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What Makes Glass Shatter?

I was just sitting in my living room, quietly reading a book, when I heard this cross between a thump like a bird strike and a shot ... and the glass in the French door between the living room and sunroom shattered. It's still shattering actually, in crackling little bits as the fault lines spread into finer and finer sections. None has fallen out of the door frame yet, and I've got an old sheet down to catch it if it does ... but what makes something like that happen? We haven't had any temperature extremes, no earthquakes, nobody banged the door recently or ever that I know of, and it's about five years old so if it was faulty, I'd think it would have splintered before now.

I've already checked the yellow pages and there are two repair companies in town that look like they could fix it. Don't even want to think about the cost. Good thing I've got glass insurance. Guess I'd better check out the deductible.

I hate it when I'm just sitting there, not making any trouble, and trouble finds me anyway.

UPDATE: My insurance only covers outside windows so despite the fact that this door was designed, built, installed, secured and wired as an outside door and that there is siding on the other side of the door ie outside, because I've closed the roof overhang above the patio with a glass sunroom, it's no longer an outside door. It's going to cost $300 to fix it and they hope to get it done by Friday. The company has kindly indicated that they won't charge me labour costs, so I'm suitably grateful.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 4th, 2009 01:46 am (UTC)
Now that sucks! Found this - maybe it will help explain what happened.

It sounds like what you may have experienced is something known as "spontaneous breakage". Spontaneous breakage is a relatively well known (in the glass industry) - but somewhat rare - phenomenon associated with tempered safety glass.

One rather common cause of tempered spontaneous breakage is known as a "nickel-sulfide inclusion". In this scenario there was a very small chunk of metal (nickel-sulfide) that did not melt in the float furnace and that for whatever reason expanded or contracted and caused the glass to fail.

However, not all float lines produce glass with such inclusions - and some lines are relatively well-known for it. Who made the door? Different window/door companies buy their glass from different glass companies.

Another possibilty is that the tempered glass was damaged during the original installation in the door panel at the factory. Glass can sustain microscopic damage during handling that is not visible at the time. When glass is cracked, even very tiny - virtually invisible - cracks, the cracks will grow.

This growth can be extremely slow - literally tiny fractions of an inch per year - or slower. This growth can also be substantially faster as well. But in your case IF this break was caused by edge damage the crack that contributed to it was obviously a slow grower.

By its nature, tempered glass consists of an inner tension layer and an outer compression layer. If the inner tension layer is breached then the glass "explodes" into the 100's of tiny glass pieces that you found on your floor. So, this glass could have been damaged and it took a while for this crack to grow enough to penetrate the tension layer.

Tempered glass will not shatter from overheating - not the level of heat that you will experience in a "normal" situation anyway. Soda-lime (window) tempered glass will stay intact at temperatures exceeeding 500F degrees unless the glass has a physical flaw as previously mentioned, which is why tempered glass is used in a typical oven door.

It is possible for a glass expert to sift thru all that rubble and determine the cause of the breakage, unfortunately very few companies warrant against it because while it is possible to determine a cause, folks rarely bother to do so unless there are other issues involved - injury or lawsuit for example.

May. 4th, 2009 02:29 am (UTC)
Very interesting info, Jess, thanks! I'll get in touch with the builder to see if he's heard of other problems with the supplier. The glass is still, for now, all in the frame and hasn't cascaded onto the floor yet. I'm hoping it will stay 'intact' until the repair people get here tomorrow, so that they can clean it out safely.
May. 4th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
Whoa. Dang. Hon, I am so sorry. That's the one part of my house that doesn't seem to be falling apart.
May. 4th, 2009 02:31 am (UTC)
Thanks ... this is a new house, less than five years old, so I didn't expect any repair issues. LOL, best laid plans and all that. As Jess learned, note above, it must've been a flawed sheet of glass. If the glass ever splinters out of the frame, or when, there will definitely be hundreds and hundreds of tiny pieces. Hopefully, the repair people can clear it out with no mess and replace it easily.
May. 4th, 2009 02:30 am (UTC)
wow! I'd be thinking someone was taking potshots at me! hope you can find someone to fix it, without it costing you and arm and a leg.
May. 4th, 2009 02:35 am (UTC)
Well, if it was an outside door, I'd think the same thing ... but it's an inside door, between the great room and the sunroom. I'm really glad now that I've got glass insurance, which was an extra bit of coverage. This is my second glass incident this year -- well, in six or seven months. When my sister was visiting after my last surgery, she and her daughter took my car to do some sightseeing in the mountains. While they were out walking, someone broke the passenger window and stole my GPS. Little bits of glass everywhere, but easily fixed, thank goodness. Now I'm wondering what the third glass incident will be!
May. 4th, 2009 02:51 am (UTC)
How bizarre, as if you needed any more complications this week.
May. 4th, 2009 03:07 am (UTC)
LOL, yeah. Ah, well, gives me something to do while the days tick down to the fourteenth, right? ;)
May. 4th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
Are you studying for your Pre-op tests?
May. 4th, 2009 04:48 am (UTC)
Already had 'em. Some surprise ones, too, like several xrays that were really quite painful. I wondered if I'd be able to drive home after, but I was okay. And they typed and cross-matched my blood -- again. I asked why it had to be done again, given that it's on file that I'm O neg so can only have O neg blood, and she just shook her head. In the pre admin, they asked all the questions I've answered THREE times before. But they don't have access to the previous files, and I guess the surgeon didn't send the forms from his office. Those would be the forms I had to come back from the south by 1 April to complete. I was not amused.
May. 4th, 2009 04:21 am (UTC)
It must be your inner Blair that's attracting trouble when you're innocently just reading a book.

"Honestly, Jim! I was just sitting there, you know, reading about Siberian Shamanism, and, man! The glass just fell apart. I didn't touch it at all. And no, nobody shot at me, either. That only tends to happen when I'm with you. So, uh, do you think you could, like, check out the pieces? Just dial your sight up and see if the Cascade cop of the year can solve this mystery for me? Because I'd really like to know why it did that. And I'll just get online and see what I can research about phenomenon like this. And you never know, Jim, this little test might come in really handy, say, if you had a burglary case with a broken window--"

"Chief. Enough. I'll check into it. But something like this could only happen to you, Sandburg. Hey, maybe the window cracked into a million pieces because you upset the balance of the universe -- after all, you were just sitting quietly and reading your book, instead of jumping up to do ten things in between reading a few paragraphs."

"Very funny, Ellison."

"I'm just glad you weren't hurt, buddy. Go on and do your research; I'll be over here sifting through the evidence."

"Thanks, Jim. And this will make a cool addition to my diss."

The End.


May. 4th, 2009 04:49 am (UTC)
LOL, oh, sweetie, this is marvelous! Thanks so much. ::big happy smile::
May. 4th, 2009 04:59 am (UTC)
You are welcome.

May. 4th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)
lmao... that's funny, laurie. the Sandburg Zone at work
May. 5th, 2009 01:11 am (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it.

May. 4th, 2009 11:16 am (UTC)
Despite having read Jess' explanatory comment I find the idea of sitting there and quietly reading while the glass is shattering *slowly* without any perceivable reason somewhat ... creepy.

Like scene from a horror movie. ;-)

Though I'm glad you have glass insurance so it won't cost you too much. Hope the insurance will cover it and not give you any problems about it. :-)
May. 4th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
It is a bit creepy. And it was still shattering into smaller and smaller segments through the night. fortunately, it's still in the frame and not on the floor.

The insurance people gave me the number to call and now I'm waiting for a repair person to come do an assessment, then it has to go through claims review for approval ... I'll be lucky to get this door done by the end of the week. Given it's an outside door, the only kind covered by the policy, it all seems a bit convoluted and lengthy. At different times of the year, one could freeze to death and even now, security is an issue.
May. 4th, 2009 05:44 pm (UTC)
That's pretty odd. Are you on a secure foundation? My sister's an architect and sometimes they hear about houses on uneven foundations experiencing slow breakage like that in windows and sliding glass doors as the house settles at different rates at different levels. it doesn't happen fast because it's a slow settling, but the stress is eventually just too much for the glass to keep warping so it has to break.

Or you have ghosts...

*hug* hope you can get it replaced for not too much
May. 4th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't be surprised if the foundation is settling as this is a brand new development, not even five years old. You make a good point and I'll write to the developer to see if he's had any other problems like this from this development.

I think some of the homes might have ghosts (we may be built over an old Indian graveyard, and are definitely over an old riverbed -- river now flows on the other side of a HUGE promontory), but I've never had any sign of ghosts before.
May. 4th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
*nods* if you're over an old riverbed, then uneven settling probably makes more sense with all the heterogenous layers of sediment and things. Noticed any cracks in the plaster? You usually get that before glass breakage, but not always.

Of course, riverbeds can increase the likelihood of hauntings, too, but if you had ghosts, I'm sure you'd probably have known about it before now *shrug*

*absently wonders how big a geek you need to be to go from geology to ghosts without changing the subject*
May. 4th, 2009 05:59 pm (UTC)

Yikes! That's a mystery for sure! I hope you get it repaired quickly and that your insurance covers it!

May. 4th, 2009 07:02 pm (UTC)
Well, hopefully someone will come to assess it today, with the hope of repair before the end of the week. I'm pretty sure the insurance should cover it. It's an outside, double glazed, secure (ie bolt and lock) door to the patio. However a few years ago, I put an unheated sunroom over the patio so they might claim it's no longer an outside door. We'll see.
May. 4th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC)

As an inside door, you'd think it would be more protected! Good luck. =>}

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )



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