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I had an interior pane from double-paned sliding door shatter

I had an interior pane...
I had an interior pane from a double-paned sliding door shatter in my apartment. The pieces immediately started falling bits at a time and I could hear the pieces still in-tact wanting to give-way as I walked across the floor. The pieces of glass were small and were not pebble-shaped but more of a diamond shape. I'm pretty sure that means this glass is not tempered.
There was no impact to the glass door, yet it shattered and I have no idea how.

Here are some facts I have come up with: The space between the two panes are .5 inches apart, the glass shattered on the first hot day of the summer, temperature was 90 degrees F, I started my non-central air conditioner (which is mounted close to the ceiling directly to the side of the sliding door) the night before. I'm not sure when I turned it off but it was not running at 4:00pm when the glass broke. In the winter the interior glass would get a build-up of ice 6+ inches high and an inch thick. It would continuously melt and refreeze throughout the winter because I would turn my heat up high when at home and low when I left the apartment. This incident occurred on May 24th when I arrived home and just as I opened my apartment door (which opens up to the living room that contains the sliding door) I heard a strange faint noise. I then discovered the shattered glass.
Can you explain with strong evidence how this glass would have shattered on its own (without a force of impact by an object or person) and why, or if there is strong evidence that impact from a person or object was not likely to have caused the interior pane to shatter?
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Answered in 32 minutes by:
6/30/2010
MJ
MJ, Architect
Category: Home Improvement
Satisfied Customers: 744
Experience: Licensed Architect, LEED® AP, NCARB Certified, M.Arch degree, 12+ years experience
Verified
Hello and thank you for your question.

It's rare for a glass door to just shatter spontaneously, but it does happen, and there are a number of possibilities.

First off, your heating and cooling habits sound pretty normal, and would not be expected on their own to cause this problem in any way. Doors are designed for extreme temperature stresses (they're required to be able to withstand 500 degrees F in testing!), so any weather conditions and heating/cooling habits within the normal range of seasonal temperatures and the limits of your heating and AC systems should be tolerated by the door - unless it is in some way defective or damaged.
However, IF there is some flaw present in the glass, or if scratching or impact damage does occur, then the expansion and contraction caused by temperature extremes can be the trigger a failure.

I have to say it would be very unusual if your door is not tempered or safety glass, unless this is quite an old door. These are code requirements for doors in most locations. Also, the small pieces that you're describing are more consistent with the behavior of tempered glass than non-tempered glass, which will usually break into a mix of large shards and small slivers and dust.
If the pieces were for the most part similar in size - regardless of their shape - then this was more than likely tempered. Some types of safety or tempered glass do tend to break into little squares or cubes - for instance the type of high-impact glass that is used for auto windshields or glass bus shelters - but not all safety or tempered glass behaves in this way.

Here are some possibilities for this problem:
Tempered glass occasionally experiences "spontaneous breakage" because of a manufacturing flaw in which a tiny chunk of unmelted nickel-sulfide metal is present somewhere in the pane (this would not necessarily be large enough to see), and rapid expansion or contraction of this tiny metal bit causes the whole pane to shatter. Since your problem happened on a day of temperature extremes, this could be the cause.

Another explanation could be that the glass was damaged at some point - whether when originally installed or at some later point. A very small crack or deep scratch that is not visible or noticeable and may have been present for a long time can begin to grow, and when it grows to the point when it cannot withstand the stresses placed on the glass the whole pane shatters.

Another problem that happens occasionally is that a dual-pane insulated glass door is either accidentally or intentionally installed backwards. If this happens with a door that has a "low-E" side to provide reflective insulation, then the heat stresses on the door can be so extreme as to cause the inside pane to shatter.

In any case, if the door is relatively new then you may want to contact the manufacturer to see what the warranty status is. Unfortunately glass warrantees are often pretty limited.

While it is usually technically possible for a glass expert to examine the broken glass and the door and determine the cause of breakage, the door and glass companies tend to frequently come to the conclusion that the breakage was caused by some non-warranteed cause, such as scratching or impact.

 


I hope this information is helpful, and if so that you will please click the green "ACCEPT" icon as this is the only way that I am paid in any way for my time and answer through JustAnswer.
Thank you.

Edited by MJ on 6/30/2010 at 5:47 AM EST
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Customer reply replied 7 years ago
Thank you MJ.<br /><br />I might not have described the pieces of glass very accurately. I have a crappy photo on my phone (any possibility of sending it to you??) and the size of the pieces are not consistent throughout. I thought about describing the shape and size more thoroughly but just said "diamond shaped" because I didn't think it was important. Some pieces are squarish/rectangular and tiny/large and others are small/large elongated rectangles/triangles-Wow, I'm sorry that was a really bad description. The whole pattern of the breakage reminds me of the layers of muscle cells. Some of the layers are sliver-like and some are large in comparison and there is no pattern (even though I described it as a pattern). The only reason why I continue to focus on the possibility that this is not tempered glass is because my friend has worked in construction and other similar areas but claims to know his "stuff" and saw the breakage and said it was not tempered. So I wanted to clarify my description just to be sure.<br /><br />Also, the apartment complex is not very old (80s maybe) so if there was unmelted nickel why would it not have shattered any year prior? How long can a tempered glass remain intact if there is indeed a failure in the glass such as unmelted nickel, or the tenant prior to my residency caused some damage? I lived there for a year so I'm not sure how well that will hold up. Also (also), if the apartment complex won't give me the information of the manufacturer, how could I find it? <br /><br />Thank you for your help and I won't ask anymore questions. I extended your response time to 12 hours (that's the maximum time available-otherwise I would give you the typical 24 hr. business period to respond). Also, if it makes any difference, I am going to accept your response for your payment. Thanks so much!<br /><br />Sincerely,<br /><br />Sarah :)
Hello - thank you for the additional information.

Ok, if the glass broke into irregular shards, and they did not stay connected in any way, then it probably wasn't tempered or safety glass.

If that's the case, and if the glass had some small crack or flaw that caused this, then it's better that it broke the way it did than by somebody bumping into it, because serious injury could certainly have resulted.
But I'd suspect in this case that the glass in this door may have previously been replaced at some point. This is because tempered or safety glass has been required by building codes in glass doors for many years, and because of this doors aren't even typically manufactured without it.

Something like the unmelted bit of nickel sulfate or the tiny crack that happened during installation or during some past impact can apparently "lurk" in the glass for many years, before the right combination of stresses finally causes the pane to break. Over time and with changes in temperature the door itself also shrinks and expands, and the pressures on the glass change. So, yes, either of these could still be the culprit. So could some combination of previous damage to the glass and a recent severe temperature change or impact (even from a bird hitting the door, or something of that nature).

If the apartment complex doesn't know or won't give you information on the manufacturer then you may be able to find it on the door - sometimes it is on one of the edges or in tiny engraved lettering on the door hardware or in the space between the panes of glass.
But, f the door is from the 80s then the whole door itself is certainly past its warranteed life, and the glazing would typically be warranteed for a more limited period anyway. A glass sliding door can usually be expected to need to be replaced in 20-25 years on average. So in that sense there may be little point in contacting the manufacturer.

I understand now that part of the reason you are asking the question is because you want to be able to make a case to the landlord that you did nothing to cause the breakage.
I've provided all of the reasons that I know of that could cause this (other than the obvious impact of something or someone hitting the glass from the inside.) The only other cause I know of is one that happens to defective insulated windows in very cold weather, in which the inner pane of glass gets sucked inward (toward the exterior pane) because of a vacuum-effect in the cavity between the panes. But given the season and weather this certainly doesn't seem likely in your situation.

As I said, unless an expert glass inspector were to examine the actual broken glass (which is usually only done in situations where serious injury or death has occured as a result of broken or fallen glass, or where a building is experiencing many failures of relatively newly-installed doors or windows), there is probably no way to ever determine exactly what happened. Sure, it could have been partially the result of damage by some past tenant - but unless there was evident damage and you have dated photos of it, it's not likely you'll be able to convince a landlord of that.
Since you have pictures of the door that seem to establish that the glass was not tempered or safety glass, you could also make the point to the landlord that the door does not meet the building and life safety codes and that the landlord is lucky that serious injury did not occur. As I said, I suspect that the glass was replaced at some point, and replacing it with non-tempered glass does not meet code.

I hope this helps, and if so please click the green "ACCEPT" icon as this is the only way that I can be paid for my answer through JustAnswer.
Thank you.

Edited by MJ on 6/30/2010 at 3:16 PM EST
MJ
MJ, Architect
Category: Home Improvement
Satisfied Customers: 744
Experience: Licensed Architect, LEED® AP, NCARB Certified, M.Arch degree, 12+ years experience
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