Commercial and Residential Glass Installer and Manufacturer Resource

Choosing Safety Glass for Your Next Commercial Project

Feb 6, 2024 4:10:00 PM / by Greg Martell

safety glass fab

There are lots of different glasses billed as safety glass, so how do you know which one is right for your next project? 

Certainly, your glass manufacturer can help guide you to the proper glass for your application. 

They’ll ask you questions, such as: 

  • What kind of building is the glass going in?
  • Where in the building will it be – what’s its specific use?
    • Glass wall/partition?
    • Door?
    • Stair balustrade or railing?
    • Window?
    • Skylight?
  • How big does each pane need to be?
  • What’s your budget?

This rundown should help you address those questions now, so when you approach your glass manufacturer you’re communicating clearly


What are Safety Glass Requirements?

Safety glass is glass (or glass substitute) that is designed to be any of the following:

  • Less likely to break
  • Impact resistant
  • Safer for bystanders when it breaks 
  • Fire resistant
  • Bulletproof

Using safety glass for projects offers several benefits over regular annealed float glass. It provides greater security against storms, break-ins, and accidental impacts. 

And, in the event that safety glass does break, the shards either “pebble,” or they remain intact with the whole piece. 


Types of Safety Glass

A variety of safety glasses exist on the market in order to address safety and security issues, including:

  • Tempered glass
  • Laminated glass
  • Fire-rated glass
  • Polycarbonate glass substitute

Tempered Glass

Many wonder, is tempered glass safety glass?

Tempered glass is a type that undergoes a specialized heating and cooling process, making it up to 5x stronger than regular glass. 

The process creates tension in the center of the pane while compressing its surface, resulting in opposing forces that make tempered glass highly resistant to bending and breaking.

Aside from its strength, tempered glass also offers some protection against heat. However, it's important to note that it should not be used for fireplace installations.

One of the biggest advantages of tempered glass is its safety features. In case it does break, tempered safety glass shatters into small, pebble-like pieces instead of sharp shards, reducing the risk of injuries.

Due to its durability and unique breaking pattern, tempered glass is a preferred material for interior applications. It takes a lot to break this type of glass, and even if it does break, the rounded pieces are less likely to cause harm compared to regular glass.

Tempered glass is used in: 

  • Shower doors and enclosures
  • Glass doors for tubs
  • Furniture  
  • Display cases 
  • Customer service windows
  • Railings 
  • Entryways
  • Partitions 

Tempered glass is moderately priced compared to other commercial safety glass options.


Laminated Glass

Laminated glass is a type of safety glass that consists of at least two plies with a clear layer of plastic, typically polyvinyl butyral (PVB), bonded by heat in between. The additional layers give laminated safety glass added integrity against heavy impacts and some sound-dampening ability. 

When a special polycarbonate layer is added, laminated glass can even become bulletproof.

One of the main advantages of laminated glass is its ability to protect people from broken pieces. When a sheet breaks, the middle layer holds the glass pieces bonded to it in place, keeping the pane intact. This means that nearby individuals don't have to worry about shards flying around or falling on the ground.

Because it stays together when broken, laminated glass is popular in high-traffic public spaces and security applications such as storefront windows and doors, as well as display cases. It gives you the benefit of time since creating an opening through this type of glass is much more difficult for a criminal than with regular tempered or annealed glass.

In coastal areas prone to hurricanes, local building codes may require the installation of laminated glass windows for added protection against strong winds and debris.

It's worth noting that some manufacturers are now creating tempered laminated glass – laminated pieces using tempered panes. This combination provides both strength and protection from shards, making it a popular choice for various applications.

Overall, laminated safety glass is a strong and safe option for those looking for added protection against impact and shattered pieces.

Laminated glass costs more than tempered glass, but less than safety fire glass options.


(Safety) Fire-Rated Glass

As the name suggests, fire-rated glass (coated with a fire-rated glazing) acts as a barrier against flames and smoke. This is known as compartmentation, which helps prevent the spread of fire and gives occupants more time to escape safely.

There are two types of fire-rated glass: fire-protective and fire-resistant. Fire-protective glass blocks the spread of fire and smoke, while fire-resistant glass offers protection from the blaze's radiant heat.

To achieve its status, it must undergo a rigorous testing process where it's heated to temperatures up to 1,700 ℉. The glass is then given ratings based on how long it stays intact without breaking. While some fire-resistant glass can stay intact for only 20 minutes, other makes can last up to 3 hours.

Overall safety can be improved in case of a fire by using fire-rated glass in: 

  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Framing
  • Other areas of a building

If your customer works in an industry that poses fire risks or just wants to maximize their building's safety measures, investing in fire-rated glass is worth considering.

Fire-rated glass is the most expensive of the commercial safety glass products.


Wired vs. Clear Fire-Rated Glass

Wired fire-rated glass and non-wired fire-rated glass differ in their composition. Wired glass has wire mesh embedded within the glass, which helps hold the glass together when it breaks due to heat or impact. Non-wired fire-rated glass does not have this wire mesh and instead relies on other interlayers to hold the broken pieces of glass in place.

Wired glass was once considered a popular option for fire-rated applications, but it has since been found to be less effective than other types of fire-rated glass. This is because wired glass breaks more easily and can actually increase the risk of injury due to shards breaking off from the wire mesh.

Non-wired fire-rated glass is now the preferred option for most applications, as it offers better safety and performance. Not all non-wired fire-rated glasses are created equal, so it's important to choose a product that’s been tested and certified by reputable organizations to ensure its effectiveness.


Polycarbonate Glass Substitute

Polycarbonate glass substitute is considered a safety glass because of its unique properties that make it highly resistant to impact and breakage. Unlike traditional glass, which shatters into sharp pieces when broken, polycarbonate glass is designed to absorb the energy from an impact and deform without breaking. 

This means that even if it's struck with a high force, it will not shatter or create dangerous shards that can cause injury.

In addition to being highly resistant to impact, polycarbonate glass is also highly durable and weather-resistant. It can withstand extreme temperatures, UV radiation, and other environmental factors without losing its strength.

Overall, the unique properties of polycarbonate glass make it an ideal choice for any application where safety and durability are essential:

  • Bulletproof windows
  • Shatterproof windows
  • Roofing
  • Greenhouse panels
  • Outdoor equipment windshields 
  • Partitions
  • Sneeze guards 

Polycarbonate is the least expensive option for safety glass applications.


Glass Clad Polycarbonate

Harnessing the strength and impact resistance of polycarbonate while benefiting from the hardness and optical clarity of glass, glass clad polycarbonate consists of layers of polycarbonate and glass laminated together to create a single sheet of material.



5 Mistakes to Avoid During Safety Glass Installation or Purchase

Common mistakes to avoid when purchasing or installing safety glass include: 

  1. Not understanding the different types of safety glass available and their uses. Choosing the wrong type for your application creates more problems than it solves. 
  2. Selecting glass that’s too thin for the application. Generally speaking, thicker pieces of safety glass offer more protection than thinner ones. 
  3. Failing to measure accurately before purchase or installation. Accurate measurements are essential when selecting safety glass – even a slight miscalculation can result in an improper fit that could compromise its integrity. 
  4. Relying on DIY installation without prior experience or guidance from a professional contractor certified in installation techniques for different types of safety glass. Improper installation can weaken the structural integrity of the glass and put people at risk if it breaks unexpectedly. 
  5. Neglecting local building codes in certain types of structures – such as public spaces like schools or hospitals. These buildings may have additional guidelines around types and thicknesses of safety glasses for public health and safety reasons.


Your Commercial Safety Glass Project

Improving safety and security in and around structures is smart and ethical business. Make sure you’re choosing the right safety glass for your application. Depending on the glass’s location, function, and size, there are many options to meet your criteria and budget.

Need a guide for your commercial glass projects, whether they involve installing glass showers, restoring historical buildings, or creating stunning storefronts and office walls? To learn more, get a copy of our guide to partnering with a commercial glass company:

Guide to partnering with a commercial glass company

Topics: Commercial Glass, Tempered Glass, Fire Rated Glass, Polycarbonate, Laminated Glass

Written by Greg Martell