Short answer – Yes. Unfortunately, window glass can break in cold weather conditions, leaving you with a replacement expense. However, it’s more common for single-pane, older windows to break. Cracked windows lose heat, reducing household energy efficiency and increasing your heating bill during winter. If one window cracks, it’s a sign that the rest of the windows in your home are at risk of the same phenomenon. So, you’ll need to replace the windows and possibly the frames.
When you look at a new pane of glass, it has a consistent thickness. However, after installation in a vertical position, the glass tends to gravitate towards the bottom of the pane. This makes the top thinner and the bottom thicker. This effect creates a weak point in the glass predisposed to cracking, especially under harsh, cold weather conditions.
There are two common ways for windows to crack. Pressure cracks and thermal stress cracks are the two most common reasons for cracked windows in the winter.
If the windowpane has a long crack running up, it’s probably a thermal stress crack. This event occurs when the window glass experiences a sudden drop in temperature. The molecules in glass expand under heat and contract in cold conditions.
If the expansion is higher than the stress limit of the pane, it results in a crack. Typically, the crack starts perpendicular to the edge of the pane. Thermal stress cracks are common in the northern states, where temperatures are mild during the day and drop suddenly as the sun sets.
This type of window crack occurs when the windowpane undergoes a sudden change in barometric pressure. These changes may occur during winter storms. These cracks are usually more severe than thermal stress cracks, and homeowners must change the pane and the frame when replacing the window.
The two types of window glass cracks result from environmental conditions that alter the physical properties of the glass. However, other conditions may influence the thermal or pressure cracking of the windowpane.
Many double-glazed windows feature a gas fill between the panes. Argon or other gases improve the insulative properties of the window, preventing cold transfer between the exterior and interior of the home.
Unfortunately, this gas fill creates a thermal gradient that changes the expansion of the glass. This occurs in different areas in varying amounts, resulting in cracks.
Many homes feature aluminum window frames. This metal is a thermal conductor and presents a cracking risk to the windowpane. This can happen when the material expands and contracts under daily temperature changes.
Vinyl frames have better insulating properties and don’t undergo the same type of expansion and contraction as aluminum or steel.
Homes with large bay windows are more prone to experiencing thermal stress cracks and pressure cracks in the glass due to temperature changes. The larger the windowpane, the more challenging it is to maintain a consistent temperature across the entire window, which can result in cracks or window glass breaks.
Windows that are in the shade of trees or neighboring buildings, create a varying temperature gradient across the glass. This uneven distribution increases the likelihood of the windowpane cracking under thermal stress.
Winter is more harsh in some places than others. Protect your windows and keep them in good condition during the cold months by caulking or weather-stripping. This may be your best measure against drafts, loss of heat, or broken glass until you can replace your windows.
There is little homeowners can do to prevent thermal stress cracks from occurring in the windows. If one window cracks under thermal stress, there’s a good chance the rest of the windows in your home will follow suit sooner or later.
Window replacement is essential to maintaining energy efficiency in your home during the winter. Replacing the windows is the best way to remedy the situation.
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