How to specify and design different types of railings
There is an unusual story involving railings during World War II. To meet the demand for ordnance, ships and combat vehicles, various fences and railings in the City of London were removed to be repurposed. The true fate of these parts is unclear, however: some say they ended up dumped in the Thames or became ballast for ships, as they could not be recycled. The reason was that they were all cast iron at the time, which made them difficult to reuse; unlike the vast amount of materials and designs available today. However, their functions have not changed: guardrails ensure the protection of occupants and can be salient elements of the architecture. In this article, we explain how to specify and design different types of railings, depending on the different materials available.
Safety guardrails should be fitted around fall hazard areas, stairs, ramps, mezzanines, galleries, balconies and voids higher than a step (usually the 40cm high mark is used) . They are ubiquitous in our cities and often go unnoticed. Basically, they consist of 4 main parts: handrail, newel post, base rail and spindles (or balustrade), and should be firm and strong. With the many options available today, railings can mix materials, become more or less opaque and adapt to different budgets. Below we highlight some materials that can be used to build different parts and types of railings, all of which can be found in the Hollaender product catalog:
The exterior framing of a railing is particularly important, as it is the main structural anchor point. It may include handrails, internal panels and other accessories.
Lightweight, durable and corrosion resistant, aluminum is a very common option for railing structures. The material also allows the construction of cost-effective and easy-to-install railings.
When specifying the best option for each project, it is important to consider whether the goal is to have a more industrial look or lined accessories that provide a very pleasing architectural and aesthetic appearance. Alternatively, if convenience is the goal, there are options for pre-made ADA-compliant aluminum handrail kits.
Stainless steel is considerably stronger and more durable than aluminum, but it can also be a more expensive option. In addition, it allows for more discreet joints between components, as well as more visible textures.
As with the aluminum options, it is possible to include recessed lighting, as well as to include glass panels in a simplified and modulated way, reducing the need for horizontal pieces and providing greater visual permeability to the whole.
Made of thick sheets of tempered glass, structural glass railings feature extruded aluminum runners with a coating that can be stainless steel or aluminum. Up top, for the handrail, options are available in round and U shapes in a variety of materials and finishes, with wood being a popular choice.
The glass can also be fixed vertically, using screws, giving the impression of a “glass wall” to observers.
Infill panels can also be influenced by specific factors, which are detailed below. In some cases, the space under the handrail may be completely hollow, such as on bleacher stairs or when positioned close to walls. The level of opacity is another important factor, as well as the security that each material or solution can provide:
It’s a very traditional option, with vertical pieces evenly spaced from each other, creating a sort of characteristic rhythm reminiscent of older examples with their balustrades. It is an economical and aesthetic solution for any construction project.
Glass is well suited for projects that require virtually transparent and unobtrusive systems. 3/8″ thick monolithic tempered glass is most commonly used, but this can vary. Some codes and jurisdictions require tempered glass to be laminated, which provides added security in the event of breakage. A variety of colors are also available – clear, tinted and matte, as well as artistic patterns that can be used for embellishment.
Wire mesh combines translucency and economy. The 2″ x 2″ square pattern is the most common, although it can exist in other sizes and directions. Carbon steel and powder coated aluminum are the most common materials in this case.
The perforated sheets allow some translucency, but in a tighter way. In this case, there are many model options; they are constructed of electrocoated carbon steel and powder-coated or powder-coated aluminum, with a maximum open area of 50%.
Resin panels – commonly referred to as plastics – come in two general chemical compositions. In general, acrylic panels are more rigid, but with lower fire resistance than PETG (polyethylene) filler panels. Both are more expensive than glass but can support structural loads at least 3/8″ thick, and as long as they are properly captured to the post or rail.
Learn more about Hollaender and its solutions in our catalog.