Add recycled glass tile to your green home plans and enjoy the beauty and practicality of the tiles throughout your home.
Turning Glass to Tile
Community recycling programs have helped increase glass recycling in America, but as much as 70 percent of glass still ends up in landfills. It does not break down. To reduce landfill waste, the glass is pulled out, recycled and used for a variety of purposes including glass-based street surfacing materials. Glass is also reclaimed for production into glass tiles and other glass items.
Glass tiles have several advantages for green home builders, including:
- Non-absorptive - They do not hold water or stains, making them a practical choice for eco-friendly kitchens. They are also excellent in eco-friendly bathrooms since mold and mildew don't grow and they prevent the growth of some types of bacteria.
- Big color choice - The color options are wide and the tile design is almost limitless.
- Reflect light - The tiles reflect light where ceramic tiles tend to absorb light.
The disadvantages are:
- Cost - In general, the cost of recycled tiles is significantly more than conventional tiles of the same size. It is not uncommon to pay $20 per square foot versus only $2 for conventional tile in the same size. However, the cost will continue to come down as recycled glass tile becomes more popular and increased competition drives the price down.
- Scratches - They can scratch. The clearer and smoother the tile, the more the scratches will show. The scratches can be less visible if the tile is cloudy or has a rough texture.
Sources of Glass
The typical sources of glass for recycling are bottles, jars and window glass. The glass is cleaned and sorted by color and type. Different types of glass react differently to heating and cooling. When glass of only one type is heated and cooled together, it will cool down into a uniform mass.
Making the Tiles
Tiles made from recycled glass are more translucent than tiles made from non-recycled tiles. This translucency, along with the molding processes, gives recycled glass tiles a more hand-crafted appearance.
There are three methods of making tiles from recycled glass:
- Small mosaic tiles - The glass is heated to a molten state and then poured into a form which creates small batches of the small mosaic tiles. The resulting tiles are assembled onto sheets to make them easy-to-install. This is a very labor-intensive process and it requires very high heat to melt the tiles. But, this method is used frequently since it is very easy to set up. The small size of the tile minimizes production waste.
- Large glass tiles - The beginning of the manufacturing process for tiles measuring two inches by two inches is the same as for small mosaic tiles. The added step is holding the glass in an oven where it is heated to over 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit) and then cooled slowly to make the resulting glass tougher and less brittle. There is more production waste creating large tiles as compared to small mosaic tiles. The larger tiles also require more control for excellent color and quality.
- Tiles made from cullet - Cullet is glass that has been crushed and then sorted into uniformly-sized and colored particles. Cullet-based tiles are produced by placing cullet in ceramic molds, heating the glass to 800 degrees Celsius (1,472 degrees Fahrenheit). This method produces a faster production cycle than the small mosaic and large glass tile methods. However, the colors of the tiles are more limited since the color is dependant upon the original colors of the glass which was used.
Characteristics of Recycled Glass Tiles
- Translucent - Tiles with lower percentages of recycled glass tend to be slightly cloudy. Tiles made from 100 percent recycled glass are translucent.
- Matte finish - Usually recycled tiles have a matte finish, but it is possible to find very glossy tiles.
Installing Glass Tiles
Recycled tiles can be placed anywhere ceramic tiles can be installed, both inside and outside. They are resistant to chemicals and stains.
They are installed using the same process as with ceramic tiles. Care must be taken to have a smooth layer of thin set holding the tile since their translucency would make the usual comb marks in thin set very visible.