Glass might not be top of mind as a material that improves a space’s security and safety. Considered a fragile material by many, glass may seem like a material that always needs to be handled with care -- and there are plenty of glass types that do.
Two commercial glasses, however, have the integrity to meet some of the toughest demands: tempered and laminated glass.
Made to withstand heavy blows -- intentional or accidental -- both glass types provide a clear barrier of protection from unwanted intrusions and dangerous shards.
Tempered vs Laminated Glass: A Closer Look
Comparing tempered vs. laminated glass, both safety glasses offer similar levels of protection. They do, however, have stark differences -- most of which stem from how they’re manufactured.
Is Tempered Glass Strong?
Tempered glass -- also called toughened glass -- stands up to the heaviest hits glass can take.
Heated to temperatures of more than 1000° F and then quickly cooled, the glass becomes up to 5 times stronger than regular glass. Through the tempering process, tension is created in a glass pane’s center, while its surface becomes compressed.
The opposing forces within a pane make tempered glass resist bending and breaking. This material also offers some protection from heat, though you shouldn’t install it in your fireplace.
In addition to its durability, tempered glass reduces the risk of injuries when broken. Tempered safety glass breaks into small, pebble-like pieces, rather than shattering into jagged shards.
Digging Into Laminated Glass
Laminated glass panes comprise a clear layer of plastic (usually polyvinyl butyral -- PVB) bonded by heat between at least two plies of glass.
The additional layers give laminated safety glass enhanced integrity against heavy blows as well as some sound-dampening ability. With a special polycarbonate layer, laminated glass becomes bulletproof.
One of the biggest benefits of laminated glass is that it protects those nearby from broken pieces of glass. In the event of a breakage, laminated glass panes stay intact -- the middle layer holds the glass pieces bonded to it in place. People who are nearby when laminated glass breaks won’t have to worry about shards going airborne or falling on the ground.
Laminated Glass vs Tempered Glass: The Right Safety Glass for the Right Job
Meant to offer protection from both impacts and breakages, tempered and laminated glass fill many of the same applications. For instance, both types of commercial window glass are often used in commercial doors.
Tempered glass is the preferred material for interior applications. Why? Because of its durability and how it breaks. It takes a lot to break tempered glass, and its small, rounded pieces are less likely to cause injury should the pane shatter. Tempered glass is used in:
- Skylight windows
- Shower doors and enclosures
- Glass doors for tubs
- Glass cases
- Customer service windows
- Windows for ground-level storefronts
- Entryway glass
- Glass partitions
Because it stays together when broken, laminated glass is most frequently installed in high-traffic public spaces. With the exception of shower enclosures, laminated glass is found in the same applications as tempered glass. In some coastal municipalities where hurricanes are common, local building codes require laminated glass windows installed in buildings.
In security applications -- such as storefront windows and doors or display cases, laminated glass gives you the benefit of time. Because laminated glass pieces stay together when broken, it’s very difficult to create an opening -- it’s not something that can be done in a few minutes. Made with polycarbonate, laminated glass becomes much harder to actually break through. Laminated glass is often rated for the amount of time it withstands blows before being broken through.
Of note, glass pieces can have the best of both worlds -- a new trend in glass manufacturing is to create laminated glass pieces using tempered glass panes. Combining both glass types gives you the strength of tempered glass and the protection from shards laminated glass provides.
Fabricating Tempered & Laminated Glasses
Though both commercial glass types are designed to resist direct blows, tempered and laminated glass pieces can be custom fabricated to meet a project’s needs.
Regardless of what additional work either type needs for a project, it’s critical to share project details with your glass manufacturer from the beginning.
Any alteration to a piece of tempered glass must be done before the pane goes through the tempering process. The same goes for laminated glass pieces made with tempered glass.
The reason? It’s incredibly difficult to shape or bevel either glass type before processing, and you risk damaging the finished pieces.
Learn more about our glass manufacturing and fabrication capabilities:
Tempered Vs. Laminated Glass For Safety and Security
Compared to traditional glass, tempered and laminated glass are in a league of their own.
Manufactured to stand up to blunt force, both types of safety glass offer multiple layers of protection from impacts and broken glass.
Take a deeper dive into what makes tempered glass so strong.
Download our Glass Tempering 101 Guide!
(Editor's note: This article was originally published in March 2021 and was recently updated.)