Are Glass Floors Safe? 5 Myths about Glass Flooring Debunked
Glass is a beautiful, innovative, modern flooring material in both residential and commercial buildings. However, as you’re looking down into the house from a walkable skylight or to the street below from a deck with incorporated glass panels, it’s essential to know whether a given glass design is safe. Here are the biggest considerations when assessing glass floor safety, as well as common myths (and the facts) about glass flooring.
Glass Floors and Your Safety
When it comes to glass flooring and safety, there are three main considerations.
When using walkable glass in stair treads, glass floors, or walkable skylights, you always want to incorporate anti-slip glass. This will help ensure the glass is safe to walk on, even in wet conditions. There are several ways to achieve an anti-slip glass surface, but all of them have the same aim: create more friction to prevent falling, tripping, or slipping.
For more detailed information, read here about the different available techniques for creating slip-resistant glass.
One of the biggest safety considerations is whether or not the glass has a proper failure redundancy engineered into the design.
When properly designed and manufactured, failure is unlikely, but say a panel of a glass floor does break. To prevent people from actually falling through, you want that glass to be three-ply (three pieces of glass “sandwiched” together).
In that design scenario, if one piece breaks, the other two can still safely hold the structural load. This failure mechanism is crucial—from both general safety and a liability perspective.
There are a lot of companies that have the equipment to make glass flooring but not necessarily the expertise that goes into glass design. That means there are glass floors being created and installed every day that don’t have this failsafe mode built into the project.
It’s imperative you use a reputable glass floor company. If you’re not sure, ask them about their failure redundancy system. If you’re not satisfied with their answer, move on to the next company.
Glass can be safe at varying thicknesses. It depends largely on the deflection rating, or how much a particular piece of glass flexes or bends at its center point when force is applied. (This force can come from snowfall, wind, the weight of people and other objects on that panel, and more.) Other factors include the support system around the glass and the width that glass panel has to span.
Glass thicknesses are governed by international building codes, as well as ASTM glass flooring standards. Typically, though, expect a panel for glass flooring to be 1 ¼” thick.
Myths (and Truths) about Glass Flooring
-Myth #1: Glass Flooring Is Just for Interior Use
Glass flooring can absolutely be incorporated into both interior and exterior designs. Whether you’re adding it to create a unique and striking feature in a kitchen or you’re turning a deck into a beautiful way to observe your surroundings in every direction, glass floors are just as safe and beautiful outside as they are inside.
Just make sure you’re still asking all the relevant questions about anti-slip properties, failure redundancy, and glass thickness before installing.
-Myth #2: Glass Floors Are Less Strong or Durable Than Flooring Supported by Wood Joists
Say you’re walking on a non-glass floor. While there’s obviously variation within design, typically that means it’ll be supported by wood joists that are spaced about eighteen inches apart. Very few people have concerns about the durability of these kinds of floors.
Once it becomes a glass floor, though, these questions quickly arise. As long as the project is designed, engineered, and manufactured by professionals with glass expertise, a glass floor is every bit as strong as any other kind of flooring. In many cases, the strength of the glass itself and the support structure for that glass mean it can actually be stronger than other flooring types.
-Myth #3: All Glass Flooring Is the Same
Under the umbrella of glass flooring, there’s tremendous variability. From the glass itself to the structural design the glass is incorporated into, no two glass floors are exactly the same.
Consider some of the following possible variables in your job:
- Glass thickness
- Anti-slip properties
- Glass rigidity
- Span or size of panels
- Interior or exterior use
- Direct sunlight or not
- Anticipated weight load
For the highest level of safety and peace of mind, make sure you’re working with an experienced and knowledgeable glass manufacturer. Based on your project’s specifications, they will be able to recommend, design, and manufacture the safest piece of glass for your needs.
Ideally, the glass manufacturer will individually engineer each and every project, either personally creating an engineering analysis or partnering with qualified engineers who can provide this.
-Myth #4: Glass Is Fragile
It’s understandable when people question the durability of glass. Who hasn’t accidentally shattered a mirror or chipped a wine glass with almost no force?
The important thing to remember with glass flooring, though, is that the panels are designed for this kind of application. They’re created to specific thicknesses, the support system is engineered to ensure the entire project is solid and safe, and the glass panels are layered to hold the structural load in case one breaks.
There are glass applications that have lasted thousands of years, and that’s because glass is very strong in compression. Essentially, this means it’s an excellent material for bearing weight. (As just one example, check out this glass trade show floor designed to withstand the weight of a car.)
What glass doesn’t like is blunt trauma. That’s a high impact with a narrow item. While this can cause the glass to shatter, properly designed flooring should still be entirely structurally sound. When used as intended (coupled with a failure redundancy), glass is a highly durable and safe material.
-Myth #5: My Only Option Is See Through Glass
This myth is less related to safety, but there is a prevailing idea in the world of architectural glass that because the material is glass it has to be transparent. For many, transparency poses modesty- and privacy-related concerns. From stairways to walkable skylights, it’s not always desirable to be able to see the people walking above from below.
Luckily, glass is a highly customizable material. It can be created with a frosted appearance, or it can incorporate designs, textures, or colors that obscure visibility. (This customization is most often done through glass casting, or glass slumping.) If privacy issues are a concern, there are many ways to ensure modesty while still capitalizing on the design aesthetics of glass and allowing all that natural light to filter through to multiple levels of the building.
Safety Matters. Ask Questions.
Whether you’re ordering from Jockimo or not, our first priority is everyone’s safety. If you have any questions, concerns, or hesitations about a glass flooring project—no matter what stage it’s in—please feel free to reach out. We’ve been in the glass business for decades and would love to lend our expertise to ensure any glass flooring project is just as safe as it is beautiful.