Consultants Comment on Glass Breakage at Austin W Hotel
June 28, 2011

For the second time this month glass panels on the balconies of the Austin W Hotel have broken and, as a result, the hotel will be replacing every balcony glass panel-nearly 1,000. This incident follows a similar one on June 10 when three people suffered minor injuries. No one was hurt yesterday, though five parked cars were damaged. A statement issued by the W Austin Hotel notes that "engineering and glass experts are investigating and we continue to cooperate with city officials …" At this time the reasons for the glass breakage have yet to be determined. Some in the glass industry say there are many possible causes of such incidents.

In its statement, the W Austin Hotel said "Based on the information that is currently available, the hotel believes that one glass panel on the 31st floor was broken and that the resulting falling debris broke panels on the 29th and 22nd floors. It is unknown what caused the first panel to break."

This scenario, according to industry consultant Greg Carney, president of C.G. Carney Associates Inc., is quite possible, though he has not reviewed this case in particular. He says an application such as a balcony railing system would require the use of a safety glazing material such as fully tempered or laminated glass. In the event of breakage, tempered glass in particular could, result in falling glass and debris that could have then damaged the other panels, causing them to break.

He adds that any number of things could have caused the initial breakage.

"It depends upon the thickness of glass, details of the glazing application, how it was held in place (two-sided or four-sided) … depending upon these issues there could be any number of questions, and potential causes" says Carney.

Industry consultant Bill Lingnell agrees that the hotel's breakage theory is certainly possible, and one he's seen happen in the past. He also discusses possible causes for the initial breakage.

"Windborne debris and other items flying around during a storm may cause damage, for example, that could have caused breakage," Lingnell says, noting that while glass in such structures must be able to withstand windloads, debris might still cause breakage.

Lingnell, also not involved with this project, points out that when determining the cause of breakage you sometimes have to go back and look at the history of the structure.

"[Breakages] could be due to glass imperfections from fabrication, design, installation, vandalism … a variety of things could cause this type of damage," he says.

And while a nickel sulfide inclusion, for example, could cause fully tempered glass to break spontaneously, Lingnell cautions to not be quick to assume such.

"Don't jump to the conclusion that it's an inclusion until you have one in your hand," he says.

At press time Drew McQuad, general manager for the Austin W Hotel, had not responded to™'s request for comment.

Stay tuned for more updates as they are made available.

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