How to Prevent a Glass Panel Explosion

  • November 17, 2020

In this day and age, nearly everywhere you look, you are likely to see the application of one of the most important innovations in modern architecture: tempered glass. This material can be used in a variety of ways, including commercial windows and doors, vehicles, cookware, and more. Tempered or toughened glass is definitely much stronger than it looks; in fact, it’s able to withstand high surface compression levels and is rendered to be five times stronger than regular plate glass. 

As strong as it is, some toughened glass can break under very certain extreme conditions. However, the good thing is that it shatters into pebbles—making it much safer than regular glass that breaks into shards. Despite that, shattering glass can still be dangerous no matter if it is safety-rated or not. There have also been incidents where glass appears to explode, seemingly out of nowhere, causing damages, expensive repairs, and injuries. These can happen for glass stair balustrades, glass stairs, and other structures.

Knowing about why glass ‘explodes’ and how to prevent it from happening will allow you to make a better choice when browsing a selection of balustrades for your home. 

What Causes Exploding Glass?

Spontaneous glass breakage is typically caused by one of the following factors: 

Binding

The sheet of glass may be bound too tightly in its frame, which causes stress and pressure on the glass when it expands or contracts due to temperature changes.  

Installation

Damages incurred during installation such as a small nick in the corner or chipped edges can form into larger breaks over time.

Thickness

If glass thickness is inadequate, then it might not be able to resist any incoming wind load properly, causing it to break with the added pressure. 

Internal Defects

There are some defects in glass that are microscopic, such as the inclusions of nickel sulphide that can cause damage later on. 

More often than not, experienced glass technicians can avoid issues with installation, fitting, and thickness. However, avoiding glass with components of nickel sulphide in it is much more challenging, as it is naturally included in the mixture of sand that is used. In most cases, it’s impossible to avoid in the process of manufacturing tempered glass!

While typically safe for normal glass, the presence of nickel sulphide (NiS) in tempered glass can cause breakage since it is subjected to numerous heating and rapid cooling cycles. This toughens up the glass by creating tension in the centre as the surface cools more quickly. The toughening oven where glass is heated will cause NiS particles to shrink—but they expand again once the glass is at room temperature. If these NiS inclusions expand past the internal stress of the glass, then it can break! This often happens suddenly and without warning. 

Signs of Tempered Glass at Risk for Exploding

There are ways to tell if a panel of tempered glass is at risk for breaking. This is indicated by a butterfly pattern formed by the NiS impurities expanding within the glass. These are especially evident once the panel has started to break (but has not yet shattered). However, the manufacturing process has yet to find a way to detect and eliminate NiS inclusions when making glass. As such, risk management becomes necessary to address this issue. 

Identifying toughened glass panels that might be at risk for ‘exploding’ can take advantage of a process called heat-soaking. This involves the re-heating of glass to see which ones contain NiS impurities. As glass is heated to a temperature of 290°C over several hours, the nickel sulphide expands more rapidly and, depending on where they are located in the glass, breaks.

While this does not remove the impurities already present in the glass, it is an excellent preventive measure as it causes high-risk panels to break early in the factory rather than on-site. Should one panel with NiS explode during the heat-soaking, it means the whole batch is defective and should be discarded. 

Solutions to Spontaneous Glass Breakage

There are two possible solutions to prevent the risks of experiencing broken tempered glass, especially for structures like stainless steel and glass balustrades that are becoming more popular today. While the steel structure provides added security, you’ll want the glass to have its own structural integrity to avoid breakages.

The first solution has already been mentioned, and it is to ensure that your supplier of choice has tempered glass that has undergone the heat-soaking process. This way, panels that don’t pass the test in the factory don’t make it to the shop, minimising the risk of sudden breakage.

The second solution is to use different types of glass, depending on the application. This is something you can discuss with the business you are buying glass from! Some balustrades, for instance, would do better with laminated glass. This type of glass does not necessarily have to be tempered, but its strength comes from two layers that sandwich a bonding interlayer together. This, of course, does not mean that it is unbreakable; all glass types have this risk. However, unlike tempered glass, it does not explode into a thousand tiny pieces. 

Quality glass design will also minimise risks when one or more panels break. For instance, some elevated structures can be protected by laminated glass on either side, preventing shattered glass from falling to people passing by below. 

The Bottom Line: Choosing Your Balustrading Supplier

Choosing the right suppliers for your balustrading needs is the most important step in this process. The right contractors will lay out all your options and be upfront about what you can expect in terms of safety, durability, and overall reliability. Different types of glass are suited for different structures in your home, so work together with them in choosing the appropriate type of glass for the application, whether that’s on the stairs, on your patio, or on the balcony. 

Tempered and laminated glass types remain as the top, excellent choices that are applicable for many types of use—provided that they’ve gone through the proper testing to ensure their durability and minimise the risk of breakage. By putting safety first and trusting the right experts, you’ll have a quality balustrade installed with virtually no worries!

Are you looking for reliable glass balustrade manufacturers in Perth? Here at Aussie Balustrading & Stairs, we take pride in being one of the best in this industry. We sell steel and stainless steel stairs, wireless balustrading, residential and commercial handrails, and glass fencing in Perth. View all of our services and offerings today!