How to safely remove enormous glass sliding doors?
June 11, 2019 4:20 PM   Subscribe

The kitchen in my 1954 house has what amounts to nearly an entire wall of glass. There's a (functioning) normal-sized slider on the left (see photo), maybe a foot of wall just to the right of that, and then a ginormous single-pane slider (that doesn't actually slide) consisting of two approx. 5' across glass panels. How do we remove roughly 70 square feet of glass safely?

I'm having trouble finding good visual examples (photos, videos, etc.) of stuff like this being done to similar-era houses. Google seems to return a lot of results related to putting windows/sliders IN, but not to taking them *out* and installing a proper, insulated wall in their place. Partner & I would like to DIY this as much as we possibly can; we are both pretty handy, but this is new territory.

We are basically just looking to improve energy efficiency, get ourselves some more useful wall space (we have half the thing covered up 365 days a year as it is, and it's annoying not being able to hang anything or attach anything for 5' of space extending from the kitchen into the adjacent living room), and improve the safety of our home.

The giant slider is almost certainly made of not-exactly-safety glass that probably isn't rated for earthquakes, etc., as I don't think those regulations were even in place in the 50s when this house was built. Plus, it has never worked as a slider since we've lived here - the previous owners seem to have filled the "tracks" with paint to the point where the mechanism won't budge at all. Moreover, even if it DID work, it's so heavy and unwieldy that we'd likely never use it anyway. (The previous owners clearly found it enough of an annoyance to seal it up and install a much smaller adjacent slider).

We are, of course, going to contact city officials for inspections during this process and make sure to conform to energy-efficiency requirements for remodels in California.

Oh, and in case it's not clear in the photo - the big slider is the thing on the right, with the right-most half covered by shade panels. The white squares on the glass are just tape, not individual panes (previous owners' work - they were going for some kind of cottage theme, apparently).

Essentially, what I am looking for are links to blogs, books, videos, or even photos on random sites that show what the process of taking out one of these big sliders looks like. I'd also love to know if anyone here has actually done something like this, and if so, what it entailed, and what traps/pitfalls we might want to watch out for. Thanks!
posted by aecorwin to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How do we remove roughly 70 square feet of glass safely?

You get a professional to remove it, using those suction cup things with handles that glass companies use, and pay them to take it away.

A few years ago some friends of mine decided to remove sliding glass doors themselves. They were much heavier than they anticipated, and with the first one they couldn't hold it, dropped it and it shattered, which caused multiple small cuts and one big cut which, according to the paramedics, missed the guy's femoral artery by millimeters. He'd have bled to death in minutes if it had hit that artery. The paramedics were amazed nobody was seriously injured and said it was more by dumb luck than judgement.

My friends were finding tiny bits of glass around the place for weeks afterwards, which was a huge worry as they also had cats.

So, unless you really know what you're doing, you could at best end up with a horrible mess to clean up and, worst case scenario, er, die.
posted by essexjan at 4:37 PM on June 11 [16 favorites]

We are, of course, going to contact city officials for inspections during this process and make sure to conform to energy-efficiency requirements for remodels in California.

Great! But generally, inspections happen after you get a permit, and this is work you'd probably need to get a permit for. You're going to have to tell them what you're replacing the windows with (not the exact product, but you'll have to agree to install something with a minimum thermal rating; as well as what the composition of the wall construction will be for any wall you fill in). The inspections will be to make sure you're installing what you said you'd install. Should be a simple enough permit and the should be able to pretty much tell you what you're going to need to put in.

So, your first step is to visit your local building department. You won't be dealing with the windows for a while.
posted by LionIndex at 4:53 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

That made it sound scary. If your city has such a thing, you can probably get this approved "over the counter", which will require you to meet with someone at the building department for maybe half an hour (plus wait time). You'll probably need some kind of documentation beforehand, and it's probably best to check what all they actually want - they probably have a checklist. In my experience, you'd need at least: proof that you own the property (deed, title, etc., they'll tell you); a drawing showing: a site plan (they'll have requirements for what needs to be shown), where the work is taking place in the building, a small map showing where the building is located, information and/or details on what you're replacing the windows with, title 24 energy forms (they'll have them), and a list of a bunch of info they'll need about zoning info. Some building departments have informational services where you can set up an appointment, go in and say "I'm going to replace windows in my house with more efficient ones and partially fill in the opening with an insulated wall, what do I need to show you to be able to do that?".

If you hire a professional, they can take care of all that stuff themselves.
posted by LionIndex at 5:10 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Just to clarify - we are ok on the permit process stuff, I just didn’t articulate it very well here. As in, we are going to follow all applicable laws, present our plans to city officials, obtain permits, and get all necessary inspections. That is territory my SO and I have plenty of familiarity with, as we’ve had to follow such processes when we (for instance) ran service cable under the house from the main panel to a sub-panel in the garage, which we ran and bent conduit for and pulled all the wires ourselves.

As such, my question here was specifically about the process of glass removal for the big sliders. I am, personally, strongly in favor of getting a professional to do that bit, especially after reading essexjan’s comment - but I still want to know what the process looks like regardless. I’m super anxious about it because giant sheets of glass are scary, and I want to know what to expect. I won’t threadsit, but I did want to make the actual nature of my question more evident, so hopefully this has done that.
posted by aecorwin at 6:19 PM on June 11

Tempered glass will show patterns if viewed with crossed polarizers or even just through polarized glasses, e.g., this link. This one has a lot of beautiful images of glass items taken through polarized filters, even though it probably isn't really helpful... The general idea is that glass is tempered by cooling the outer layers rapidly, while the inner part remains plastic. It is hard to do this evenly, so you end up with some kind of visible stress patterns frozen into the surface. This is why the rear window of many cars look spotty through polarized sunglasses.

If it is tempered, I would not worry so much about immediate death through slashing of the femoral artery, because if it breaks it will break into small relatively-non-sharp pieces. As with any other heavy item, be ready to catch it and be ready to get out of the way if it turns out to be too heavy to deal with. Simply paying someone to deal with it is always a strategy that should be considered...
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:34 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

One square foot of 1" thick glass weighs 13.11lbs. You should be able to work out the approximate weight of your panel given that; I suspect your panes are 1/8" or 3/16" thick.
posted by aramaic at 9:35 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

I've worked with a lot of glaziers and moved a reasonable amount of glass myself. You need someone to teach you how to move glass - it can't be taught here or via youtube or whatever else. You need to work with someone to get a feel for it and, to be honest, you should be reasonably good with your hands to start with. If you don't have that person to teach you then don't move big bits of glass. A wee little window would be different, but that that's not what you are asking about.

be ready to catch it and be ready to get out of the way if it turns out to be too heavy to deal with.
Is a good way to end up with glass in unexpected places, likely including you, and I am very grumpy indeed with any workers of mine with that attitude. Seriously, that's terrible and dangerous advice, tempered glass or not, you still don't want it in your eyes, your clothes etc and it still cuts. Apart from that you don't start a lift without knowing what you are in for. That applies to most heavy things but particularly to something you can't put down in a disorganised hurry. Even if you keep the glass whole you'll do your back in.

I have removed a three metre long toughened glass balustrade that could not be reused (the usual situation for toughened) by thoroughly bagging it in a heavy truck blanket and deliberately shattering it in situ, then hauling the blanket bag of glass away. Also not for the faint hearted.
posted by deadwax at 4:06 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]

This really is something to leave to the pros. Each case is slightly different, and will therefore require adjustments to the process. Given how "stuck" yours are, they may need to remove part of the framing prior to removing the glass itself. All of this is fraught - and the pros know how to handle it.
posted by dbmcd at 8:09 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]

I'm a pharmacist that works in a hospital. One of my duties is being part of the overnight ER trauma team and I can't tell you how many serious glass injuries I've seen (where by serious I mean arterial bleeding, trauma surgery and perhaps plastic surgery). I'll spare you the gory details, but you can probably imagine.

Just a slight flex of that heavy piece of glass is going to result in hundreds or thousands of SHARP pieces of glass.

I have a similar glass wall in my 1950s house and I'd leave this to professionals.
posted by codex99 at 5:20 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]

Another vote for getting a professional. If for some reason I absolutely had to remove that glass on my own and wasn't allowed to hire someone competent, I'd:
1) cover the glass in tape. Lots of tape.
2) put up heavy blankets between myself and the glass
3) break the glass from a safe distance, then clean up with a shovel+pushbroom+shop-vac

I'm not sure if the "tape" part of this would be useful but it'd make me feel better.

Under no circumstances would I carry that much glass in a single piece. It's way too easy to break a giant sheet of glass into (large, heavy) sharp pieces and I don't want to be anywhere near it when that happens.
posted by ethand at 8:58 PM on June 12

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