The railing surrounding the balcony space is designed to perform two major functions: enhancing safety and improving the decorative effect of the space. While the handrail is basically intended to ensure safety of the people on the balcony (which is absolutely relevant for all the floors above the ground one), it may also significantly beautify the appearance of the facade of the building. Interestingly, the external side of the balcony fence can be in either harmony or contrast with the overall facade solution, depending on your needs and the building’s architectural concept.
Basic safety requirements.
Safety requirements is what the balcony railing must comply with in any case, independent from the type, material and decorative properties. Durability and resistance to wear are considered the two basic properties of a good handrail. As for the geometric parameters, the height of the rails is your first consideration. It must match the height of the home-owner, reaching up to the waist. In practice, the balcony fences are typically 35-45 inches tall.
The size of apertures in non-monolithic balcony handrails is also determined by the safety requirements. Thus, the maximal admissible distance between two horizontal or vertical elements never exceeds 4-5 inches. Those home-owners who have young children or pets should pay special attention to this parameter.
Pros & cons of different materials.
The balcony railing must boast high durability and resistance to the surrounding environment, including atmospheric precipitation and sharp temperature changes. Considering these basic requirements, the best materials are:
- stainless steel and wrought metal;
- durable plastic and tempered glass;
- corrosion-resistant hard stone.
- Stainless steel is a practical and eye-appealing material; it’s suitable for both exquisite and simple solutions. The main advantage of a stainless steel railing is its durability and incredible wear-resistance. A steel balcony railing is well-combinable with other materials, such as module blocks, glass or metal sheets. Such a combination will result in a stylish, contemporary design with a hint of lightweightness, which works great with virtually any facade finishing material. Other pros of the material are the absolutely easy maintenance and resistance to moisture, temperature fluctuations and other weather-incurred factors. Steel railings may be installed “as is” (without any coating), or painted for the purpose of increasing the decorative effect.
- Stone, brick or concrete balcony fences are impressively massive and durable. Such an idea is very intricate in terms of construction and installation; however, it guaranties high stability of the structure. Hiring a professional for its mounting is recommended, as you will need to calculate accurately whether your balcony is able to support the additional weight. Keep in mind that stone and other related materials are suitable only for rather spacious balconies, where they are able to create a splendid and large-scale decorative effect. Either artificial stone, or natural materials (granite or marble) are suitable for such a fundamental railing option.
- Cast iron and other metal railings are somewhat disadvantageous because they’re nonresistant to corrosion and require a special anti-rust coating. Metal options are usually wrought, so they can take the most fanciful shape and are relatively easy to install. Neither is it difficult to pick up the railing model that corresponds to your balcony’s size and does not take up much space. Cast iron solutions are more wear-resistant, yet considerably heavier at the same time.
- Plastic and glass may also be employed by US designers to create an unusual waist rail on the balcony. It’s important to note, they never use regular glass. Only highly durable tempered glass is suitable for this purpose. The resulting structure appears creative and stylish, while its appearance provides for a splendid decoration of both the building’s facade and the balcony’s “interior” space. Some railings of this type are completely glass, others have metallic elements inserted for additional durability. The latter provides for a seemingly fragile, but reliable structure. Plastic handrails enjoy their share of popularity due to advantages such as low cost and light weight. However, they always need a reinforced metal framework.
- Wood is the most unsuitable material from the point of view of safety and practicability. Though wood rails are environmentally clean and possess great aesthetic properties, they may be subject to rotting due to the condition of high moisture that occurs during rains. For the balcony of a high-floor apartment, wooden handrails are absolutely inadmissible. For the purpose of achieving a certain decorative effect, USA designers sometimes employ wooden elements attached to a metal framework.
- Combined usage of materials is a solution for those home-owners who are not fond of the idea of using standard metal bars as the railing. The combined option may be either a choice made for achieving a strong decorative effect, or a first step towards glazing the balcony.