Tempered glass is about four times stronger than annealed glass. The greater contraction of the inner layer during manufacturing induces compressive stresses in the surface of the glass balanced by tensile stresses in the body of the glass. Fully tempered 6-mm thick glass must have either a minimum surface compression of 69 MPa (10 000 psi) or an edge compression of not less than 67 MPa (9 700 psi). For it to be considered safety glass, the surface compressive stress should exceed 100 megapascals (15,000 psi). As a result of the increased surface stress, when broken the glass breaks into small rounded chunks as opposed to sharp jagged shards.
Compressive surface stresses give tempered glass increased strength. Annealed glass has almost no internal stress and usually forms microscopic cracks on its surface. Tension applied to the glass can drive crack propagation which, once begun, concentrates tension at the tip of the crack driving crack propagation at the speed of sound through the glass. Consequently, annealed glass is fragile and breaks into irregular and sharp pieces. The compressive stresses on the surface of tempered glass contain flaws, preventing their propagation or expansion.
Any cutting or grinding must be done prior to tempering. Cutting, grinding, and sharp impacts after tempering will cause the glass to fracture.
The strain pattern resulting from tempering can be observed by viewing through an optical polarizer, such as a pair of polarizing sunglasses.
Tempered glass is used when strength, thermal resistance, and safety are important considerations. Passenger vehicles, for example, have all three requirements. Since they are stored outdoors, they are subject to constant heating and cooling as well as dramatic temperature changes throughout the year. Moreover, they must withstand small impacts from road debris such as stones as well as road accidents. Because large, sharp glass shards would present additional and unacceptable danger to passengers, tempered glass is used so that if broken, the pieces are blunt and mostly harmless. The windscreen is instead made of laminated glass, which will not shatter into pieces when broken while side windows and the rear windshield have historically been made of tempered glass. Some newer luxury vehicles have laminated side windows to meet occupancy retention regulations, anti-theft purposes, or sound-deadening purposes.
Other typical applications of tempered glass include:
- Balcony doors
- Athletic facilities
- Swimming pools
- Shower doors and bathroom areas
- Exhibition areas and displays
- Computer towers or cases
Buildings and structures
Tempered glass is also used in buildings for unframed assemblies (such as frameless glass doors), structurally loaded applications, and any other application that would become dangerous in the event of human impact. Building codes in the United States require tempered or laminated glass in several situations including some skylights, glass installed near doorways and stairways, large windows, windows which extend close to floor level, sliding doors, elevators, fire department access panels, and glass installed near swimming pools.