5 On Your Side

Glass furniture can explode suddenly

Posted February 9, 2011 4:54 p.m. EST
Updated February 10, 2011 2:04 p.m. EST

A procedure to make broken glass safer sometimes causes glass products, including glass-topped furniture, to break without warning.

All glass furniture will likely soon be required to be made of tempered glass. However, the procedure that makes tempered glass safer can also make it suddenly shatter.

Jennifer Merritt recently woke up to the sound of breaking glass in the office of her Orange County home.

"We heard something like a gunshot," Merritt said. "(I) ran up here and saw that the glass top on my desk had exploded. ... It was on everything. It covered absolutely everything."

Merritt had bought the $130 Chinese-made desk from IKEA seven months earlier. She called the company after the explosion.

"They told me they'd never heard of anything like this happening," she said.

She asked for a refund, but three months later, she got a letter denying the warranty claim. The letter said that "tempered glass can shatter for no apparent reason," including "normal wear." Similar verbiage is included in the ad for the desk.

"It's just the way it is – a desk that could explode at any point from the day you bring into your house, and if it does explode, no one's responsible," Merritt said.

An Internet search turned up similar complaints about shattering glass products from IKEA and other companies.

Tempered glass is usually safer than other glass, because when it breaks, it usually shatters into small pieces, instead of large, sharp pieces. It's required to be used in car windows and shower and other glass doors.

However, experts say, because of the way tempered glass is made, it's essentially under high pressure, and the smallest nick or scratch can cause it to suddenly shatter. Manufacturing problems, such as compromised quality, or something as simple as a sudden temperature change can also cause a spontaneous shatter.

An IKEA spokeswoman said that the company's "products are safe" and that it has "hundreds of auditors" checking its factories, including the many in China, to ensure they "comply with manufacturing standards."

After 5 on Your Side called IKEA, a representative immediately called Merritt and refunded the cost of the desk.

Merritt said that it's been a learning experience.

"I just didn't think this was something like that was possible. I didn't know that tempered glass could explode at any given time from normal wear and tear," she said.

Experts also said that given the millions of pieces of glass furniture, spontaneous shatters don't happen often.

The thicker the glass, the less likely it is to shatter. It's also important not to overload glass furniture.

Complaints about suddenly shattering glass products can be directed to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.