The wrong type of glass in a home can help burglars gain entry easily. Pamela McEwen examines the benefits of laminated glass for insurers and insured....

Insurers have not been backward in taking a proactive stance in promoting awareness of household security to their policyholders. Royal & SunAlliance and Direct Line, in particular, have already raised awareness by offering discounts when homes are fitted for security.

Discounts are given if houses are fitted with alarms and certain types of locks on windows and doors. These are significant incentives for policyholders to fit alarms and window locks.

But has the level of security been significantly raised? Only an overall security package that considers glazing as well as alarms and window locks can deliver this. Increased household security equals reduced risk, and as the industry knows, this will inevitably lead to fewer break-ins and claims. Lower premiums could follow and so both the industry and policyholders win.

According to the 1998 British Crime Survey (new survey for 2000 yet to appear) 24% of burglars gained entry through breaking a glass door panel or windowpane.

The most common type of glass used in households is ordinary glass (also called float, plate, or annealed glass); but it has a major drawback – it is very fragile. No matter what the lock or the frame is, if the glass breaks easily entry is quickly achieved. If it's an easy job, the likelihood is that there will be a repeat burglary, leading to more claims.

While the insurance industry recognises the role of alarms, door and window locks, glass remains ignored – why is this when so many burglars gain entry by breaking windows? One answer may be that insurers are unaware how secure glazing can be.

Confusing information
Information does sometimes come out in the media, but sometimes it can be confusing. For instance, recently, contradictory advice was given out on two home improvement programmes (both presented by Carol Vorderman).

On the "Dream Homes" series last year, laminated glass was recommended for patio doors for improved security. This was the right advice as when this type of glass is hit with a sharp object it remains in the frame. However on the programme "Better Homes" (Tuesday 9 May 2000), "toughened" glass – the glass which is used in most side windows of cars – was recommended in patio doors for improved security.

Another common misconception is that ordinary double glazed windows will keep burglars at bay. Yet this offers no more security than single glazed types – two ordinary sheets of glass break almost as easily as one.

So what glass does have security as well as safety characteristics? What glass can resist burglars and protect people safely within their homes? Laminated glass is the only glass that can do both.

Sometimes people confuse laminated glass with toughened glass in terms of thinking of it as a security glass, quite simply because toughened sounds as though it is a much stronger glass. But it breaks easily when hit with a sharp object and explodes into small pieces – just like the glass in car side windows – giving easy and safe access to the burglar. Laminated glass is unique because it has the double benefits of safety and security. It is the only glass that not only makes it harder for burglars to break in but also meets the British standards on safety glazing.

Why then is laminated glass a secure glazing? It is because of the strong, clear, plastic interlayer that is bonded under heat and pressure between two pieces of ordinary glass. When the glazing is attacked, the broken pieces of glass stick to the interlayer. A break-in can be foiled because few burglars spend more than a couple of minutes on breaking and entering a residential property.

The glass may crack and so would have to be replaced, but this is considerably cheaper than replacing the stolen or damaged contents of a home. From a policyholder's perspective, the most damaging part of a burglary is the sense of trespass, which lives on well after the physical damage has been repaired and the items replaced. A cracked window is far more preferable than an intruder.

The police have for some time been behind initiatives that recommend laminated glass. The police-sponsored "Secured by Design" scheme, endorsed by the Association of British Insurers, recommends laminated glass. Information about secure glazing and laminated glass is also a standard part of the training of crime prevention officers. Pat Farley, Sergeant of the Crime Reduction College explains the role of laminated glass in household security: "There is no doubt that laminated glass helps prevent burglary. Burglary is all about time – the longer it takes to break in, the greater the chance the thief will be surprised and give up."

The right advice
Making sure the right advice about secure glazing is given out is essential. Laminated glass is part of the solution but secure glazing can only be guaranteed with the right combination of glass type and frame. If a window is being replaced, 7.5mm laminated glass to British Standard BS5544 and frame and hardware to BS7950 is recommended. If double glazing is chosen, two layers of 6.8mm laminated glass should be installed.

Insurers have a role to play in improving awareness of household security. Loss adjusters, and underwriters should consider adding laminated glass to their company statutory security guidelines. There is a range of marketing and communication tools that can incentivise policyholders to fit laminated glass, from product literature through to premium discounts.

And laminated glass is a passive security protection. No action is required by the insured, unlike locks and security alarms, which have to be used and set. Laminated glass maintains its security features 24 hours a day. Once installed, it looks the same as ordinary glass so aesthetically it makes no change to the appearance of the home, an important point for most householders.

The benefits
While the most compelling reason for the industry to improve levels of household security is the promise of lower claims, there are additional very real benefits for the insured in fitting secure glazing. But the benefits will only be seen by those insurers who take the lead.

The Laminated Glass Information Centre provides a telephone enquiry service and free posters and leaflets that explain the British Standards and security and safety glazing for commercial and residential use. The LGIC can be contacted at 299 Oxford Street, London W1R 1LA. Tel: 0207 499 1720: Fax 0207 495 1106.

  • Pamela McEwan of Solutia is writing on behalf of the LGIC.

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