Alarmingly, traditional wired glass is the most commonly used fire rated glass product found in educational facilities, leading to and average of just 2,500 wired glass impact injuries in schools every year.
In 1977, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) enacted a federal safety glazing standard (16 CFR 1201) to protect people from injury due to accidental impact with glazing. The building codes apply the CPSC standard to require that glazing used in hazardous locations, such as doors and sidelites, must meet the minimum Category I and II impact standards, depending on the size of the glazing panel. Smaller glazing panels in sizes up to 1296 square inches must meet the Category I impact test of 150 ft. lbs. Larger glazing panels must meet the higher Category II standard impact test of 400 ft. lbs. of impact resistance.
Since 2003, the International Building Code (IBC) has required that all glazing in potentially hazardous locations within educational facilities to comply with CPSC impact safety standards. In 2004, traditional wired glass was banned in fire assemblies in hazardous locations in all building types. In addition, replacement of traditional wired glass panels in existing installations must now meet Category I and II standards as required by the size of the vision area.
These code changes, while significantly limiting the use of traditional wired glass, do not constitute a complete ban. Traditional wired glass can still be used in transoms or other non-hazardous locations. A list of designated as 'hazardous locations' can be found in Chapter 24 of the IBC.
Avoid Liability by Replacing Unsafe Wired Glass
In December 2003, Oregon's state schools chief Susan Castillo sent out a memo alerting all superintendents that "documented instances of students being injured as a result of collisions with wire glass both here in Oregon and around the country." In March 2006, the New York State Education Department issued an advisory that said:
"It has come to our attention that the 2003 International Building Code, which will eventually be adopted by New York State as the 2006 Building Code of NY State, requires that all glazing in impact areas in educational occupancies be impact resistant. This prompted us to research the issue and the results were quite startling. We strongly recommend that all existing wire glass locations be evaluated for potential impact and injury. There are several alternatives available to remedy locations determined to be at risk, such as replacement with impact and fire resistant materials, coating the glass with specialty films and installing protective bars or railings."
There have also been instances where a school or a school district has been found liable for injuries caused from accidental impact from unsafe wired glass used in a hazardous location. In 2007, the court found the Portland Public School district to be negligent for an accident in Beaumont Middle School, in which 13-year old Shakiya Sargent's right leg pierced through the lower pane of wired glass on a fire door separating the cafeteria and the hallway. The jury verdict requires the school district to pay Sargent $222,000 in damages.
With all the unsafe wired glass still installed in doors, sidelites and other hazardous locations in today's schools and universities, the questions isn't if these wired-glass accidents will happen, but when.
Middlebury College's Wired Glass Replacement Program
Fortunately, schools can take real steps when it comes to eliminating the danger of accidental impact with unsafe wired glass. When Kate Steel, code consultant and one of the proponents of the wired glass code change in 2003, sent her son to Middlebury College in Vermont five years ago, she expressed real concern about the presence of unsafe wired glass throughout the campus.
She met with Norm Cushman, Director of Facilities at Middlebury College, and alerted him of the potential hazard. Once Norm and his staff became aware of this problem, his team began to survey and catalogue each piece of unsafe wired glass on the campus. Within a month, they had a spreadsheet noting the location and size of over 1,500 pieces of unsafe wired glass in doors and windows. Kate and Norm reviewed the spreadsheet and determined which were fire rated, which were in hazardous locations, and which panels needed replacement right away.
With Kate's prompting, Middlebury facilities officials realized that by replacing unsafe wired glass with glazing that is both fire and impact safe, the college could eliminate an unnecessary liability and dramatically improve campus safety. With that, the college decided to establish a multiyear endowment for the wired glass replacement program.
Middlebury's situation is hardly unique. US schools built in the last century had little choice but to rely on traditional wired glass for fire protection. Thanks to advances in fire rated glazing technology, there is a range of affordable glazing products that can be used to replace or upgrade traditional wired glass in hazardous locations.
Clear and Affordable Glass Replacement Options
Below is a list of clear and affordable fire rated glazing options that outperform traditional wired glass in both fire and safety performance:
• 20 minute specialty tempered: Replaces traditional wired glass in 20-minute door vision panels. This product meets the maximum CPSC Cat. II impact safety and provides superior optical clarity and the durability of tempered glass at an affordable price.
• 20-45-minute specialty tempered, heat reflective glazing: Replaces traditional wired glass in 20 minute door vision panels and 45 minute sidelites, doors and openings in hazardous locations. Like the 20 minute specialty tempered mentioned above, this product meets the maximum CPSC Cat. II impact safety and provides superior optical clarity and the durability of tempered glass at an affordable price, with the additional benefit of partial radiant heat protection. The GSA and other AHJs across the country have approved this product in 45 minute applications even if it is tested without hose stream. This product can be used in 20-minute doors without limitations.
• 45-minute tempered fire resistive units: Replaces traditional wired glass in 45 minute sidelites, doors and openings in hazardous locations. This product meets the hose stream test and maximum CPSC Cat. II impact safety standard. In addition, it provides full radiant heat protection and high STC ratings.
• 60-90-minute fire protective glazing for door vision panels up to 100 sq.in. - replaces traditional wired glass in 100 sq. in. door vision panels in 60 and 90 minute temperature rise doors. This product meets the hose stream test and is available in CPSC Cat. I or II impact safety.
Another popular product that was introduced to replace traditional wired glass was fire rated glass ceramics. The filmed and laminated versions meet CPSC Cat. II impact safety and can be used in doors, sidelites and openings in hazardous locations. Of all the safety rated fire protective glass options, this is the most expensive-almost 3x the cost for the filmed version and 5x the cost for the laminated version when compared to 20 minute specialty tempered used in the same 20 minute door application. Glass ceramics also have a slight amber tint due to its manufacturing process. Compared to tempered products, glass ceramics are brittle and less durable. While the filmed and laminated versions prevent limbs from penetrating through, it is susceptible to breaking, leading to replacement costs over time that schools will have to take on.
Safety Wired Glass and Field Filming
The 2003 IBC code change also prompted traditional wired glass to respond to safety concerns. Today, schools can use affordable filmed safety wired glass that meets CPSC Cat. II impact safety for fire protective doors, sidelites and openings in hazardous locations.
Schools also have the option of upgrading existing traditional wired glass installations to meet the CPSC Cat. II impact safety standards. However, this is not simply adding safety film to traditional wired glass. Not all films work-some can actually contribute to the spread of fire. This is why upgrading existing traditional wired glass in fire and safety rated locations must be done under the guidelines and supervision of a certified field filming service program to ensure code compliant product performance. Failure to do so exposes the school to product failure liabilities.
Going Beyond Wired Glass Replacement
Advances in fire rated glazing not only produced clear and safe alternatives to traditional wired glass, but introduced the use of glazing in applications where wired glass couldn't be used before. Schools can now incorporate clear glazing in 1 and 2 hour wall applications and full vision 60 and 90 minute temperature rise doors, thanks to advanced 60-120 minute fire resistive glazing that meets the stringent ASTM E-119 wall criteria.
Used in floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall expanses when combined with an equally rated framing system, these fire resistive glazing units have been used to bring light and transparency to stairwell enclosures, fire barriers, fire walls and even fire rated curtain wall applications-while meeting all the fire and safety requirements of the code.
With today's 21st century schools constantly pushing architects towards innovative design and increased student safety, advanced fire rated glazing will continue to provide designers with cutting-edge products that meet and exceed their expectations.
has over seven years of experience in the architectural glazing industry and over 10 years of experience in public relations and marketing. As the Director of Marketing at SAFTI FIRST, leading USA-manufacturer of fire rated glass and framing systems, she oversees the advertising, public and media relations, content management and educational programs for the company.