Spontaneous Shattering of Sliding Glass Door

jeannie109September 4, 2007

At midnight last night I awakened hearing what I thought was rain. I got out of bed and went to the sliding glass door in my bedroom and found that the sliding glass door (dual pane tempered glass) was in the midst of shattering. There was no loud pop or bang like a BB gun or pellet had gone through the window, it was just like a spider web getting increasingly larger and making a twinkling sound for the next 1/2 hour or so. It has been extremely hot and humid in San Diego this whole past week (I live across the street from the ocean). Could the weather be the reason for the shattering? This is a brand new condo and window, and was only installed less than a year ago. The entire window, frame, screen and all components were installed upside down (you can see the labels in all corners of all the door panels and screen). Could this have caused the shattering? Also, is there a difference between the two glass sections, inside and outside - like the outside is more heat resistent or anything? I am just stumped here, and even though my condo is still under the 1st year warranty, they are saying they will not cover anything. This happened at midnight while I was asleep, so how could it be my fault? Please help!

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If the wrong side of a low E dual pane door was facing out and sunlight was directly hitting the door I believe that could cause the glass to overheat. You say the door was installed upside down, including the frame. Are you saying the track and rollers are on the top of the door?

    Bookmark   September 4, 2007 at 11:28PM
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Had that happen almost ten years ago. The inside pane shattered on one door. No one was home at the time so no idea why. I removed the other glass from the frames last month (we don't throw anything away) and used them for a greenhouse effect in a new shed that we are building.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2007 at 11:42PM
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Your doors and windows were not installed upside down. Labels aside.
Glass can break due to differential pressure and/or temperature extremes. The glass should be covered under warranty.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2007 at 7:27PM
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Hi jeannie,

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.

So, since the cause isn't determined, it is "assumed" that the glass was shattered for reasons other than "spontaneous breakage".

I would suggest contacting the door manufacturer and seeing what they have to say about potential warranty of the glass.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 5, 2007 at 10:16PM
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Brushworks Spectacular Finishes

I replace at least one patio door panel per year due to the spontaneous breakage. It's usually during the colder months.

It happens in wood and vinyl patio doors.


    Bookmark   September 9, 2007 at 11:24AM
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This problem is often caused by the expansion and contraction of the wooden framing that surrounds the patio door.

A Patio door sits in between the wooden framing, which moves from winter to summer, and the brick veneer which pretty much stays where it is.

Many patio doors wont open properly because this warping of the frame distorts the patio door frame and pushes down on the panels. Sometimes it just makes the rollers wear out. Other times it so bad the glass actually breaks.

Its likely the this has happened to your door. You can tell if the frame is shifting by checking the top of the sliding door. Is the patio door leaving scrape marks on the top frame when you open and close it ?

Sometimes you can fix this problem by pulling out the shims behind the top casing and allowing the frame to snap back in place against the header.

Other times its so bad that you have to rework the header to get a proper size opening again.

Best Regards

Here is a link that might be useful: All-about-screen-doors

    Bookmark   September 18, 2007 at 3:11PM
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I have an aluminum, low-E sliding door that did the spontaneous shattering thing last night! It is a 6 year old Windowmaster product. I'm in San Diego. Door was functioning properly up until it shattered. Any other advice? Windowmaster was bought by Milgard, I found out recently when matching our old windows to new ones in a remodel. Defective product?

    Bookmark   November 1, 2010 at 1:03PM
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Which pane of glass broke?

    Bookmark   November 1, 2010 at 2:39PM
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I had a tempered glass picture window that recently exploded with a loud boom and after effects of glass shattering of the outside pane. What appeared to be a small bb gun or pellet hole in the upper left corner led me to believe that it was caused by someone shooting a bb gun and hit my window. However, after reading about spontaneous breakage, I am more than baffled that this could have happend. My manufactured house was built in 2006 and I bought it in 2010 but would never have imagined that tempered windows could explode. The outside temperature was 0 degrees to 5 above, and the inside temperature was 67 to 69 degrees - can't believe it would have been caused by the temperature. I will never use tempered glass again, if this is one of the effects. Although the glass eventually fell out on the outside of the house, leaving the inside panel, this happened on the coldest weekend in Minnesota - with 15 degrees below zero at night. I hope to never experience this again. F. Roche

    Bookmark   December 15, 2010 at 9:58AM
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It still very well could have been from that BB or Pellet hole. As far as tempered glass that is kind of its job, if that was regular glass that shattered there would have been razor sharp pieces all over the place. As far as not using tempered glass, god forbid you use regular glass in a door and someone falls into it and the glass breaks!

    Bookmark   December 15, 2010 at 10:50AM
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You cannot purchase a sliding patio door without tempered glass. It is illegal to make them without it.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2010 at 11:58AM
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Tempered glass is used to reduce the hazard of breakage.

If a large pane of untempered glass shatters for ANY reason the large falling pieces are a real danger.

The edges are sharp and the mass of the falling pieces gives them enough momentum to cut clean to the bone if they hit someone.

Tempering makes the glass stronger, but also ensures if it does break it crumbles into small pieces that while sharp, are so small that they cannot fall and cause serious injury.

You could try getting laminated glass, like auto windshields.
It is made by using two pieces of glass with a layer of plastic between them.
The plastic holds the glass together if it breaks preventing large free pieces while the plastic prevents objects from penetrating even after the glass is broken (of course the entire panel of glass can pop free if enough force is applied).

It is sort of a primitive form of bullet resistant glass (more layers of glass and plastic).

The standards for residential glass doors have been tightened as they became more popular and the number of serious injuries increased.
Now there are even rules for large pieces of glass near the floor or a doorway.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 3:16PM
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The glass on my patio doors shattered 1 week apart, same door both inside and outside window..never have I seen anything or even heard of this before..could it be from the house shifting? my door is not new and my house is very old but Ireally am stumped.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 6:33PM
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Wow! I'm glad I google this in. I went to take my dog out on Sunday afternoon, and noticed my sliding glass door was shattered! I could not believe that! The outside was shattered and the inside was not and the outside never went down. It looked like a beebee shot. I called the police to get a police report. He saw a spider web and ask me You know that is a dangerous spider don't you? I said that tiny spider he said yeah. I mention the spider cause I saw someone comments about a spider as well. I dont't know what could have happened but, I 'm glad I'm not the only one that it has happened to. I still can't believe it.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 6:20PM
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This same exact thing happened to the sliding glass door in my house also! The inside panel completely shattered but didnt fall from the frame while the outside panel remained in tact. This happened last Wednesday Sept 7th in the middle of the night as well... We are certain nothing we did caused it because we shut it before we went to bed and everything was fine.. We are trying to explain it to our landlord but he doesn't believe us.. does anyone have an idea of how we can persuade the man?

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 1:40AM
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"We are trying to explain it to our landlord but he doesn't believe us.. does anyone have an idea of how we can persuade the man?"

Tell him to prove you broke it.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 6:04PM
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