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Sliding Doors: A Clear and Present Danger

Sliding glass doors highlight views and brighten rooms. They increase ventilation, and offer an easy way to keep an eye on children and pets in the yard.

Unfortunately, some older doors may also pose a deadly hazard.

Before the 1980s, many sliding doors were constructed using dangerous plate glass instead of the safer tempered glass (or, in rarer cases, laminated glass) used in newer doors.

Tempered glass is four to five times stronger than standard glass.  When broken, tempered glass shatters into small oval pebbles without sharp edges.

Laminated glass, seen most often in auto windshields, is produced by alternating layers of glass with layers of a protective, adhesive resin which traps the glass in place when cracked or shattered.

By contrast, Plate glass is weaker than either form of safety glass. When plate glass breaks, it often shatters into jagged shards.

A Danger to Kids and Pets, but Also Adults

Children often fail to notice sliding doors–or to notice the door is closed–and run into them accidentally. Children who strike glass doors may be killed or seriously injured by shattering glass.  Shards of glass slice deep lacerations and tear large flaps of skin from the body, as well as puncturing vital internal organs.  The result? Permanent disfigurement, serious injury, and, sometimes, death.

Pets, especially dogs, are also at risk for similar reasons.

Although adults don’t walk or run into windows as often as children and pets, older plate glass doors present a risk to adults as well. An ill-timed slip can send an adult tumbling through a window, and the adult’s greater body mass makes injury just as likely–if not more so–than in the case of a running child.

Many Laws Require Replacement of Older Doors Upon Sale of a Home

Los Angeles City Ordinance 161.136 requires the replacement or glazing of “non-conforming” sliding glass doors within the City of L.A. when a home is sold.  However, the law does not require homeowners to update homes until a sale occurs. This creates a special danger for older rental homes.

While many other municipalities and counties have enacted similar laws, not all cities or counties require replacement of sliding doors with safety glass at the time of sale. If you buy a home, make sure your inspector checks the sliding doors and tells you whether they’re plate or safety glass.

How Can I Tell if My Doors Are Safety Glass?

Many manufacturers identify tempered glass with an embossed or laser-etched label indicating the glass is “Tempered Glass” or “Safety Glass.” The lack of a label doesn’t necessarily mean your window isn’t safety glass — but you need to do more research to find out for sure. Contact the manufacturer or the contractor who installed the door.

Special Issues for Landlords and Renters

If you own a rental home, you need to ensure that all of the sliding doors contain tempered or laminated safety glass. Otherwise, you may be liable for injuries resulting from broken doors–even if the tenant acted negligently also.

If you rent a home with sliding glass doors, ask the landlord to confirm that the doors contain safety glass.  (You may want to check the doors for labels first–a call to the landlord isn’t required if the doors are marked “tempered” or “safety glass.”) If the home was built before 1980, and the landlord can’t tell you about the glass with certainty, insist that he or she call a licensed contractor to inspect the doors and tell you.

Safety First!

Even safety glass can injure people and pets when it breaks. Always exercise caution — and supervise children and animals closely — in the presence of sliding doors.

© Ross Law, 2014

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