Glass Block Window {a semi-tutorial}

...aka how we spent our entire weekend! YAY!

Going into this, David and I had very little idea of what we were going to run into. We'd visited Menards, gotten all of our supplies (or so we thought...duh duh duhhhh), and listened to the guy explain to us how to assemble the stuff. But that was pretty much the extent of our foreknowledge. I watched a couple very-not-helpful Youtube videos and tried to Google some tutorials, all to no real benefit.

So we jumped in feet-first, like we always do with our home projects. It's more fun that way, isn't it?

First of all, most websites say that this is a one-day project. It took us the entire weekend basically, with a couple breaks to eat and go to church. So it really depends on what your window looks like when you begin, and I guess also how prepared you are with materials and things. If we had bought all of the things beforehand, and already had the window out and prepped for the blocks, then yes - one day project. Otherwise no.

Also a very important note: we would NOT have been done with this project if David's family hadn't come and given us some major help. We'd still be shower-less in our house and also freezing cold in the entire house -- they were a huge help. So thank you Gokies!

So here's what we did.

1. Rip out old window.

This part will depend on what you're dealing with in your house. Our windows are all original (minus the ones we've replaced, basically) so from around 1930, which means they're very heavy-duty and pretty well installed, but not super good at keeping cold or wind out. This one was pretty easy, though - we pulled back the siding on the outside, unscrewed the screen, and then cut the weights to get the panes out.

Here's what it looked like inside the frame without the window in:

Some of that is frame, some of it is plaster-lathe behind the tile, and the big hole is where the weights for the window were.

2. Frame out window.

We had a pretty unique situation because our window needed to be 100% waterproof, seeing as it was smack dab in the middle of our shower. Previously there was a separate shower curtain attached and hung above the window on the window side of the shower, and another one where a regular shower curtain goes, so the quarters were pretty tight. This was a big reason we chose glass block - we were never going to need to open this window, and buying a custom waterproof window was not in the budget.

Being waterproof meant that we had to use vinyl (plastic) boards for the sill, frame, quarter round, and decorative pieces. But before that went in we installed a regular 2x4 to attach things to. (I was lucky enough to attend a baby shower during this part of the install, so I don't have many pictures of what I mean.)

still ripping out the old stuff...
All gone!
Now just imagine a 2x4 right in between the yellow siding and the plaster-lathe back you see in that last picture.

3. Add sill to window.

Ours, like I mentioned, was made of vinyl board. David & his dad used cardboard to make a template of the grooves it would need to fit into at the bottom, and then traced and cut using his miter saw. If you're not worried about water, or if it's going in a basement, you might not even need a sill. Ours had the benefit of being additional storage in the shower, which was sorely needed.

It's pretty self-explanatory, especially if you're the woodworking type. (I'm not. Ohhh man am I not. But my husband is.) I also don't have a picture of it. But here's a cute one of Kate "consulting" with us on the project's progress.

work clothes are so flattering
4. Etch the glass block.

While all that is going on, have your awesome mother-in-law and sister-in-law etch the glass blocks for you, because you couldn't find a combination of design on the premade blocks that you liked enough to buy.

We started with these blocks, from Menards, as our base:

Then we used this product, Armour Etch Cream, to etch one side of them. You can also find it at Hobby Lobby - and use a 40% off discount on every one if you happen to take 3 separate trips to get a new bottle each time. But you can also buy it on Amazon.

David and I tried some test blocks ahead of time, to see how long we needed to apply it for. Turns out you need quite a thick layer of the stuff on there, and leaving it on about 15 minutes seemed to give the best results. Obviously that's just for this type of block though, so I highly recommend testing the stuff out before you use it on a lot of blocks.

We (they) used a paintbrush to apply it on, let it sit for 15 minutes, and then washed it off down the sink.

Here are a bunch all done:

A couple bits of advice. Definitely remember to shake the jars of cream, cause it can get a little splotchy if it isn't shaken well. A blow-dryer is helpful in the drying process. And remember that people will probably not be inspecting it from close-up, so it can be somewhat uneven and not noticeable.

We also only etched one side of the glass on purpose - but if you wanted more "coverage," you could certainly do both sides. But one was good enough for us.

5. Start installing glass block.

We made some mistakes here - so I am going to warn you: measure, measure, MEASURE like 100 times before you buy your glass block and set out a really nice pattern and then etch those blocks, only to discover they don't fit once you include the height of the spacers or the frame you have to install at the last minute.

The interlocking spacers (which you buy next to the glass block at any home improvement store) were very very easy to use, but they added a lot of height to our window total that we hadn't anticipated. So we had to redo our entire design a couple different times - which added to our 4 trips to Menards in the same day total. Luckily the etching doesn't take very long, so we were able to catch up pretty quickly once we figured out what we needed.

But I highly recommend using the spacer method, rather than mortaring the whole window. You can do both, but the (enormous) advantage to the spacers is you can easily change it around until you like what you have with no mess!

also take goofy photos to relieve stress
The only difficult thing was putting in the very last block - we chose the top middle one to do, and it took one person on either side of the window kind of banging them in at the same time to get it to fit correctly. But it wasn't terrible.

6. Install trim around the inside of the window.

Measure and cut, etc. Again we used vinyl, which is more expensive, but was totally worth the expense for the water-proof-ness. Since we were attaching it to plaster and tile instead of drywall or a stud, we had to use Liquid Nails instead of drilling it in. It actually worked pretty well, and was easy to sort of wiggle around if we needed to.

We used at least 2 tubes of regular construction adhesive ($1.50 each!) and then a half of another tube we had at home. After the main pieces of trim, we added a quarter-round and a smaller decorative piece on the insides, aka to border between the glass block and the trim pieces.

Then we sealed the glass block with their special glass-block sealant and then caulked everywhere we could with some pricey silicone bath caulk. We really needed it to be waterproof so we didn't skimp on the caulk.

And here's the finished product!

And that's that!

In terms of satisfaction, this project really ranks up there on my favorites list. It was a one-weekend thing, which far outweighs the 4+ months the Kate's room took. Plus it is SO pretty to look at now that it's done, and it brings so much light in that was covered up before, it's great.

I highly recommend using glass block if you've ever doubted it before. It looks super cool and I'm so happy that's what we chose.
What projects have you been doing lately?


  1. Looks awesome! I heard about this project from Jenn.
    I'm mostly commenting to ask about your "Biotin and Collagen" shampoo.... I'm looking for a new shampoo because my hair is just so brittle sometimes and seems to be thinning on the sides for some reason. Do you recommend this shampoo/conditioner? Have you had a positive experience with it? :) I'm the nerd who comments on home-improvement blog posts, asking for beauty tips.

  2. It looks great! In college we had a bathroom with one of those awful shower curtains in front of the window, and it was always SO unpleasant to shower while trying to keep both of those stupid shower curtains from sticking to your body... I bet each shower will be a more pleasant experience now that you've knocked out this project!

  3. Your finished window looks **terrific**!!! Thanks for all the details; I'm not at all handy, but it's very interesting to me.

    I came over here because I saw your comment on Rosie's blog, and your "my recent post" had "glass block" in it. I have loved glass block forever—in fact, Chicago seems to have a bunch of dealers, and my other kids had to hold me back from visiting when we were out there for Rosie's wedding! I've long wanted to put some in my house, but I can't figure out where they would go. I still can't. ::big sigh::

    Anyway, thanks for all this!

  4. Wow! Your bathroom window looks elegant by installing those glass blocks. I can’t believe that can be done in such a breeze. Anyway, I like the happy moments you shared with your family while doing the project. Thanks for sharing that, Hannah! All the best!

    Lynne Hollaran @ Suburban Glass

  5. Couldn't help but think of you when I came across this bathroom redesign. Looks like your style. Did you ever come up with an idea or solution for bathroom storage?


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