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Choosing a Glass Railing System

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The Case of the Reliable Railing Recommendations


Dear Glass Detective,

I want to install a glass railing in front of an opening that measures 120-inches by 44-inches by 120-inches. The railing is meant to protect the opening. Do you have any advice that might be helpful in getting me pointed in the right direction on this glass railing project?

Thank you,

Ilan S.

Demarest, NJ

Architectural Glass Railing


Dear Ilan,

Thank you for making contact with the Glass Detective with your concerns over selecting a glass rail system. Because the information you provided is a bit brief and lacking in detail, my response is going to be somewhat generic, but I think I can certainly provide you with some general, basic glass railing information that will hopefully be of benefit to you.

You did state that the purpose of the glass railing is to “protect” an area approximately 120-inches (10-feet) by 44-inches (in height) and then you reference another 120-inch (10-foot) section. I picture a right angle shaped glass and metal railing system that is perhaps being used to keep people from getting too close to a display or exhibit of some kind. Then again, maybe it’s being used to protect people from falling off of a balcony or deck. Regardless of the actual glass railing application, I can give some basic understanding of the railing selection process. Given what I know, and what my fuzzy mind has thus far conjured up, here we go:

  1. Railing systems are going to vary greatly in price and performance and it is important to match your needs with what is available and appropriate for the application. High-end commercial railing systems, with stainless steel hardware and heavy safety glass, can easily cost five to ten times more than an “off-the-shelf” residential glass railing system.
  2. There are several very basic glass railing systems that can be purchased and installed quickly and economically. They primarily use standard aluminum components. Depending on the application, glass panels for the infill areas can be purchased at any number of places, often from the same company from which you bought the railing system components. Even if you are truly handy and mechanically-inclined, you won’t want to do the job yourself. The performance of any system is only as good as the installation procedures developed and followed, including all engineering requirements. It’s always best to leave it to a professional.
  3. If this is a commercial installation and you are considering a high-end architectural type of system (perhaps in a stainless steel or bronze finish) the types of glass will most likely change. There are a number of architectural glass companies across the country that are experienced and qualified to perform proper glass railing installations. They can offer design assistance, product selection, and budgeting assistance to you.
  4. You will need to comply with all codes, including engineering requirements, regardless of what railing system you select. Depending on your background and resources, you may want to start with an architect or engineer who has experience in glass railing systems. You may also be required to get a building permit to do the project.

While I don’t know if the glass railing system you are looking to install is an exterior railing for an outdoor restaurant on the tenth floor of an office building, or a simple system to be installed on a back porch or sundeck, you really do need to carefully consider all of the concerns and consequences that come with a glass railing project.

As a consultant to the glass industry, I have seen some commercial glass railing disasters. I have also seen other projects that have turned out to be absolutely beautiful, functional, safe, and secure. I have likewise witnessed residential railing work that was poorly done and did not last very long at all before needing complete replacement. I admire, love and appreciate properly installed glass projects of any type, but working with glass in applications that can have negative outcomes also concerns me quite a bit. Proceed carefully and get professional assistance. I truly hope this response is of some value to you and thank you again for contacting the Glass Detective. And good luck with your glass railing project.

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Lyle Hill

Lyle Hill has been in the glass and metal industry for more than 40 years. In this time he has managed glass retail, contract glazing, mirror, architectural window, window film, and automotive glass businesses throughout America. He obtained an MBA from IIT with a focus on Technology and Engineering Management. Hill is also a columnist for glass industry trade magazines and often called the “face” of the glass industry. He has also authored books including “The Broken Tomato and Other Business Parables,” which is available through Amazon. Find out more about Lyle on Linkedin.

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