Volume 41, Issue 12 - December 2006

Lessons Learned
Eliminating the Myths on Curved Glass Enclosures
by Derek Englefield

Increasingly, homeowners are investing more and more money into their bathrooms to create a relaxing, spa-like environment with upscale amenities and high-end, luxury showers. Curved glass enclosures are one of the newest trends to sweep the bathroom scene and are growing rapidly in popularity. As architects and designers become more familiar with curved glass design capabilities we are seeing an ever-increasing number of plans calling for curved glass showers and steam saunas that are being drawn in and specified into master bath “home spa” plans.

A lot of people have a pre-conceived idea that curved glass is extremely expensive and only reserved for the rich and famous. Nothing could be further from the truth. Curved glass shower systems, although at a premium, are well within the reach of the average executive-income family.

In Europe curved glass showers account for approximately 30 percent of all mid- to high-end showers installed, whereas in North America this figure is only approximately 2 percent. This percentage, however, is on the rise and growing rapidly. 
While glass retailers and installers are becoming more familiar and comfortable in recommending curved glass enclosures to their clients, for some, it is still an untapped market and one of which they may be interested in learning more about—especially as the market shifts more toward that direction.

Lesson One: 
Product Differences

There are a number of differences in curved glass enclosures when compared to flat glass enclosures. Consumers perceive curved glass as a luxury item because of the rounded, modern clean lines and minimalist look. Everywhere you look these days—architecture, aircrafts, appliances, etc., are being designed with rounded and smooth contoured features. Curved shower doors are simply mirroring modern design trends and reflect the environment in which we live today.
Curved glass can provide an elegant, clean design—something both architects and interior designers are looking for in their custom designs.

Another difference is that curved showers can offer increased internal space due to their ergonomically curved door design. This is a definite advantage in small bathrooms where space can be at a premium. 
The traditional frameless neo-angle corner shower design, for example, provides limited showering space. Round/curved corner models, however, can offer more internal showering space and increased elbowroom for an equivalent size shower for a similar cost.

Lesson Two: Education 
The first thing we tell installers is that frameless curved glass is just as easy to install as traditional flat glass showers—provided they have the correct tools and software design programs. 
Custom curved glass installations typically require specialty tools such as self-leveling lasers and design software. The standard level and tape measure will not cut it with the majority of curved glass installations.
Installers and glass retailers alike must set aside their previous misconceptions and myths regarding curved glass. Typical comments we hear about frameless curved glass enclosures include:
• They are different;
• They are too expensive;
• What if we make a mistake and get it wrong?
• There aren’t any curved doors available, but I get requests all the time; and
• Architects, interior designers and consumers prefer the round, frameless look.

Once we get past the initial reaction and perception dealers become very interested.
When it comes to installation, there are a number of differences between frameless curved and flat glass enclosures about which installers should be aware.

The biggest challenge facing installers of curved glass enclosures is the lack of understanding and ability to make adjustments for out-of-square and out-of-level installations.

Lesson Three: Installation 
A typical 3/8-inch custom curved panel produced in the United States is expensive and can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 per panel depending on size and glass color. Couple this with long production lead times, crating and potential shipping damage and many dealers consider curved glass a high-risk installation. If something goes wrong, a mistake is made during the site measure or a panel is damaged during installation the cost to rectify can quite often be an expensive exercise.

Therefore, the ability to source high-quality economic, pre-packages, turnkey production curved glass panel systems, which offer architects and designers custom design flexibility, yet still overcome all traditional issues is critical to installation success; the actual installation is much like that of flat glass and many installation techniques are similar.

Another difference is the requirement for specialized 3D software such as CAD, Pro-Engineer or Solidworks drawing programs to design and calculate custom curved panels. Often, the level of capital investment cost for new software programs and skilled operators is too high for most glass shops. Find a supplier that offers a turnkey, in-house software program specifically designed for curved glass shower installations. Some companies, such as ours, offer customized software that is designed to detail all hardware, glass panel calculations, fabrication and energy costs, etc. and then print out fully dimensioned glass drawings for custom tempered sidelites.

Looking Ahead
Glass retailers and installers have numerous options for diversifying and offering customers upgrades and options. Learning about customized frameless curved glass enclosures and adding these to their offerings are just one way glass shops can maintain their competitive edge and margins.

the author
Derek Englefield is the president of Oben USA based in Hayward, Calif.
USG
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