Q&A / 

Stained Glass

DEAR TIM: We're buying two new smaller windows for a room in our house and want to add a custom stained glass panel to the assembly. One contractor says we can supply the stained glass and it can be installed in between the two pieces of the window's insulated glass.

Another contractor says this is a mistake and that the lead in the stained glass would affect the insulated glass seal and cause a window failure. What's the best way to accomplish what we want?

Is there a safe way that gives us the greatest flexibility? Alison, F., Toronto, CA

DEAR ALISON: It is a shame more people don't do what you are about to do.

New Can Look Old

I have two windows and two front door sidelights that have custom stained glass panels that were installed after the units were installed. Each time a visitor comes to our house, they think the stained glass is original and is 100 years old. The truth be told, the stained glass panels are new, but built with the same skill as the craftspeople of ages past.

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This gorgeous custom-made beveled and stained glass panel is not sandwiched between the insulated glass. It lays on top of the insulated glass and is permanently held in place with caulk . PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

The best part though is that by adding my stained glass after the windows are installed, I get all of the benefits of new high efficiency insulated Low E glass and the beauty that only custom-designed stained glass can offer. You will be able to get the same. Many window and door manufacturers offer a variety of stained glass as an upgrade option for new windows, but that doesn't appeal to me and it might not to you. I just don't want to see my windows in someone else's house if you know what I mean.

The first contractor who said the stained glass can be sandwiched between the the insulated glass may be correct. Anything is possible and if you saw how insulated glass was made, it is not hard to include the custom panel. But I can see all sorts of challenges to this method.

For example, the size of the stained glass panel would have to be extremely precise, so it matched the inner dimensions of the insulated glass. If the stained glass panel was too big, it would cause enormous problems and if it was a tad too small, the gap between the leaded glass edge and the insulated glass seal would look tacky. Then, there is the issue of thickness. If the custom glass panel were not the same thickness as the space between the pieces of insulated glass, the panel might rattle or look funny. If just one soldered seam in the custom panel is too thick, the insulated glass seal may get stressed or may not seal at all.

I feel the best method is to install the custom stained glass panel on top of the existing insulated glass on the inside of the house. This method is simple, takes minutes and gives you enormous flexibility.

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For starters, the custom panel is made by the stained glass craftsperson after your windows are installed. The measurements are taken by the fabricator and there is little chance of a mistake. The full beauty of the stained glass panel is seen by you and is not blocked by the glare from another piece of clear glass. If you decide to move, you can quickly remove the stained glass panel and take it with you. No one would even know the window had stained glass in or on it.

The method of installing these stained glass panels is very simple. The actual stained glass panel is made one-quarter inch less in both width and height than the actual distance between the edges where the window sash ends and clear glass begins. This spacing allows the stained glass panel to have a one-eighth inch space between the leaded glass edges and the edge of the window sash.

You must clean the window glass both inside and out until you are sure the window is perfectly clean and dry. Then, clean the new stained glass panel as well. With clean hands, gently tilt the stained glass panel up against the inside of the window glass and use two small brad nails on each edge of the stained glass panel to pinch it against the window.

The small brad nails are driven at a low angle into the edges of the sash no more than one-eighth inch so they do not hit the window glass. The shaft of the nail touches the edge of the leaded glass and holds it in place, so the gap between the stained glass and the window sash is consistent all the way around all edges. If the window is painted, you use paintable acrylic caulk to fill the gap between the stained glass and window sash. If the window is stained or is vinyl, you use clear silicone caulk. Once the caulk has cured, use a needle-nose pliers to remove the brad nails.

Many people don't realize that caulk is an adhesive or glue. In fact, the chemistry of caulk is nearly identical to many common adhesives. Once the caulk is cured along the edges of the stained glass panel, neither the panel or the caulk will fall out. The stained glass panel is very secure.

If you desire to remove the stained glass panel at a later date, you simply take a razor knife and cut through the caulk. Just place the blade along side the edge of the stained glass panel. It takes just moderate effort to cut through the caulk to the window glass below. Don't press too hard as the razor could scratch the window glass. Once the stained glass panel is removed, use a regular straight-edge razor to remove the residual caulk from the window glass.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local stained-glass artists who can make spectacular windows for you.

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9 Responses to Stained Glass

  1. Hi Tim, Your suggestion to put a stained glass panel on top of existing insulated glass panel is splendid. I will be getting a contractor to install an interior sliding door. I would like to put about 12" x 12" stained glass panels. To achieve what you suggested should the door have true divided lights or can we do this with simulated divided lights too- how will that look you think? We will cut the stained glass to match the light panel in either case. Also, on an interior door which should be attractive on both sides (in both rooms), will we need to put stained glass panels on both sides or will one side be enough to show through?

  2. Unlike clear glass, stained glass will absorb heat from the sun. This will cause expansion and contraction cycles. However, an expansion joint cannot be put into a window sash to allow for this expansion.

    1) the stained glass should never be sandwiched between layers of insulated glass. It will over heat (expand) and need repair very quickly. 2) when added to the interior of the sash, it should have an air circulation system included to allow for air to circulate between the IG unit and the stained glass to help "cool the stained glass'.

    Find an experienced stained glass contractor, not a home remodeling contractor for this phase of your project.


  3. Dear Tim,
    We are remodeling our master bath and have a round window that is currently stained glass that will be within our new shower. If the stained glass can be removed without damage and reworked to be a single panel. Do you think this idea would work in a high humidity area such as this?

  4. I love this post! My question is similar, but the house I am inquiring about has amazing prairie stained glass in EVERY WINDOW. So, is there a recommended process to utilize all these pieces in order to make each of those windows functioning (to open?) I originally thought "Customize and insert the stained glass between layers of insulated glass", but after reading all the replies, this does not seem like a sustainable option. If I secure it per the instructions above, I have 100 'do not open' windows...yikes! How do I get the best of all worlds?

  5. I have a 35x70 double hung stained glass window. In a 1904 St. Louis worlds fare home. I want to remove it and install a new low e picture window. My question is, can I mount the stained glass window in front of the new window? I want to keep it in the wood frame and just have it sit I front of the new window, to keep the history of my home.

  6. Our window is vinyl, and I'm wonder if it's OK to put the brad nails or clips into that. We have done it with a wood frame window but never with a vinyl one.

  7. I have 75 year old door with two 11 7/8 x 40 ¾ diamond European [bubbled] stain glass panels that have bulged with time and heat causing two panes to crack. The restoration bid was way out of reach for me and I purchased two 9 x 35 Tiffany panels which turned out to be extremely thin that I am thinking of sandwiching between two ¼ inch glass panes for some insulation, but mainly protection in a cherry frame to go as a unit in the door. Is there an epoxy product that could be poured into the Tiffany and exterior glass sandwich that would remain clear over time and would unify the combination? If not, should I vent the glass sandwich to encourage it to breath? My concern is humidity that will eventually permeate the cherry and fog the sandwiched glass.

  8. What are the repercussions of applying the stained glass onto the exterior clear glass of front entry doors? I have a stained glass artist who will take the clear glass insert and within the frame apply the stained glass design.
    I am concerned about cleaning exterior stained glass, but anything else I should consider? Thank you

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