Choosing the Right Railing

Indoor and outdoor railings serve the same purpose of protecting us from falling. Their main purpose is to provide safety and security. Railings are an essential element to both commercial and residential buildings, whether indoor or outdoor.

Wrought iron railings appeared in the 15th century but were less sought after with the arrival of cast iron in the 18th century, when new industrial processes took off. Cast and wrought iron are both used today, along with a number of different materials. Choosing the right material for your railing will be the most important aspect of your search. That’s not all, though, so let’s take a look.

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  • How to choose the ideal railing?

    Steel railing by RINTAL

    In order to find the right railing, you’ll need to consider your options in regard to materials, configuration and application. We’ll give you information on these points and offer some additional thoughts on other characteristics and current trends. Both residential and commercial railings will need to follow the safety code of your country. Railings add aesthetic appeal as well, so be sure to consider the decorative side while searching for the perfect railing.

    • Materials
    • Configuration
    • Mounts
    • Residential and commercial
    • Other characteristics
    • New trends
  • What material should I choose for the railing?

    The most common materials used to produce railings are metal, glass and wood; however, you can also consider selecting a railing made of stone, plastic, composite and other materials. We will focus our attention on metal, glass and wood.

  • What should I know about metal railings?

    You’ll want to take a close look at the pros and cons of each different type of metal before making your choice. The most popular metal railings are stainless steel and aluminum with steel, wrought iron and cast iron following close behind. Also, keep in mind that most metal railings are used for outdoor applications, with exception to stainless steel.

    • Stainless steel: Although typically an indoor option, its outdoor counterpart requires a weatherproof coating in order to maintain its shine. There are different variations of stainless steel and their characteristics will be different. Stainless steel is one of the most corrosion-resistant materials on the market.
    • Aluminum: It resists rust and corrosion. It’s lightweight and durable. It has a clean appearance and is maintenance free, but it doesn’t go with all types of architecture.
    • Steel: This includes all variations of steel, which is a rather heavy material that can resemble wrought iron. This material must be protected with varnish or paint in order to avoid rust.
    • Wrought iron: It is considered one of the strongest materials and to be an elegant choice, often used outdoors. It is rather expensive, but hollow rods of wrought iron are a more economical and lightweight option. It’s ductile so it can be easily manipulated for design purposes.
    • Cast iron: This is a less expensive version of wrought iron and it is not nearly as malleable. It is also a bit brittle.

    Types of metal:

    • Stainless steel
    • Aluminum
    • Steel
    • Wrought iron
    • Cast iron
  • Why should I consider a glass railing?

    Glass railing by Treppenmeister

    Glass railings offer a pleasant aesthetic experience as they give you visibility of the surrounding environment. Manufacturers are able to treat the glass in order to reduce the number of accumulated water spots; they can also add lighting and color tints as well as etched designs. However, glass railings may need frequent cleaning and can be rather expensive.

    The glass panels are accompanied by aluminum rail posts. Tempered glass is not prone to surface cracking when exposed to extreme temperatures, unlike hardwood railings.

    PRO: Optimal safety, little or no water spots, will not crack
    CON: May require frequent cleaning, expensive

  • What should I know about wood railings?

    Wooden railing by TimberTech

    There are a number of different types of wood used to produce wood railings, most of which offer a classic, elegant and economic option. However, not all manufacturers supply wood railings. This might be because they are prone to damage easily and require frequent maintenance—stains or paints will need to be applied annually.

    Commonly used woods are cypress, mahogany, pine, oak and maple. An advantage to using these woods is the warm aesthetic impact that the stained wood grain gives.

    PRO: Natural look, inexpensive
    CON: High maintenance, susceptible to decay, warping and bowing

  • What are the various configuration options?

    Bar railing by RINTAL

    A lot of manufacturers have a railing design app so you can play around with the various configurations. Although you can find configurations which involve cables, perforated metal sheets and wire mesh; most railings are configured as bars or panels.

    The bar configuration can be used for smaller or larger applications while the panel configuration will typically be used for larger applications and offer a higher degree of safety. They can both be fixed to stairways, balconies, patios, mezzanines, platforms, windows, decks, around swimming pools, and beyond.

  • What are the various mounting options?

    There are three ways to mount railings: fascia, surface and wall. In architecture, the fascia mount refers to fixing an object, in this case a railing, to any relatively broad, flat, horizontal surface, to the outer edge of a cornice or frame. This is also referred to as a side mount or a joist mount. The surface mount refers to fixing the object to the part of the surface where one would walk. It can be called a deck mount, floor mount or top mount. There are also railings that are fixed directly on walls.

    • Fascia
    • Surface
    • Wall
  • What do I need to know about residential railings?

    You will need to know the railing safety code for residential railings in the area. You will not need to have the same height for a communal deck for an apartment building complex for example as a small personal family deck.

  • What do I need to know about commercial railings?

    Commercial properties such as apartment buildings, hotels and public buildings will require railings for building safety. As seen with residential railings, commercial railings will also need to follow the safety code and this will depend on the country and potentially the city or district. In certain cases, railings are obligatory, such as for stairs, balconies and decks.

    Here are a few questions that might help:

    • Can the railing posts be modified to fit my project?
    • Does a cable railing installation require special tools?
    • Do the railings come in different heights?
    • Can the railings be fascia and surface mounted?
    • How long are the railings expected to last before they need to be replaced?
  • What are some other characteristics to consider?

    You might want to consider additional elements to narrow your search. If you’re looking for railings to install in a professional setting, be sure to keep this in mind in order to obtain more fitting results. Other options are whether you’d like to have a specific look, such as incorporated lighting or perforated panels.

  • New Trends

    The last few years have seen a lot of changes in terms of style for railings. There are more design options available today. Some of the trending designs include box newels instead of round ones; iron and or square balusters; metal panels; and stainless steel cables and tubes.

    Architects and interior designers currently prefer metal and glass guards for staircases and patios. By maximizing transparency and light, glass guards render an area more spacious. Currently, frameless glass panel railings are trending.

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6 comments
  • Eli Richardson says:

    I’m glad you mention that steel railing requires a varnish or paint cover to prevent it from rusting. One of my brothers is renovating his house and needs to install new rails in his staircase. I will pass him the details so he can get the right material for his bars.

  • Taylor Anderson says:

    I like the idea of using metal for a handrail. My stairs don’t actually have a handrail. These tips could help him find a good one, so thanks for sharing them.

  • Selena Homer says:

    Thank you for sharing some tips! We can use this for steel railings.

  • Tori Raddison says:

    It’s awesome that the glass can be treated to have fewer waterspots after it rains. That means you won’t have to clean it nearly as much as I thought you’d have to. I want to get glass because the view we have is amazing and it would be a shame to cover it.

  • Charlotte Fleet says:

    I like that you mention that wood railings offer a nice classic economic option. My husband and I have been wanting to spruce up our backyard for the coming spring and summer. I think building a deck and installing some nice wood railings would be a great way to do that.

  • Ron Booker says:

    I liked how you explained that one can customize the rails when consulting with a professional since some of them might have an app to design your rails. My uncle got his condo renovated and he wants to install new rails because the ones he has are to small and not to secure. I will pass hi the info so he can look for a railing contractor in the area that will customize him the rails he wants.

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