17 Oct 2014

Balustrades: Thinking beyond the balcony

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Glass balustrades are great for offering safety alongside unobstructed views. Effi Wolff, MD of balcony specialist Balcony Systems, explores some interesting options for all types of properties.

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Glass balustrading has become a popular and cost-effective choice with self-builders and home improvers as its versatility to suit individual requirements permits a much wider range of design options compared to traditional alternatives.

Straight or curved glass panels offer virtually limitless creative opportunities for balustrading that are as beautiful as they are practical. Clear glass keeps the views, lets in light and is virtually maintenance-free, apart from the need for occasional cleaning to keep it sparkling. It is also corrosion-resistant, making it ideal for harsh coastal or city environments.

Crucially, depending on the type of glass balustrading you choose, the balcony will require minimal or even no posts and have no glass clamps to obscure the views beyond.

The purpose of a balustrade or railing is to provide edge protection where a fall can occur, whether on a balcony, terrace, staircase or landing - indeed anywhere there is a fall of more than 60cm. The railing or balustrade must be able to withstand pressure applied on it and not fail, fall over, bend too far or distort in shape. The pressure that is applied to the balustrade or railing is called a ‘load’ or ‘loading’.

Options and variations

Glass balustrading systems vary; some incorporate posts and a handrail with the glass panels secured by clamps or other types of fixings. While structural glass panels require no handrail, they tend to be a lot more expensive and their ‘invisibility’ can be disconcerting to some.

A composite system combines the two types of post-reliant systems and structural glass balustrades in one. It unites the strength of an engineered handrail, glass and when needed, posts, to provide a spectacular and robust result. Infill panels come in 10mm toughened or laminated glass and are available in clear and tinted shades. Opaque glass can be specified for privacy.

Two types of systems are available, with either a 70mm diameter handrail or an aerofoil shape measuring 116mm wide and 51mm high.

Using the first system’s round handrail, spans of up to 3.3 metres are achievable without the need for posts. The flatter and wider ‘aerofoil-shaped’ handrail allows for spans up to four metres without any posts. Where required, the rectangular-shaped vertical posts 40mm wide and 66mm deep sit behind the glass.

With this type of system, it is possible to have a 3 x 4 x 3m clear glass balcony without any vertical posts. This is because the specially-designed, load-bearing handrails can allow wide spans without posts, depending on their fixings. Where maximum spans are exceeded, the systems will require posts. Typically posts can be spaced at approximately 2m apart.

Cleverly, the balustrading system combines the strength and design of its components to deliver the ultimate in creative designs – and minimise the use of posts. This can be achieved by using the handrail strength to resist loading, fixing the handrail at the ends and using the glass panels to support the balustrade without the use of corner posts.

Corner mitre joint plates are supplied with a 3mm plate that fits between the mitred sections of the handrails. Made from polished anodised aluminium with rounded edges, the plate gives the handrail a smooth, neat and safe finish.

Light enhancing statements

Glass balustrading can be used internally or externally; its transparency makes it particularly ideal for landings, galleries and loft projects, such as protecting the stair access allowing greater penetration of natural light to the stairwell. Or to make a dramatic, light-enhancing statement in a central ‘double-height’ area, as shown in the below five-bedroom self-build in Buckinghamshire.

For owner Alexa Collins, the balustrade is ‘the ‘wow factor’ of the house, linking the upstairs and downstairs while reflecting the open-plan nature of the house.’ Although she had considered structural glass, Alexa chose the anodised aluminium handrail as it ‘gives a better feeling of security and matches the interior decor’. She adds: “The balustrade is much-admired by all who see it and people rush up to it. They feel safe leaning over and having a chat.”

Withstanding the elements

Externally, curved or straight glass balustrading is equally at home in gardens, providing the perfect barrier for a pond, swimming pool or terrace. An added bonus is that unlike traditional materials, such as timber or steel, the structure will never need expensive and time-consuming painting or repairs to keep it looking smart and as good as new.

That’s why the cost-effectiveness of glazed balustrading is not only measured in the immediate cost savings, but also in the long-term savings on maintenance over its lifetime.

At Crowborough, near Tunbridge Wells combining a curved glass balustrade with composite decking has completely transformed an old paved terrace into an inviting open space. For owners Deborah and Nigel Gooch, the end result is absolutely stunning. “To say it’s a transformation is an understatement. It really has transformed the whole garden and it all looks so much better and brighter,” says Deborah.

When planning their patio renovation, Deborah and Nigel, who have a young granddaughter, considered rope or railings to provide a barrier to the four-foot drop below. “No one had fallen off in 14 years, but a two-year-old might,” she continues. “Using glass met our requirement to keep the garden views and our installer’s suggestion to install composite decking was brilliant. The two products go together beautifully and have given us a lovely new outdoor space to enjoy.”

With its strength, cost-effectiveness and long-lasting good looks, glass represents a clear and easy-to-install alternative for all types of modern balustrading styles – whether inside or outside the home.

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