Glass versus plastic - which is better?

Glass Versus Plastic Roofing Comparison

There are a few different factors to think about when selecting the right glazing option for your project. It could be that your project is a lean-to roof, a glass roof pergola or you are looking to replace panes of glass for a greenhouse; all of these can be completed with glass or plastic sheets, with advantages and disadvantages to each option.

When the time comes to complete your roof, it is good to know the advantages and disadvantages of each glazing option in order for you to get the best possible results for your project.

There are many different types of glazing options and roofing sheets but the main glazing options include clear flat plastic sheets, glass roof sheets, polycarbonate glazing sheets, polycarbonate roofing sheets, plastic glazing sheets, and glass panes. In essence, the main decision is glass versus plastic – which is better?

When deciding whether to use glass roof sheets or plastic glazing sheets there are 4 key points to consider, which we are going explain, including:

 So, are plastic sheets better than glass for glazing? Read on to find out!

Is glass or plastic easier to install?

When considering which glazing option use it is key to know whether Clear glass window panes or Clear Plastic Sheets are easier to install. There a few installation factors to consider so the list below helps compare installing Clear Plastic Sheeting versus glass:

When using plastic sheets, like solid polycarbonate sheets, to glaze your roof there is a wider range of Glazing Bars options available which gives more options for your project. This is especially true of Twinwall and multiwall polycarbonate sheets which are lighter and can be installed with PVC or aluminium glazing bars. However, this does not mean that there are no Glazing Bars on the market for glazing a Glass Roof! Premium aluminium glazing bar options, like the Alukap Glazing Bar range, are ideal for glazing glass of any thickness and can be timber supported or self-supporting.

When using the multiwall polycarbonate sheets for your project, in order to install them in place there are three glazing bar options:

1) The Alukap-XR Glazing Bars which are fully aluminium and the highest quality rafter-supported glazing bar system on the market.

2) The Snapa Glazing bars are a more budget-friendly rafter-supported glazing bar option

3) The Alukap-SS Self Supporting Glazing Bar which are used when the project does not have any frames in place and requires a self-supported glazing bar system, these are also fully aluminium and the highest quality self-supported glazing bar system on the market.

A lot of clear plastic sheeting options, like polycarbonate, are very DIY friendly as they are easily cut, easy to drill and also very simply fitted – giving plastic the edge over Glass Panes which sometimes may even require a specialist to install.

Overall, when looking at glazing options, Clear Plastic Sheeting is easier to install than glass panes as it has multiple installation advantages; this is why many DIYers choose this option.

Axgard Glazing Review Image

Is it easier to handle glass or plastic?

Whether you are looking to complete a DIY or a commercial project it is always an advantage for the goods to be as easy to handle as possible as this will mean the least amount of specialist tools/equipment required.

When it comes to handling Plastic Sheeting has a clear advantage over Glass sheets for several reasons, including:

  • Glass is easily broken on site whereas the likes of Twinwall polycarbonate sheets and solid polycarbonate sheets are a lot less fragile with some polycarbonate roofing sheets, like Axgard Clear sheeting, even being 200x stronger than glass of the same thickness!
  • Unlike Glass, which requires specialist CNC or similar tooling, Plastic Sheets are very easy to cut to size and shape with just standard DIY tools. Here is a quick video that shows how easy it is to cut polycarbonate roofing sheets and how little equipment is required.
  • Another advantage that polycarbonate glazing sheet has over glass is how easy it is to drill holes for fixing into the sheet. Whereas glass has a high shatter risk polycarbonate is extremely strong and not brittle making it easy to drill through. Follow this How to drill polycarbonate roofing sheets guide to learn how plastic sheets can be simply cut using a basic drill and equipment.
  • One final key factor which makes Plastic sheets the clear-cut winner in terms of easiness to handle is the fact that Plastic sheeting, even clear flat solid plastic sheets, are a lot lighter than Glass Panes of the same thickness. This means that they are easier to move, transport and work with compared to Glass. Using plastic removes some of the harder heavy lifting which means it is safe for DIYers to install.

Does glass or plastic glazing look better?

One thing that is always considered when starting any project is how it is going to look when completed. Naturally it is important to get the right balance of how cost-effective an option is versus how appealing to the eyes the finished project is.

The appearance of your glazing option is particularly important when you are installing a pergola, lean to or house extension that is going to be a prominent part of your home.

Without question, when considering Glass for your project it does have the advantages over multiwall Polycarbonate sheets in terms of having unbeatable clarity and light transmission. This is mainly due to the Twinwall and multiwall sheets being manufactured with a structured design (sometimes called flutes) which reduce clarity a little. These flutes are a disadvantage if the see-through glass look is what you want for your project.

However, there is a massive cost difference between Glass and plastic sheet, which we’ll cover shortly!

For those looking for the best mix of both costs and appearance, it is worth considering the solid wall polycarbonate glazing sheets as these are more cost-effective than glass whilst maintaining the see-through glass look, giving you the best mix of clarity and cost-effectiveness! 

Is plastic more cost effective than glass?

As touched on above, when considering any project, either commercial or DIY, one main factors is to stay within budget while maintaining the best possible appearance for your finished project. Like most things, there is no right or wrong answer as to what the best possible appearance is for your project as it is entirely down to what effect you or your client are looking for. There is a whole variety of project types and matching budgets that may suit different glazing and glazing bar options however, below is a guide as to which material is best to use to achieve the desired effect:

Option 1. Maximum light transmission and that ‘Glass look’ - If you are looking for a Clear see-through glass effect then your best options would be Solid polycarbonate roofing sheets or glass. Both give the glass effect and allow for maximum clarity, however, the advantages to using the Clear Plastic Axgard sheets are that they are a lot more cost-effective, a lot lighter and are also a lot easier to install/cut. For the best effect to hold your glass effect glazing sheets in place, whether glass or plastic, then aluminium rafter supported glazing bars  are great if you have an existing frame or Aluminium Self Supporting Glazing Bars if you are looking for a self-supporting glazing bar system.

Option 2. Best value for looks If your project requires budget restraint but you still want good value then your best two options are either the Twinwall and  Multiwall Polycarbonate or the Solid polycarbonate sheets. Both offer different price points and tint options for different applications. if you are looking to use the Multiwall Polycarbonate sheets then you will have the advantages of the more privacy, the most cost-effective option, and a larger selection of Glazing bars which are compatible, however, Axgard Solid sheets are still good value with a high lifespan and excellent clarity.

Option 3. Budget choice - Finally, if there is no preference on appearance and you are just looking at the most budget-friendly option for your project then the best option for you is the Multiwall or Twinwall Polycarbonate Roofing Sheets. Structured Polycarbonate sheets have a clear price advantage on both Glass and solid Polycarbonate sheets and are still the most popular option for both DIY and commercial projects alike where budget is a factor. When using the polycarbonate roofing sheets, to achieve the most cost-effective project it is best paired with a PVC Snap Fix glazing bar system, like Snapa Glazing Bars, as these are the most budget-friendly glazing bar option. You can also use aluminium glazing bars for a stronger roof and greater roof lifespan.

Glass versus Plastic Glazing - Summary

In conclusion, there are advantages and disadvantages to using plastic glazing sheets or glass panes for your project, however, considering all aspects, the short answer is that plastic roofing is better than glass roofing for commercial and domestic roofing projects.

In several key areas plastic sheeting outperforms glass panes which is why it is increasingly more popular as we move into the modern era. The main takeaway points to remember when choosing a roofing material for your project are:

Glass Advantages: High clarity, colour availability, UV stable.

Glass Disadvantages: brittleness, Heat absorbent, heavy, specialist installation required, dangerous if shatters.

Plastic Advantages: Easy to install, Cut to size, virtually unbreakable, more cost-effective, larger choice of glazing bars.

Plastic disadvantages: Not quite as clear (although barely a visible difference)


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