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The Case of the Reticent Railing Remodeler

Dear Glass Detective,

Would you please advise me whether to choose between laminated or tempered glass for a frameless glass railing system on my balcony in the 4th floor of a building? Will ½” glass be considered safe or should I ask for a thicker glass? I want to make sure the glass railing meets local building codes.


I also plan to add glass railing panels to enclose a stairway where it is exposed to the landings. I would like the glass railing to go clear down to our stair landing. If one were to fall down the stairs, into the glass, and break through it, they would fall another 5ft. down to a deck. Also, compared to the other windows nearby, does laminated glass look different?

Thank you


Thank you for contacting the Glass Detective with your questions regarding glass for a railing project you are working on. Let me begin by stating that you would be well served to work with a reputable local glass contractor who can help you with local code information and pricing alternatives. Please also understand that the integrity of the glass being used is only as good as the framing system being used to keep it in place.

The design (aesthetic considerations) is only the beginning of the glass railing project and it is our opinion that safety concerns are much more important. With this in mind, I would like to offer a couple of opinions based on 42 years in the glass business and extensive background in both the initial installation of glass railing systems as well as the repair/replacement of same.

Based on the information you have provided, I am assuming that the glass railing system will be held in place with some type of standoff/through bolt or perhaps a clamp system of some type (you state that the glass railing is a “frameless system”).

I have concerns about the lack of a top rail for a number of reason–one related to code requirements and the other to common sense. Remember the glass railing is only going to perform properly if the framing/attachment system that holds it in place is adequate and properly installed. Glass railing codes have changed quite a bit over the past few years and they have become more stringent and more detailed for safety reasons—a good move in my opinion.

First, my glass type of choice for a glass railing installation of your type would be ½” tempered/laminated. This would be two pieces of fully tempered ¼” glass with an .030” polyvinyl interlayer. This arrangement gives you the best of both laminated and tempered glass and the edgework can be processed so it looks good.  This configuration provides strength and will tend to hold together in the opening (depending on the frame system) if it did break thus helping to prevent anyone from falling through the opening. My preferred size would be the 42” X 48” ones although the others would be OK too. The glass itself should look the same as any other clear, untinted glass in the building.

Before doing anything however, you should have your architect/engineering team review glass railing code requirements for your area and assist you in determining a final thickness and composition for your glass railing. You may need a thicker piece of glass for your application depending on the final size and connection system.

Again, I cannot stress enough the value of dealing with a glass contractor who is experienced and of good reputation. If you need assistance with this, we can help.

Thank you for making contact with the Glass Detective regarding your concerns about a proper glass railing system.

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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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