Glass- or acrylic-block backsplashes are usually part of an exterior wall, where they can let in natural light. This is a truly unique and somewhat unusual treatment that requires careful planning.

Just like conventional windows, glass-block units must be set into adequately framed openings. That means opening up the wall and adding load-carrying headers. This makes it more difficult and expensive to use glass or acrylic block as a backsplash, says Robert Tildsley, a Boston-area architect. In one kitchen, Tildsley used glass block to create a 20-ft. run of backsplash 20 in. high. Because glass block can't be cut, the dimensions of the material determine backsplash height. Tildsley set the block in mortar, and cased and flashed it on the outside of the house as he would a window. Framing had to be precise. In all, the decision to use glass block added "several thousand" dollars to the project. Most of that cost was in extra design and building steps, not materials.

Prices for clear, loose glass block range from about $4.25 for a 6 x 6-in. block to about $15.25 for a 12 x 12-in. one. Pittsburgh Corning manufactures a line of preassembled glass-block window units in vinyl frames. The 2-in.-thick block is bonded with silicone. Units 8 and 16 in. high, about the right size for a backsplash, are available in widths from 16 up to 80 in. Retail prices will vary, but an 8 x 48-in. window costs about $260 and a 16 x 64-in. runs around $350. Lighter and more energy efficient than glass, acrylic block is either 2 or 3 in. thick, and it is assembled in aluminum or vinyl frames for installation. Hy-Lite Products, of Beaumont, California, makes assembled units sized on 6- and 8-in. grids for roughly $25 to $30 per square foot. For example, a 2-in. unit that's 18 in. tall x 42 in. wide retails for about $160.

Plate glass also can be used as a backsplash, and has the advantage of reflecting light onto work surfaces. Attached to the wall with screws, it can protect faux finishes and hand-painted murals. Because the glass panels can be removed, walls can be painted without fear of having the finish ruined by water or grease. Although stainproof and easy to clean, glass has an obvious weakness; Nancy Mullan, a certified kitchen designer in New York who has used this treatment, says that the panels are subject to cracking if a fastener is tightened just a hair too much.

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