Volume 38, Issue 6, June 2003


From the "X" Files 
Even Glass Mysteries Must be Solved on Occasion
by Dez Farnady

My traveling companion was not, regrettably, agent Scully, but a balding, middle-aged glazing contractor. I was not traveling with my hat pulled down over my eyes and my coat collar turned up. We were in short sleeves on a sunny day heading to a golf course on the Monterey Peninsula. I was on my way to investigate a mystery. 

Unexplainable Breakage
This mystery went back several years and was an ongoing embarrassment to my traveling companion. We were heading to his golf club where he was afraid he would be ostracized or worse because the mystery involved a lot of unexplainable glass breakage. He was the glass man and he was replacing breakage that occurred continuously without explanation. The gorgeous picture windows in the restaurant overlooked a cantilevered deck high above the golf course. The saw-tooth pattern of the large, tempered glass lites in pairs, set at angles to each other, provided an uninterrupted view. Unfortunately, those tempered lites were breaking at random and unpredictable times without explanation. And this had been going on for years.

Another trip to the Central Valley, California’s breadbasket, took me down Highway 99 to beautiful downtown Fresno. This trip was required to figure out the random breakage of some spandrel glass I had supplied. 

The glass in this storefront were tempered spandrel below horizontal and annealed plates. The spandrel was breaking at random times, generally when the building was unoccupied. The building was on one of the main thoroughfares and there was a landscaped strip between the building and the sidewalk. At first it was thought that the glass was defective and that maybe it had to do with the fact that the sprinkler system was watering the glass as well as the plants.

Another ghost in the Central Valley was in Bakersfield where a 40-year-old building suddenly started loosing a large lite of annealed glass as the result of what appeared to be a thermal stress brake. Because it had been there for 40 years in one piece, no one suspected a thermal break. Since thermal breaks occur usually during the first couple of years of the weather cycle, they were looking for other things. 

Reading the Clues
In Monterey, my inspection was clandestine, disguised to not cause my companion embarrassment. After all, he was still a member in good standing for the moment. I gazed out at the idle rich sporting on the golf course, while I was there with my nose to the ground glass, so to speak. 

The glass was not ground or mitered. Seamed, tempered glass lites were butt-glazed at about 45 degree angles to each other and they were touching edge-to-edge with clear silicone fill, but no gap. All of this glass was in wood stop and had been glazed way too closely, so that every time the building shifted, moved or settled two pieces of tempered glass would press against each other until one of them exploded. The ghost turned out to be the same old glazier who kept replacing the breakage and repeating the same mistake. The next replacement was mitered, tempered three-eighth with a comfortable 3/8-inch gap. There has been no broken glass since.

The Fresno mystery was easier. Remember, annealed glass does not blow into a zillion pieces like tempered; it just gets a nice clean bullet-hole. 

It’s Not Magic
Harry Houdini was a great magician who spent years discrediting fraudulent fortunetellers, charlatans and mediums. He knew there was no magic or supernatural. I am no Houdini, but I too love a mystery, believe there is a logical explanation—even behind a glass mystery. 
And, by the way, the Bakersfield mystery was also easy to solve. The break was just what it looked like—a thermal stress break. The cold nights and bright, hot days make the valley famous for them. It took 40 years for this one to occur because the new building next door that cast its shadow across the glass in mid-morning was not yet finished. 


Dez Farnady Dez Farnady serves as general manager of Royalite Manufacturing Inc., a skylight manufacturer in San Carlos, Calif. His column appears monthly.



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