After 25 years of serving customers in the remodeling industry, I thought I had seen it all. But I was in for the shock of my career when I received a phone call from a customer for whom I had recently finished a bathroom remodeling project.
It was late in the evening a few days after the completion of his bathroom remodel. I answered the phone like I always do expecting some random question about some trivial thing.
“Fort Collins Home Improvement this is Chris” I answered.
“Hi Chris, this is Pete” (name changed to protect the innocent)
“Hi Pete, what can I do for you” I answered jovially.
“Chris” he said, “My glass door exploded”.
Wait, what? Exploded? You must mean broke, or cracked. Even shattered. But exploded?
I said to him, “What do you mean by exploded Pete?”
He said ” I was taking a shower and when I went to get out I barely touched the door handle and it sounded like a bomb going off and I was suddenly covered in broken glass.”
Needless to say, he was cut up pretty badly. I mean, no stitches but multiple small cuts from having to walk across the broken glass and his hand was cut up from where the glass fell.
I was horrified. As a contractor, it is your worst nightmare to imagine some service that you performed may injure someone.
I began to mentally go over the installation of his door. Remembering it step by step. Was it something I did? Certainly not, I followed the Dreamline Shower Doors installation instructions to a tee.
These doors are meant to be safe, I was telling myself. How could this have happened?
Well apparently this is a thing, your tempered glass doors can spontaneously explode without warning or provocation.
And when I say explode, I mean there was freaking glass stuck to the ceiling.
Tempered Glass Shower Doors Spontaneously Explode Without Warning
A quick google search produces tons of results for this exact same thing happening. I was a little beside myself. How could I have not known of this issue. Well Chris, I said to myself, if you were unaware of this dangerous phenomenon then certainly your customers and the average consumer doesn’t know.
And so I decided to do my best to inform as many people as possible.
The first article that appears upon a google search for this phenomenon is from The Spruce where they try to explain the possible causes of the exploding glass phenomenon.
In the Article, they quote a building consultant from Chicago named Mark Meshulam who often testifies as an expert witness. Mark is quoted as saying that the tempered glass is similar to a tightly wound spring that can reach a spontaneous breaking point for 2 reasons. Either an internal flaw in the glass that occurs during the manufacture process or by external damage to the glass.
So basically, the ‘expert’ says that something was either wrong on the inside of the glass or the outside..I did not find this very helpful. But the part about it being similar to a tightly wound spring intrigued me as I began to think that this could explain the “explosion” Pete had described.
So I started looking in to the manufacture process of tempered glass to get a better understanding of how it is “similar to a tightly wound spring”.
Why Tempered Glass Can Spontaneously Explode
Tempered Glass is designed to explode in to tiny pieces when it breaks. It comes down to the way it is manufactured.
Once the glass is cut to size and the edges are prepared, the glass then goes through a quenching process where it is heated to a certain temperature then cooled on the surface by high pressure air. This process creates stress to within the glass panel where the surface is compressing inward while the interior is pressing outward. This tension is what gives the tempered glass its surface and it is also what causes tempered glass to break into tiny shards when damaged.
This process which gives tempered glass it safety characteristics is also what makes it potentially a hazard.
With the glass being under such stress, it takes very little force internally or along the edges to cause it to shatter. A misplaced screw or piece of hardware can place enough force against the outer edge or inner part of drilled holes to cause the glass to fail catastrophically. It could be argued that this is the fault of the installer.
But it doesn’t always take a bad install to cause glass to spontaneously explode. There is also a thing called Nickel Sulfide Inclusion where a small rock can form in the glass during the manufacture process. If this small rock is near the center where most of the tension is on the glass, then when temperature changes begin to occur the rock will expand and put pressure on the glass internally where there is a void and cause the glass to explode for seemingly no reason.
If the glass is still somewhat intact, evidence of the inclusion that caused the failure can be seen in the “butterfly” breakage pattern that the broken glass forms.
The Safe Solution To Spontaneous Tempered Glass Explosions
Tempered Glass is great for shower doors. It is cost efficient and has incredible surface strength. The chances of it spontaneously exploding for no apparent reason is relatively small considering all of the glass doors that are installed on a daily basis with no problems ever presenting themselves. But that risk of catastrophic failure still exist. And what if that failure were to happen when a small child or an elderly family member on blood thinners was in or near it? This small risk could then become death or serious injury.
For me, the risk is not worth it. I will no longer install bare tempered glass doors for my customers.
While safety film is an alternative to installing bare glass, it has it’s downfalls. The film becomes cloudy over time, small bubbles can form. And on frameless glass, you are going to see the edges of the film.
But more importantly, on most frameless glass door designs, the safety film becomes ineffective at stopping the glass from crashing down because there is no frame to support the film.
So this leaves us with laminated glass. The type used in car windsheilds. It is incredibly strong and has a safety film embedded between 2 pieces of glass.
If you have ever cracked or broken your windshield, then you know how impossible it is to get this stuff to shatter. It may be a bit more on the pricey side when compared to tempered glass, but the cost is well worth it when considering the safety of your family or the liability in a rental property.
As a bathroom remodeling contractor, I will only install laminated glass moving forward. My customers safety is that important to me. It’s just not worth taking the chance.
The Future of Tempered Glass Shower Doors
Laminated glass is the future of shower doors. We are just one fat wrongful death lawsuit away from the tempered glass doors being pulled off the shelves for good. And non too soon I say.
The occurrence of this exploding tempered glass shower doors phenomenon has increased exponentially over the past few years. Is it due to poor quality manufacturing processes? I really can’t say. But it is said that even with the increases shown, that the phenomenon is still likely severely under-reported. Some claim it may only be reported as much as 10% of the time due to the fact that most people think it must have been something they did to cause the catastrophic failure, or that improper installation is to blame.
But there are many instances where a person is startled from sleep by a loud ‘explosion’ to then hear glass hitting the floor. In these cases, it is most certainly spontaneous blow as it is commonly referred to.
My Conclusions on the Phenomenon of Spontaneously Exploding Tempered Glass Shower Doors
The doors that this happened to me on where Dreamline Shower Doors purchased from Lowes Home Improvement.
After first being a bit stand-offish and attempting to place blame on the quality of the installation, Dreamline and Lowes have now accepted responsibility for the horrifying tragedy my customer experienced. They have agreed to work with us to make the situation right for our customer.
That’s great and all, and a cost of doing business I assume. I mean, if only 1 in 1000 sold do explode spontaneously, then that means there are 999 that did not. And that seems to be good for the bottom line of these huge corporations.
But I have a much more personal relationship with my customers. I get to know them and their families through the process of renovation. It really upsets me to think of anyone I have ever offered our services to could be injured by a faulty product we installed.
And that my friends is why I say never again. Never Again.