30 Nov 2023

Thank Heavens for Glass

Converting a church into a private dwelling certainly comes with some challenges, as well as some benefits. Glass can help you address some of those challenges, as well as adding beauty to the finished project, as Susan Sinden, Commercial Manager for ESG Group, explains.


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The benefits of creating a home in a former church are, perhaps, obvious in that they largely involve the beauty of the original architecture and its features, as well as, often, occupying a great location. However, churches are well known for being large, high-ceilinged properties, which will inevitably require partitioning and separating into different rooms and zones.

For domestic settings, if you use glass to partition a large space, you should use toughened laminated glass, such as ESG Tufflam. Toughened glass is up to five times stronger than ordinary annealed glass and does not break into large shards, that could cause serious injuries. Instead, if damaged, it will form small, quite granular-looking particles, which fall without causing great harm.

When two or more sheets of toughened glass are laminated together with an interlayer, they form a very durable building material that can be used not only for wide expanses of doors or windows but also as partitions, floors, stair treads, walkways and even lift shafts. You can also use glass panels to form exterior balustrades at heights no more than 18m from the ground. If a toughened laminated glass panel is damaged, although the glass will fracture, most of the particles will adhere to the interlayers, so the panel itself will stay in place until it can be replaced. This makes it a safe, as well as beautiful, material to use.

Churches already have an affinity with glass, as many are known for their stained-glass windows, often used in the past to tell stories and add decoration. Today’s glass products can be used to enhance these aesthetics while helping you to make the most of the space without sacrificing light.

One of the most helpful materials is LCD privacy glass, such as ESG Switchable, which is created by laminating sheets of glass with an LCD interlayer sandwiched between them. A small current is passed through the interlayer when switched on, making it optically clear and see through. When the current is switched off, the glass pane becomes opaque, like a frosted glass panel, providing instant privacy. You can choose transparency or privacy at the touch of a button.

This has a number of really useful applications in converting a church. One increasingly popular use of privacy glass is in bathrooms, particularly ensuites. The architect or designer may use it to partition off an ensuite so that it can be placed away from the walls but still benefit from natural light. It can be switched on, so you can literally see through the wall when the bathroom or ensuite is unoccupied but switched off for privacy when in use. The transparent state helps preserve the more open feel of the original building layout while allowing as much natural light as possible, helping to reduce energy bills.

In many conversions, an open-plan kitchen, dining and living space is favoured. While this preserves the open feel of the body of the church, there may be times when you want to separate these spaces. You may wish to screen the entrance from the main body of the church, helping to keep your home private without sacrificing light. It can also be a good idea to separate the kitchen area so that cooking smells don’t permeate the soft furnishings in the living area. With switchable glass, you can still stay connected and see everything that’s happening in the living areas.

Even with highly-technical interlayers, such as switchable glass, it is possible to follow the intricate shapes of the existing architectural features, so a Gothic arch or doorway can be glazed with millimetre-accurate precision. Although privacy glass needs a small electric current, wiring can be inconspicuously routed so that elegance and proportion can still be enjoyed.

Noise may also be a factor worth considering, especially as the stonework in some churches may make sound travel. An acoustic interlayer laminated into glass can be used to screen a kitchen or utility area so that TV viewing or conversation is not interrupted by the sound of a washing machine or dishwasher. We can also help to eliminate noise by using slightly thicker panes of glass, which do not sacrifice clarity and are undetectable from standard thicknesses once installed. And you can use acoustic glass to create a quiet office if you intend to work from home. If your church is in an urban location, you could add a layer of glazing to help preserve the stained glass and insulate against both heat loss and outside noise.

Vanceva-coloured films can be added to the interlayer to create a modern take on stained glass, allowing light to pass through it to add colour to a white background. Interlayers are so versatile that you can create a film of your own design, so you can echo the existing stained glass with a new panel used as a partition. A clever way to inject a splash of colour in a mostly white church is in a back-painted kitchen splashback, which is not only beautiful but also very hard wearing and easy to wipe down and clean, keeping its pristine good looks for years.

If you wish to add an extension, glass is probably one of the most sympathetic materials to use, even allowing you to see the original exterior of the building, depending on the purpose of your extension. Although modern brick might jar when used against the historic property, glass is, of course, an ancient building material used by the Romans. It has always been versatile, so when designing your church conversion project, it is well worth taking a good look at – or through – glass.

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