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Safety Film on Windows Has Clear Benefits


As a result of injuries suffered from broken glass during and after the Northridge earthquake, more and more homeowners are having safety film installed on window glass and wall mirrors.

Commonly referred to as "safety coating," this material is sold in clear or tinted sheets that bond to the glass during installation and prevent it from breaking into dangerous shards. Protection is provided not only against earthquakes, but also against burglary, windstorm and accident hazards.

Further, tests have shown that fire safety is enhanced as treated window glass will contain an interior fire longer than untreated glass. Properly installed, the coatings are distortion free and virtually undetectable. Coatings can also be satisfactorily applied to glass tables and shelving.

Besides the safety benefits, both the clear and tinted products absorb almost 100% of the sun's ultraviolet rays to minimize damage to carpets and furniture.

Also, some energy savings can be realized. The clear product deflects up to 26% of the sun's heat-producing radiation while the tinted material deflects up to 73%, keeping the interior space cooler on a warm day.

Unfortunately, the coating materials are not designed for the do-it-yourself market. The material is more than half the thickness of a credit card and very tricky for the novice to install with proper adhesion while avoiding bubbles.

The best way to locate a professional installation company in your area is to contact local real estate offices for a referral. Many communities (including the city of Los Angeles) now require safety coating of sliding glass doors before a home can be sold, and real estate sales people often know of qualified local installers.

Barring that, the Yellow Pages will normally have many listings under "glass coating" or "window tinting." Be sure to specify safety coating to prevent shattering, not just tinting. Some of the common manufacturers are 3M, Armorcoat, Madica and Llumar.

Of course, before hiring anyone to work in your home, ask for and contact at least three references.

Prices with installation should range from $3 to $5 a square foot of glass, depending on type of material used. Windows with grids or French mullions will cost extra. Many homeowners opt to treat only those windows that present the greatest hazard (bedroom, bathroom, hallway or entryway) to reduce the total cost.

Warranties against discoloration, cracking or peeling range from five to seven years.

A common concern about the coatings is whether the glass can be broken to allow escape in a fire.

Fire department tests have shown that a protected window can be used for emergency egress by breaking through the glass from the inside without excessive difficulty. The glass will break at the joint where it enters the frame, allowing the entire pane to be pushed out in one piece with far less risk of injury from sharp edges. Ask your installer to explain this procedure in more detail.

Abrams is a general contractor who writes on home improvement and safety topics for The Times.

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