An old college friend of mine wanted to add a bit of drama to a very narrow house in Southern California. As it was a townhouse, they didn’t have room for a big deck or porch. Instead, they wanted to build a small balcony, to create a spot to enjoy the skyline and relax at night. They ran into a roadblock when the building inspector told them to do this, they’d have to build a fairly high railing that would block a good portion of the view. Everything they considered was distracting. They wanted a railing that complied with codes, but stood out as little as possible. That’s when they started to consider a frameless glass railing for the balcony.
Glass railings work well with a view for one obvious reason: you can see right through them. As balconies are mainly there for the view, teaming the two together is a great choice, and glass isn’t as hard to clean as you might think it is. However, they aren’t always the easiest things to purchase or install. But you have lots of good options when it comes to style and ease of installation, if you know what to look for. Just keep a few basics in mind, and you’ll be able to add a beautiful, no-fuss railing for your balcony that offers a minimum of obstruction while also being safe and secure.
Adding a Glass Railing to a Balcony
With a balcony, you’re working with limited and often narrow space. As such, you’re going to need a customizable glass railing set up that can work in limited space. The options are extensive, but can be broken down into two styles. You can use can use a full glass railing custom cut to fit your specific measurements, or you can use a kit designed to be easy to install that allows you to drop glass panes or balusters into a specially-designed railing system. Regardless of what you choose, you’re going to want:
- Tempered glass: The last thing you want is glass that shatters if something hits it. Tempered glass is designed to withstand shattering when hit. This is particularly important with a balcony, as you’re dealing with high winds and the possibility that tree branches, or even birds, will run into the glass.
- Hardware: The hardware you use needs to be specifically designed to work with glass, and it should be long-lasting and corrosion-resistant, like stainless steel. The glass part of your railing will last for years, so you want your hardware to last as well.
- Ease of installation: Glass railing isn’t something you can typically install yourself, unless you choose a manufacturer that makes kits with precut panels and a drop-in system. This is the best way to DIY your glass railing system. Otherwise, you’ll want to choose a system from a company that will send an expert to your home to install it for you.
Do You Need a Completely Frameless Glass Railing for a Balcony?
While you’ve probably seen the completely frameless glass railings advertised, I’ve found that this style usually ends up being a tricky and sometimes frustrating project for the homeowner, requiring careful measuring of the glass and a professional to install it. For some people, a glass railing without a top rail also gives a feeling of precariousness. For all these reasons, I usually suggest a glass panel railing system with posts and top and bottom rails. It opens the view by a great deal while providing durability, a sense of security, and easy installation.
Considerations When Working With Glass Railings
As you’re working on a balcony, a big consideration is whether your glass railing meets the minimum height requirement. The height requirement for balconies follows the height requirements for most decks and porches, in that railings must be at least 36 inches high. Specific to working with glass, you should remember:
- There’s a no margin of error for glass measurements: If you’re using glass cut to your specifications, keep in mind you’re going to have very little leeway with those measurements. If your numbers aren’t exact, you could wind up with unusable panels. And if those panels were custom cut, you’re not going to be able to return them. While the general rule is to ‘measure twice, cut once’, in this case, you want to measure twice and then have someone else verify those measurements to avoid making an expensive mistake.
- Keep the 200-pound load weight in mind: On balconies, it’s generally required that the railing be able to hold a minimum of 200 pounds of pressure. Glass tends to have a lower load weight than other materials, so make sure the glass you buy can work under that level of pressure. This shouldn’t be an issue if you’re buying glass that’s meant for railings, as a railing manufacturer will make sure their glass meets the basic standards for railings.
- Be considerate of the nature around you: If you live in an area with a lot of birds, like a forest or a more rural area, you’ll need to accept it’s possible that animals will run into the glass if you don’t find a way to keep them from flying too closely. One common way I’ve seen it done is to add realistic-looking owl figures to the balcony to scare away smaller birds. Tinted glass also helps with this, as does placing stickers on the glass. You may also have an easier time keeping birds from flying into the glass if your railings have a top and bottom rail, instead of adhering to the completely frameless style.
After a lot of hemming and hawing, my college friend and his wife finally went with a railing system from the company I usually recommend, Fortress Railings. Their glass railing system isn’t totally frameless–it still has a top and bottom rail with traditional-looking aluminum posts in between the glass panels–but it completely changes the view and feel of their little townhouse balcony, while still framing the area and fitting in with the traditional style of their home.
I can’t stress enough that when installing glass railings, you need to work with a company that takes care in the design of the railing system so that it’s safe to use and safe and easy to buy and install. I’ve found that the Fortress Railings Pure View line provides everything you need while minimizing the fuss and risk in installing glass railings. I’ve depended on Fortress’ full range of products for other projects as well; they make well-designed, durable, and high-quality products that also add style to any application you use them for.