First and the simplest way to incorporate stained glass into your home is purchasing a hanging panel as opposed to getting a window that will be fully installed. Panels can be made to fit existing window openings and hung in a way that makes them look like a fully-installed piece! This is an excellent option for those who tend to move a lot from place to place and do not want to leave a beautiful piece of stained glass behind when they leave. Being a military wife, I tend to work with a lot of military families. Most of military folks lead quite a nomadic life, so hanging panels are hugely popular in my area. They can be put in beautiful wooden frames and can be painted to fit any trim and décor.
The second easiest way to install a stained glass panel is piggy-backing it on top of the existing window unit. It is the most popular way of installation, owing to its simplicity, and also the fact that the insulation quality of the original unit is preserved. If you were to install a single stained glass panel, with no insulated window unit on the outside, it would not have the same heat/cold protective qualities as a commercially insulated unit.
Unfortunately very often such commercially insulated units have decorative mullions inside. Those plastic separators are sandwiched between the two pieces of plain glass for pure decorative purposes. They are the plague of my existence. If you piggy-back a stained glass piece on top of such unit, you will see a shadow from those separators when the light hits them. There are two ways to rectify that: the separators can be taken into consideration when designing the stained glass, thus rendering them practically invisible. Option number two involves carefully taking out the inside glass pane, and removing those mullions. It is a pretty involved work. Also the downside is when one of the panes is removed, the unit will lose its insulation qualities, because the argon gas that is inside will be let out. Mind you, having an argonless window unit with a stained glass piece on top of it is STILL better than having a single stained glass piece exposed to the weather in terms of insulation. But if you have just plain glass - it is a piece of cake!
- The window insert is made to be 1/8’’ smaller on each side than the window opening where it is going to slide into. When the insert is put in, we press it against the existing unit as close as possible.
- We use 1/8’’ shimmies to lift it up, so the insert is perfectly centered in the opening.
- Then we place beads of caulk in 6-8 strategic locations so the window is fixed in its position. We them secure the insert with masking tape, so it does not move. Now we wait for it to set.
- In a couple of hours or so (depending on the caulk used), we can remove the shimmies, and now it is time to place a caulk bead all around. I like to mask off the areas I do not want to get caulk on. It gives a nice sharp edge.
- You are done! Now you can go ahead and put some molding around it if desired. It is not necessary at all, just a matter of taste. Incidentally a piece installed that way is also extremely easy to remove in case you want to take it with you when you move. Just use a knife to cut off the caulk and take it with you!
Now one important point I need to add is this: if you are installing a window in a humid area like a bathroom, it may be a good idea to leave vents in the caulking. Despite what you might think, caulk does not completely seal the space behind the insert. Over time, some condensation may start getting trapped between the insert and the unit if there is no vent. Most of the time it never happens – it really depends on the environment in the house. You might opt to not vent it, and add vents later if you do notice some perspiration eventually. I do strongly recommend adding vents if it is a large window, over 3’X3’ or so, as without venting, the space between the window unit and the insert may get very hot in summer, softening the lead and thus sometimes compromising the stability of the stained glass piece. So the moisture is not the only concern.
That may all sound complicated, but do not fret – a vent is just a hole that allows circulation of air between the insert and the window frame. For smaller windows you can get away with a couple of symmetrical ¼’’ vents on top and bottom of the frame (there should be no caulk there). For larger windows, you might have to go as large as 1.5’’-2’’. Again, it is usually only necessary if it is a heavy window of large dimensions. Usually they do just fine without any vents at all. If in doubt – ASK US! We are happy to advise you!
The next option is installing a weatherproof stained glass window in an empty window opening. This is better done by a builder or a window installer. I do not recommend this option. Although any decent stained glass craftsman can weatherproof a window, all it means is that it will be waterproof. It will not insulate anything. It will also be exposed to the elements. Although it will most likely do quite well for many years, it will definitely require more frequent maintenance, and it will fail way before a protected window ever would.
Sometimes a customer requires a more complicated stained glass window set up. For example, a window consisting of more than one piece, allowing for it to be opened and closed. In this case, the only way to accommodate the request is to order a custom frame for the particular window setup. It can be ordered from a woodworker or cabinet maker, but that person has to be very familiar with making stained glass frames. It is best to use an experienced company that offers stained glass window frames of any complexity. The benefit of using a commercial stained glass frame maker is that they can produce a thermally insulated unit that will incorporate the stained glass in just about any desired custom configuration. Now THAT is something that is definitely going to add a lot of cost to the project. But that is true about any custom work in any industry.
Here is a great article that explains many different frame options that could accommodate both residential and commercial locations in terms of stained glass installation. Click HERE to read.
Do not listen to every frame manufacturer that claims that they can accommodate stained glass. Stained glass frames are not the same as regular glass frames, and the manufacturer in question needs to be familiar with all the specific requirements for stained glass. J Sussman Inc and Caff Company are some of the few experienced manufacturers and places I would recommend.
As you can see, stained glass piece installation can be as easy as 1-2-3! But we are more than happy to help our customers with projects of any complexity. We offer full service if desired, which includes delivery and installation if requested. However, most of our customers are able to use the caulk method easily and we are more than happy to help them with any questions they may have along the way!
If you really want a stained glass piece in your home, but do not want to install it in any of the windows, there is always a light box option! It can be as thin as 6’’ and hang on any wall quite easily. Light boxes are extremely easy to make and we will dedicated a separate article to the process. The first lightbox I have ever made was not even a lightbox at all, but it was the same idea. I know, confusing, but let me explain. In recent years it has become increasingly popular among builders to make a niche above a fireplace in newly built houses. That hole in the wall over the fireplace is meant to accommodate a TV. I see two problems with that. If you have a very nice traditional fireplace and traditional room décor, a TV set over the fireplace will clash with your décor and completely spoil the atmosphere, in my opinion. If you do not have traditional taste and have no problem with a TV being there, the simple truth is that it may not even fit in there! So you put it somewhere else and now you have an empty hole in the wall! You will be surprised how common those “holes in the walls” are in new construction!
I personally feel that a TV over a fireplace is pure blasphemy, but that may be just me. So when we purchased an otherwise perfect house, I stared hatefully at the hole. And then it came to me – I can put a stained glass over it! What is more – it is a built in lightbox! It already has an outlet in there for the TV, so all you have to do is put a fluorescent lamp on the bottom of that niche! No tools required! A custom stained glass panel can be made to fit ANY niche in your house. It adds wonderful mood lighting to the room! I attached pretty molding I found in one of the home improvement stores to the existing stained glass frame, spray painted it to fit my décor and lo and behold! It looks like I have a piece of wall décor on the wall, until I flip the light switch. It takes all of my guests by surprise. I have made several other “niche lightbox pieces” since then. And I highly recommend it as a creative home décor solution! Please do not hesitate to ask us for consultation – we think outside the box! Stained glass in NOT only for windows.