Practical Outdoor Glass Stair Railings That Don’t Require Custom Cutting

Outdoor glass stair railings don't have to be complicated to install.

Modular outdoor glass stair railings that use a drop-in system are easy to install without professional help.

A couple I know had their pick of homes at incredible prices during the recession. Ultimately, they ended up with a house on a hill that has a spectacular view over a river valley. It’s built with a retaining wall effectively forming the edge of their huge back patio. This rear deck can be accessed from the front of the house by a set of incredibly wide steps that wrap around the corner of the house, and are effectively part of the retaining wall. It’s a wonderful place, and no one could believe their luck in getting the home.

An issue has arisen though. A mutual friend had a little too much to drink one night, and came very close to going over the edge while no one was paying attention. It made them realize that wonderful views aside, the width of the porch wasn’t enough of a safety guarantee, and that railings were something that they absolutely needed. Preferably, they needed glass ones that made the most of the expansive view. However, the stairs are at an odd angle, and outdoor glass stair railings that can fit that angle yet aren’t too hard to install are difficult to find.

What Are the Issues with Outdoor Glass Stair Railings?

To understand why my friends were having an issue finding a suitable railing system for their back porch it’s necessary to know a few things about glass railings. These are railings that have been in use in large commercial properties for a long time. The earliest patents go back to the 1960s, but the use of glass railings in homes didn’t start until the early 2000s, with 2005 being the year they started being featured in homes. These commercial-type railings usually come in the form of large sheets of glass hung from individual railing posts with simple brackets holding the glass in place.

This type of unframed glass railing has the advantage of unsurpassed views, which make it ideal in places like stadiums and large atriums. In homes, this sort of all-glass railing makes an ideal deck railing windbreak, but has some issues:

  • Expense is probably the biggest concern. These are rather large panels of glass that have to be tempered, laminated, or otherwise strengthened to stand on their own. This has to be done by an expert, which isn’t cheap.
  • Stairs require much longer glass panels to make up for the angle, which costs more. If, like my friends, you have an unusual stair angle, then this makes for another added expense.
  • Measurements for glass panels have to be taken by the homeowner or by a company representative. If a mistake is made in measuring for the custom panels then the glass has to be recut, causing additional stressful delays.
  • Installation is finicky. Panels of glass have to be installed correctly in order avoid damage during installation and during weather situations like a heavy storm. This is something best done by an experienced, professional installer, and is another cost.

All of this adds up, and while my friends have done well for themselves they aren’t millionaires. What they really need is a type of glass railing that doesn’t require a lot of expertise to install, but stays safe while standing up to the environment and everyday use.

Finding Practical Glass Railings

There are glass railing systems on the market that are specifically meant for use in the home. These usually use mounting brackets that anchor to the ground in conjunction with a similar bracket on the top corners that join the panels of glass together. The other common option is a metal post with brackets integrated into the post. Neither is a genuine solution for my friends because these still require custom-cut glass and, in most cases, professional installation.

What my friends need is something modular that is easily adapted to a porch and stairs. It needs to have a few basic features:

  • DIY-friendly installation, with a simple system that doesn’t require specialized skills or tools so that they’re not roped into having to use a contractor.
  • Modular design that can be applied to the stairs and the porch area without the need for expensive, custom-cut panels of glass. Glass balusters of some sort would be perfect for the stairs, while full-sized panels for the flat areas of the porch would be ideal.
  • Handrails or a top rail would be helpful. My friend’s porch is often used for entertaining, and it’s not uncommon for friends who’ve had a little too much to drink to be spending time on the deck and stairs. Having a clearly visible handhold would be a big safety addition for my friends, and could minimize smudging on the glass as well, making the glass railings not as hard to keep clean as they otherwise might be.

There aren’t a lot of systems that have these features, but one of the few is the Pure View Glass Railing by Fortress Railing. This is a modular glass railing system with full glass panels or glass balusters that can simply be dropped into a pre-welded metal frame that’s as easy to install as a typical steel railing. The frame makes this glass railing uniquely sturdy and provides a built-in handhold, making it perfect for stairs where users might be looking for something to grip. The glass balusters or panels can also be sandwiched between wood or composite boards for a unique-looking porch railing that blends with your deck’s pre-existing style. This multi-use customizability and ease of installation that can be found in all Fortress Building Products, such as in Fortress Fence’s customizable fences or Fortress Deck’s dual-sided composite decking.