Volume 6, Issue 4, July - August 2002

Wired Solutions

Can Film Solve the Impact Problems with Wired Glass?
by Leslie Shaver

Like many Americans on January 28, 2001, Greg Abel was about to watch the big game. He and his wife, Kathy, were getting ready to go into Sam’s, their local watering hole in Eugene, Ore., to watch the Super Bowl, when they got a phone call they would never forget.
“We had just gotten out of the car and we were walking toward the door,” he said. “We had not even gotten to the door when the phone rang.”

The call was one that no parent ever wants to get. On the other end of the line was Nick Anderson, a fraternity brother of their 22-year-old son Jarred at the University of Oregon.
“He called and said that Jarred had been in an accident and they wanted to know how we wanted him transported to the hospital,” Abel said. 

As the conversation continued, Greg learned that Jarred had been playing basketball in the university’s gym, a brand-new $30 million sports complex, when he crashed through the wired glass in a door. 

Wire from the glass had ripped through Jarred’s skin, severing nerves and tendons in four fingers on his left arm and cutting a jagged trail through his left forearm, severing nerves and muscles in the process.

Jarred was taken to the hospital and after extensive surgery and $15,000 he has recovered as much as he ever will. “He has some scars and permanent nerve damage,” his father said. “He is also unable to fully stretch his middle finger out because his tendon was severed.”
This sent Abel looking for answers.

“As a parent, I owed him an answer as to how a product such as wired glass could be used where there is potential for human impact,” Abel said.

Abel took to the web and discovered the damage that wired-glass injuries can cause. He learned of young elementary school girls whose faces are scarred permanently as a result of falling into wired- glass windows. He learned of Brett Turman, a high schooler playing basketball at the University of Utah, who was injured after slamming into a wired-glass window. The injury caused Turman’s hand to atrophy to such an extent that he cannot even turn the key to start his car. And Abel says he even learned of people who had to have limbs amputated after falling into wired glass. 

Armed with this information, Abel was “irate” when he discovered that the University of Oregon was planning to the replace the vision panel that Jarred broke with even more wired glass.

This sent Abel back to the Internet where he sought other answers to Oregon’s wired-glass dilemma. It was there that he learned about window films, specifically those manufactured by Bekaert Specialty Films (then MSC Specialty Films) of Clearwater, Fla. He called Nick Routh, government sales manager at the company, and found out that window film could be an economical solution to Oregon’s problem. He says this was proven in a recent incident at Oregon, when another athlete slammed through the same vision panel that Jarred did. This time the results were different; the athlete walked away with no injuries. Abel attributes this to the window film.

“To put film on 16 windows, it costs $375,” Abel said. “Jarred’s medical expenses were more than $15,000. Had Oregon paid $375 in the beginning that would have been a pretty good savings.”

Yet, as Abel extols the virtues of window film, professionals in the window film industry urge restraint, saying that there needs to be further testing before claiming film is an answer to this problem.

Wired Glass? 
Wired glass is popular in many facilities today for one reason—it is fire-rated.
According to Thomas Zaremba, a consultant to the wired-glass industry, wired glass’s fire rating this means that it can safely protect occupants who are exiting a burning building through a one-hour fire corridor. To be able to do this, the glass must be able to withstand a fire test for a minimum of 45 minutes and stay intact after being struck with the full force of a hose stream of water. 

“It must pass both of these tests from either side, since it is impossible to predict the direction from which a fire might attack building occupants,” Zaremba said in a written statement to Window Film’s sister publication, USGlass. (Zaremba would not return queries for this story, despite repeated attempts. Wired-glass producer Pilkington would only say that it is developing a product to meet more stringent impact standards.)

Wired glass’s ability to meet the stringent fire-rated requirements is not the question. The value of wired glass in these situations has long been acknowledged. But the concern about wired glass has also been known since the 1970s, when it was made exempt from impact 

But Abel and others are refocusing attention on this exemption. The International Code Council (ICC) has already taken notice. The Glazing Industry Code Committee (with the assistance of the wired-glass industry) drafted revisions to the International Building Code that would require all glazing used in athletic facilities to meet the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) Category II impact standards and all glazing used in its educational facilities to meet its Category I or II impact standards. The changes were presented to the ICC’s ad hoc committee, formed to look at this issue, and will go before the ICC membership in September.

Category I impact standards apply for glazing less than nine square feet and are designed to protect children under the age of 10 from serious injury on full-body impact and adults from injury on partial body impact. Category II standards apply for glazing more than nine square feet and are designed to protect children over the age of 10 and adults from serious injury on full body impact. 

While this is certainly a victory for Abel, he wants more. He is working with Oregon Rep. Vicki Walker to enact legislation that would bring all wired glass up to the CPSC minimum code requirements for Category I in hazardous locations.

As this is happening, Bill O’Keeffe, of O’Keeffe’s Inc. of San Francisco, has proposed to the ICC that the exemption for wired glass be eliminated altogether. This will also be presented at the organization’s September meeting.

Where Does Film Fit In?
As Abel discovered, applying film to wired glass is certainly one option in the search to make wired glass more impact-resistant. But those in the film industry warn that there needs to be more testing done before their product is considered a solution to the wired glass impact problems. 

“Although a few individual companies have conducted some preliminary testing, AIMCAL has not conducted [its] own testing to confirm such broad statements,” said Vickie Lovell, a consultant to the Association of Industrial, Metallizers, Coaters and Laminators (AIMCAL). 
There are two issues with applying film to wired glass, according to the film industry. The first is film’s effect on the fire-rated status of wired glass. The second is its ability to improve the impact resistance of wired-glass.

Most people seem to think that only one of these issues poses a real question.

“Window film by its nature should be an adequate solution to the impact concerns with wired glass,” Routh said. “However, the only testing that I am familiar with is the testing we at Bekaert Specialty Films have done, and our Armorcoat™ safety and security window films on wired glass met the required impact resistance. These Armorcoat films were tested on Pilkington and Asahi wired glass and met the requirements of both ANSI Z 97.1 and CPSC CFR 1201, Category II.”

“The primary question is how it [safety film] will affect the fire performance of wired glass,” Lovell said. “We already know it will improve impact resistance.”

Others agree.

“Anecdotally, there is no reason to think that film will interfere with the fire rating of wired glass, but, without tests being performed, there is no way to know for sure. Because of that, we are not making claims about film as a fire-rated glazing,” said Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association. “While it may meet the impact requirements, and we know it has been tested by most, if not all, manufacturers, as a finishing material (like wall paper, floor coverings, draperies, etc.) for ignition point, toxicity and flammability, to our knowledge there is very limited testing of film on wired glass as a fire-rated glazing system.”

While Lovell and others in the film industry advise patience, so there is time to do testing of film and wired glass, O’Keeffe’s Inc. has developed a product that it says will meet both the impact resistance and 45-minute fire tests. 

“We think this is a cost-effective solution,” said Kate Steel, a consultant for O’Keeffe’s. “My claims are based on the tests I have presented.”

While the company’s tests weren’t done for purposes of certification and listing, Steel says O’Keeffe’s product was successful in preliminary testing by an approved agency.

“We did pilot scale testing that showed that this works, but we are planning to do more,” Steel said.

The company’s film tested was Armorcoat from Bekaert.
Routh also thinks this testing will prove successful.

“The fire testing that is done with wired glass is far more rigorous than any polyester window film can hope to meet,” Routh said. “At the temperatures (2000° F) they test at, film will melt and evaporate, but that should not affect the performance of the unit being tested. I have only seen a video of our film being tested in these conditions and it didn’t seem to affect the wired glass performance; in fact, I was told that the filmed wired glass passed the test.”
But Smith is a bit more cautious.

“We don’t disagree that it would work, but this is just one test with one glass on one film,” said Smith. “We can’t make blanket statements about fire codes based only on this isolated test.”
Steel says her statements only represent what the O’Keeffe’s product can do.
“My claims are based on the tests I presented [at the building code hearings],” she said. “You always have to test a product to show it meets the code requirements.”

To be able to make blanket statements, the film industry will have to expend a great deal of time and money to get definitive answers. It will need to determine how film affects the impact resistance and fire rating of wired glass in any number of situations. This will mean testing for the size of the film, the way it is anchored, what part of the frame it is anchored to and any number of other issues.

But finding definitive answers to these questions could cost some serious cash. One test alone could cost as much as $10,000. Right now, there is one offer on the table from a major lab. 
“There is a lot of issues that still need to be ironed out and some groundwork that needs to be laid,” Lovell said. “We may do testing at some point, but nothing has been finalized so far.”

New Frontiers
As the film industry decides how far it needs to go to prove that its product can (or cannot) stand up to the fire demands that wired glass must withstand, some people are looking for other ways to make wired glass more impact resistant.

“Because wired glass has been seen as a safety product, it has been put in all types of places where it is not required [to meet fire codes],” Steel said. “It is in places like the front doors of schools, the windows inside schools and the cafeteria. If you start doing a survey, a lot of times, you won’t see it in a fire-rated application, especially where the building has automatic 

Steel says in these instances film can be applied to wired glass without consideration for how it affects the fire rating of wired glass.

Routh agrees.

“I think many people have assumed that the wire strengthens the glass and have used it wrongly,” he said. “The wire is there for fire containment purposes, not for impact resistance. If it is being put erroneously into places for impact resistance, then film should be added.”
But before dealers can go out and begin applying film, there are some issues they must consider. One is that film technically voids the rating of wired glass. To get past this, those applying film must get approval from their local building authority on a case-by-case basis.
“One way to expedite local approval is to obtain an evaluation report from one of the independent evaluation reporting entities such as ICBO, which evaluate the performance of alternative products that don’t technically meet code requirements, and issue reports finding the product in question has acceptable performance meeting the intent of the code,” Steel said.

But Lovell would not go so far as to say film is safe to put on wired glass that is not in fire-rated locations.

“Although film has many beneficial and appropriate uses, that statement is not the position of the window film industry at this time,” she said, in a written statement. “AIMCAL is preparing to undertake testing to evaluate whether that statement and others regarding the use of film on wired glass, are accurate. AIMCAL may support such statements if they have been based on appropriate lab testing and/or other field research that have determined exactly how and where film should be applied.” 

However, everyone agrees that if it is proven the film does not change the fire rating of wired glass, the window film industry could be in for a lot of new business.

“If the exemption were lifted, film maybe the only cost effective, retrofit answer that would bring the existing wired glass into compliance,” Routh said. “If the exemption were lifted, it would only affect new construction, but most of the schools would probably want to bring their existing glass ‘up to code.’ Certainly, this would affect the dealers since they would be called upon to supply and install the necessary film.”

Others agree.

“The film industry would like to see the statements that O’Keeffe’s makes be true, but it does not want to do things carelessly,” Lovell said. “We want to avoid the situation where people are running around putting any kind of film on wired glass without guidance as to what appropriate.”

As one observer said, this could give the industry a “long-term blackeye” if not handled properly.

And, as members of the wired glass industry would probably attest, this is never a good thing. 

Leslie Shaver is a contributing editor for Window Film magazine.


© Copyright 2002 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.