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Suburban mystery: Shattering glass tables

Posted at 6:32 PM, Sep 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-16 18:32:35-04

Patty Velez was watching morning television when a noise upstairs startled her.

"It was loud enough it scared the dogs," Velez explained.

Velez ran upstairs, and couldn't believe the mess in her room.

"This whole glass was shattered like it is here," Velez said as she showed us her damaged glass cabinet. "And it was bowing three or four inches out and I could tell it was just ready to go."

Within seconds, "It finished exploding and all the glass fell to the floor. It continued crackling and popping almost like popcorn on the floor."

Many Complaints of Shattering

What happened here, could happen to you, according to glass shops.

"It's common in the industry," explained window builder Gary Orman.

Orman said all homeowners should beware.

"You never know when or if it's going to happen," Orman said.

Orman said tempered glass spontaneously shatters from normal expansion and contraction from temperature changes that  might occur in your home from air conditioning and sunshine.

Glass patio tables are especially susceptible in areas like Cincinnati that go from hot summer to cold winter, according to complaints.

"Tempered glass is tempered in a heat oven and brought up to a certain degree temperature and cooled quickly to make the glass stronger. It puts the internal pieces into compression and the external pieces into tension, and gives strength to the glass," Orman said. "There are particles in there that do not melt and those particles will change as the heat changes."

"It's 4 out of 1,000 pieces that do it," Orman said.

Four out of a thousand may not sound like a lot, but there are dozens of complaints with the Consumer Product Safety Commission for patio furniture, shower doors, desks, and glass cabinets.

Despite the examples, furniture makers say tempered glass is actually safer.

Is it Really Better?

Reporter Jenn Strathman of our Scripps sister station WPTV recently set up a demonstration.

They used two pieces of glass that look the same, but there's a huge difference when hit.

They compared "annealed" or standard glass with tempered glass.

After just one hit, the standard glass shatters into large sharp pieces that can easily cut you.

With the tempered glass, after one hit in the same spot the glass is still intact. Even after six hits, not a chip or a crack.

"With tempered glass the edge is what takes the tension," said Orman.

So they put the hammer to the test on the edge of the tempered glass.

It took 8 hits before the glass shattered into a million pieces. The size and texture of the tempered shards are much smaller and duller compared with the annealed glass.

But Velez is still going to be cautious of glass tables. "It might be safer but it can still cut you," Velez said.

And if you have young children, glass shops say you may not want to have glass tables in the family room where they play, so they stay safe, and you don't waste your money.

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