Choosing a Residential Exterior Glass Railing System for Your Project

residential exterior glass railing system

A glass railing on an apartment or condo balcony can draw buyers and increase property value.

Designing an outdoor space for a building requires consideration for not only the exterior architectural elements and color scheme of the building, but also the owners’ or renters’ desire to have a versatile space that is durable and safe. While a lot of architects may lean on the side of caution and choose outdoor pallets and materials that are very typical, there are some surprisingly bold choices that have modern appeal and the potential to increase property value while also offering the durability and safety.

When it comes to deck or balcony railings, using a residential exterior glass railing system can add both a modern aesthetic and a versatile style to meet those needs. Glass tends to be the focus of indoor spaces because of the necessity for natural light and views to the outdoors, but it also makes a great complement to an outdoor space. It opens up views and adds a unique and high-end look that can make a townhome or apartment building stand out from the rest.

Why You Should Choose a Glass Railing System

I’ve had great success with using glass railing systems on apartment, condo, and townhouse balconies, and I would even argue that glass is one the best materials for a deck or balcony railing. Here’s my thinking:

  • Safety: Ordinarily we don’t think of glass as synonymous with safety, but a quality manufacturer will supply pre-cut and sized panels and balusters that are able to meet or exceed International Residential and International Building codes (IRC and IRB). Glass panel railing systems also have the advantage of being made one of solid piece. This makes them safer for small pets and children that might otherwise try to stick arms, objects, or themselves through the balusters.
  • Durability: The material properties of glass make it resistant to degradation from the elements. UV rays and moisture do not cause glass to break down like they do by causing rust in metal and rot and other deterioration in wood. This means that if glass is kept safe from heavy impact, it can actually have a lifespan that exceeds that of other railing materials.
  • Increased Property Value: A home, condo, townhouse, or apartment with a glass railing on any outdoor space, whether it’s a deck or balcony, will often see an increase in value. Aside from the way glass railings don’t block the view, they also maintain their clean, beautiful look for years, which is a definite advantage when it comes to resale.

Choosing Between Full Glass Panels and Glass Balusters

Typically we think of glass railings as using large panels of glass, but glass balusters are a unique and interesting alternative to whole glass panels for an outdoor railing. How do you determine which to use on a residential project? The two major factors when it comes to deciding between glass panels and glass balusters are:

  • Full panels add protection to a deck or patio: Dwellings near water or in the mountains that might experience chilly winds or spray benefit from whole glass panel railing systems. The whole sheet provides the transparency desired but also protection from the elements. The full panel glass will also trap heat, to some extent, on the balcony or deck, making it a good choice for cooler climates.
  • Balusters provide ventilation for warm outdoor spaces: Aside from the chic look of glass balusters, they also let breezes filter through and cool the space. This is a great way to achieve an unobstructed view of the outdoors but also provide space for the railing to release trapped heat and let the breeze blow through. A baluster system also lets residents remove trapped sand, leaves, and snow more easily from the balcony.

What to Look for in a Residential Exterior Glass Railing System

It’s easy to see how a glass railing system can add unique and elegant style to a deck or balcony, but finding the best system for a particular application requires considering several factors:

  • Ease of installation: Perhaps the most important aspect of choosing a glass railing is ease of installation. Some glass railing systems use a simple slide-in method of installation that is simple enough that it’s possible for a homeowner to DIY their glass railings. This simple design reduces the time it takes for a contractor to install the system, which can lower labor costs and help keep your project within or even under budget.
  • No measuring or cutting: One of the most difficult aspects of installing a glass railing system is sizing the glass correctly. I’ve had the best experiences with systems that have pre-measured and pre-cut glass panels or balusters that fit easily with the manufacturer’s brand of posts and rails.
  • A choice of rail and post materials: Look for a manufacturer that offers a variety of material choices for posts and rails to go with glass panels and balusters, such as aluminum and iron in different finishes and colors. Having these options will make it easy to choose a look that will suit the building and surroundings.
  • Code tested: Obviously, you’ll want to use a glass railing system that’s code tested and approved for your particular use, whether it’s for a single home or multi-family residence. Adapting a railing to code requirements after you are in construction is a tedious process that can potentially add cost to the project. But if the entire railing system is already code compliant from the manufacturer, you can focus on color and design without worrying about passing inspection.

A glass railing is a daring style choice for an exterior porch or balcony, but can be surprisingly flexible in appearance, fitting right in on traditional-style residences as well as modern verandas. It also is more durable than most property managers realize, making it a great choice for modern townhomes or apartment complexes where a striking and upscale style is desired for the outdoor area.

Choosing the right glass railing system, though, can make all the difference. It must be usable with a variety of different materials when it comes to posts and rails, and must be easy and quick to install. I’ve had a lot of success with the glass railing systems from Fortress Railings because they offer both panels and balusters that are pre-cut and code compliant, and use a simple drop-in style of installation. When choosing a railing system, it’s also important to consider what it is being installed on. Again, when I can I look to Fortress Building Products for decking as well. Their ultra-tough composite decking is versatile and comes in several color palettes that make a great showcase for a glass railing.