Could your neighbor's windows set your house on fire? One local engineer said it's possible.
After a series of fires at a home in eastern Massachusetts was determined to be caused by a solar glare from the house next door, a Longmeadow engineer was brought in to investigate. Somerville fire investigators were looking into what caused a fire in early January.
A video sent to Western Mass News from fire fighters showed their bunker pants, that are meant to keep firefighters safe, catching fire.
According to a report obtained by Western Mass News that's when they realized this was no electrical fire. The fire was caused by a window that was installed in the neighbors house.
"The low-e glass windows have been the standard for construction for decades, and they have been required for the last ten years by energy code," said Curt Freedman, President of CMF Engineering, Inc.
Freedman is an engineer that focuses in solar energy out of Longmeadow. He purchased the window that reportedly caused the fire from the homeowner and created a outdoor laboratory to see how this could have happened.
"That sunlight reflects back out, and whatever object it hits it can cause problems. It can ignite fires, it can get hot enough to combust wood," Freedman noted.
He learned through extensive testing that high efficiency windows when hit by the sun at just the right angle, can set a house on fire, melt vinyl siding, and can even ruin paint on a car.
"It's common on virtually all windows that are installed today. Various window manufacturers, various glass manufacturers, everybody is using it, and sometimes it has some rather harsh unintended consequences. Those consequences can be very damaging, it can damage property and cause fires," Freedman continued.
It's because of how the windows are made. A slight reflective film inside keeps the sunlight out so your air conditioning inside is more efficient, but that also means its reflecting that sun somewhere else.
"If your windows are facing south that's generally the exposure that is the most risk, and then you can look for where the sunlight is reflecting too. Do you see it on your grass, is it causing brown spots," he added.
Freedman showed in a demonstration that the temperature from the reflection off of the window can measure up to 532 degrees.
"The other concern that I have is that the intensity of the light is so strong, its damaging to human eyesight and safety," he explained.
He recommends that if you notice that there is a harsh reflection from your window, do not look directly at the light, and screens can help diffuse the light.
Freedman replaced the window at the home in Somerville with a different kind of window that he said will fix the issue.
He plans on presenting this information to a conference of fire marshals in a few months to help aid them in their investigations into fires like this, and he is also working to develop something that will be able to adhere to existing problematic windows so that nothing else gets damaged.