The Insiders' Views on Living in a Glass Home
In some senses, glass houses are anything but transparent. Sleek and minimal they may be, but that doesn’t mean they’re low-maintenance and fuss-free. Salt-air residue and bird poop require frequent visits from professional window cleaners, and wood-framed glass doors and windows “usually need to be inspected and cleaned annually because there could be a crack in the seal or a UV breakdown,” says Bridgehampton-based architect Blaze Makoid, “although when it comes to metal-framed glass, a simple hosing off will do.”
Wainscott-based builder Greg D’Angelo likens contemporary glass house construction to spaceship design, requiring high-tech systems and precision materials in order to ensure a hermetic final product. “The more glass,” he stresses, “the more difficult it is for a home to be energy efficient.” Additionally, he points out, impact-resistant glass is essential in waterfront communities, including those on the East End.
“This type of glass can cost between 40 and 50 percent more than standard glass,” he cautions, estimating that a 5,000-square-foot modern glass home might require as much as $500,000 to $1 million worth of impact-resistant windows and doors. “If a homeowner chooses to use regular glass without storm panels and there’s a breach during a hurricane, insurance won’t cover the damage.” (Building departments in the Hamptons are tasked with enforcing compliance with FEMA’s International Residential Code wind provisions, which cover everything from foundation systems to flooring to wall and roofing construction.)
But there are some ways to circumvent the glass ceiling, as it were. “Houses today are sealed with a building envelope known as Blueskin [an adhesive breathable membrane], making them much more airtight and waterproof,” says D’Angelo. And Armor Screen, a less-expensive alternative to impact-resistant glass, is “essentially a taut pool cover for the façade that protects windows and doors,” adds Sagaponack-based architect Nick Martin. “The catch is that you need to have someone install it prior to a major storm.” Notable advancements in glass itself range from multipaned windows and doors filled with argon, which increases glass’s thermal resistance, to low-emissivity (Low-E) glass with a special reflective coating that keeps warm or cool air inside, depending on the season.
Design also figures into the equation, of course. American companies such as Marvin, Kolbe, and Pella now offer everything from folding windows to retractable screens to multi-slide doors, features once available only through foreign vendors, particularly German and Italian manufacturers. And when it comes to jambs, thin is in. “The frames are located within the ceiling and the floor,” says Martin, “making them invisible.”
Despite all the industry advancements, however, “glass houses aren’t for everyone,” concedes East Hampton–based architect Paul Masi, who has built his fair share of them. Small lot sizes, for starters, often present privacy issues. But for homeowners craving sleek retreats, the benefits of having walls of windows outweigh any drawbacks. “The Hamptons is such a beautiful place,” he says, “and a glass house is ideal for that client who wants to maximize views of nature. After all, a residence’s design should always capture and respond to the environment that surrounds it.”