I n t h e K n o w  
Considerations for Glass Railings  
by Nick St. Denis  
rchitects continue to trend toward cleaner  
views, fewer sightlines and smooth edges when  
specifying glass.  
but safety concerns led the IBC to adopt laminat-  
ed glass and top rail requirements in 2015.  
This is certainly true with glass railings, though What it Says  
the newest International Building Code (IBC) has  
thrown a wrench into the mix.  
The 2015 IBC requires glass used in a handrail,  
guardrail or guard shall be laminated and con-  
structed of fully tempered or heat-strengthened  
glass. It also says any lite of glass used in the sys-  
tem shouldn’t be thinner than one-quarter inch,  
and glass balustrades shall not be installed with-  
out an attached handrail or guard.  
There are two key exceptions in the code.  
First, single fully-tempered glass is permitted  
where there is no walking surface beneath the sys-  
tem, or when the walking surface is fully protected  
from the risk of falling glass.  
Second, a top rail is not required where the  
balustrade is laminated glass consisting of two or  
more glass lites of equal thickness and same glass  
type when approved by the building official.  
Attention to Edges  
Exceptions that allow for laminated glass with-  
out a top rail pose a challenge for the glass indus-  
try. Glass fabricators are now faced with improving  
the edge quality in the laminated glass they pro-  
duce, as two pieces of glass sandwiched together  
with an interlayer looks much different than the  
smooth edge of a single lite of monolithic glass.  
Chatfield notes that it’s very difficult to get two  
lites of glass to line up perfectly, but that the glass  
industry has done a good job making improvements.  
The 2015  
The 2015 IBC, which went into effect two  
years ago, largely requires that glass railings use  
laminated glass and include a top rail in many  
With that, the glass industry, and manufac-  
turers of these railings systems, regularly work to  
educate the design community on how this code  
affects their ability to achieve their desired look.  
International Building  
Code has specific  
requirements regard-  
ing laminated glass  
and the inclusion of  
a top rail in certain  
Fabricators are now improving their manufac-  
Less Metal, More Glass  
turing processes when it comes to edge quality,”  
adds Brian Clifford, director of architectural rail-  
ings and metals for C.R. Laurence. “Double arris  
polished edges were the norm in the past. Now we  
are seeing external arris edges and seamed internal  
edges, which typically require post polishing.”  
Architects often look to take out any visual  
obstructions when implementing a glass bal-  
ustrade system in their designs,” says Andrew  
Chatfield, director of architectural railing systems  
at Wagner Companies.  
Chatfield says that while a post-and-rail system  
is more reliant on metal and a base shoe system  
allows for a greater area of glass, “the last thing an  
architect wants to do is put a big piece of metal  
across the glass.”  
All About Location  
Whether or not the new IBC Codes apply  
depends on jurisdiction. The International Code  
Council has a chart on its website, www.iccsafe.org,  
noting which codes apply to which state. As of June,  
only 18 states have adopted the 2015 IBC. AGG  
In years past, designers have often leaned  
toward using monolithic glass without a top rail,  
Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal  

Architects\' Guide to Glass & Metal
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