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Ask the Builder: Translucent window film adds to privacy in bathroom

The lower sash of this window is covered with a plastic film, which is cheaper to install than new glass. (Tim Carter)
The lower sash of this window is covered with a plastic film, which is cheaper to install than new glass. (Tim Carter)

DEAR TIM: I grew up in an older home that had unique pressed glass in the bathroom windows. It allowed lots of light in the room, and you didn’t have to put up window shades or curtains for privacy. Is this glass still available? My current bathroom windows have clear glass. If it’s too much trouble to switch out the glass, is there an alternative? Have you any experience doing this and what was the outcome? – Marsha B., Lynchburg, Tenn.

DEAR MARSHA: I’ve got quite a bit of experience with the bumpy pressed glass you remember. Not only was it in the home I grew up in, but I also had it in several older homes I owned. What’s more, I’ve remodeled many a bathroom for past customers where this gorgeous glass was in the windows.

You can still buy this translucent glass that provides lots of privacy. It comes in countless patterns and styles. Years ago molten glass was poured into molds to create the glass. My guess is the manufacturing process may also involve soft semi-molten sheets of glass that get the pattern pressed into them by giant rollers.

If your current bathroom windows are double or triple-pane insulated glass, switching to single-pane pressed glass will cost you a tiny fraction more in energy. You live in a somewhat mild climate so your wintertime heat loss through that window will be measured in pennies per week, if that.

You can go online and see all sorts of pressed glass options. It can be shipped to you. The odds are that a local company could cut it to the perfect size. A local glazing company may be able to create an insulated glass panel for your window using one piece of pressed glass and one piece of normal clear glass so you don’t have to sacrifice energy.

Local glazers may also stock sheets of the pressed glass that will work for you. I’d just call them and see what they offer. Talk with the general manager to get the best advice about what to do.

My wife, Kathy, asked me last year to do the same thing in our master bathroom. Our master bath juts out of the end of our home and it has windows on three walls. The problem is the entire set of windows that’s at the end faces right at our neighbor’s deck.

For years we just kept the roll-up window shades down to the window sills. This transformed the bathroom into more of a cave than a conservatory!

One day our UPS driver left a tall square box at our front porch. Kathy had purchased a roll of plastic film. It resembled etched glass. When I asked what was in the box, she showed me countless plastic window coverings that come in all sorts of patterns and colors, some that even resemble stained glass. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the thousands and thousands of new products that are introduced each year!

I quickly discovered it was my job to install this translucent film in the master bath windows and our powder room. Kathy wanted to hang plants in both rooms and now there’d be enough natural sunlight streaming in so they wouldn’t die.

The plastic had an adhesive on one side and the sheet was about as thick as the thin cardboard boxes butter comes in. I’ve installed thousands of square feet of wallpaper in my life so I thought it would be pretty easy to do this job.

The manufacturer of the product recommended that you watch a few videos to see how to install this plastic. I did and it seemed straightforward.

The most important step is to clean your existing window glass. I don’t mean just clean it once. You need the glass to be completely clean, and the edges of the sash and all nearby trim, too.

Years ago, I researched how professional window washers clean glass. Believe it or not, the solution that’s in their buckets is just water with a small amount of liquid dish soap. I use a tile grout sponge soaked in this solution to rub the glass. It’s best to wash the glass three times and dry it each time with a clean micro-fiber towel that leaves no lint.

Most of the plastic privacy coatings require that you get the window wet before applying the film. Some require you to add a little liquid soap to the water. Pay close attention to this step and only put in as much as they say.

After you install the plastic coating using the tools the manufacturer usually sends, you may have a few unsightly bubbles under the plastic. Over a period of days these will disappear. If the windows don’t get direct sunlight, the bubbles may take a week or two to dissipate.

Kathy and I love the alternative plastic coating. It looks remarkable and it’s durable. You’ll discover it’s far cheaper, faster and less disruptive to install the plastic coating than the traditional pressed glass.

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