

Most antique glass is made from lead glass. Leadlight refers to old decorative glass work, diamond window panes, and stained glass. Lead glass was also used to create crystal decanters and wine glasses. Lead is toxic, so most modern glass does not use lead. Most modern glass is soda-lime glass. This is non-toxic and less expensive to create. Also, antique glass shatters into sharp shards when broken and most modern homes use tempered glass for safety reasons.

Conclusion

Understanding all the different glass types and finishes is important when choosing glass for your home. Consider the location of your doors or windows to decide on either a privacy or clear finish for your glass.

The location will also determine if you should consider tempered or standard glass. Tempered and insulated glass are some of the most common glass varieties used in the home because they have the broadest application and the least risk.

There are also other varieties of specialty glass that can enhance the look and use in specific areas.