Volume 34, Number 6, June 1999


Selecting a Glass Handrail System
Several Variables Must Be Considered

by Mike Kushner

When it comes to fabricating a glass handrail system for commercial application, the devil is in the details. A myriad of functional and aesthetic requirements are involved, as well as the variety of interdependent components that comprise a finished glass rail system, it is critical that the system fabricator acquire a thorough, comprehensive bid from a reputable component supplier. Knowing what specific questions to ask that supplier and what design and installation details to consider may make the difference not only in winning the bid, but also in the final quality and durability of the system itself.

Variables to Consider

Although some specifications are common to most glass handrail projects, such as -inch tempered glass, -inch spacing between panels, and 42-inch height requirements from the finished floor, there are many other variables to consider. These include following the proper building codes which can vary from state to state and, sometimes, even county to county. The individual design specifications can also create radically different criteria for submitting a bid.

First, there are the obvious concerns, such as linear footage, measurement of the system and the number of splices, corners and end caps needed. Installation conditions, such as base/floor material, curves and inclines also factor into the materials required. Yet another consideration is the architect’s or design professional’s original design intent, including aesthetic configuration of the system, as well as base and handrail size and finishes. Add the necessary code compliances and ADA regulations to the mix and it is easy to see why commercial glass handrails can become a highly complicated fabricating project to bid.

With so many component suppliers on the market, it is important to familiarize yourself with the suppliers’ lines and choose one that meets all the needs of each given project. "For instance, if you are doing a curved rail, you would want to buy from a company that also manufactures the curved glass," said Don Tannery, of Adventure Glass in Orlando, Florida. "This is to ensure that the curves match up and fit precisely to the glass." The Dillard’s Department Store projects Adventure has done in Florida, recreate the same basic design in various locations for the railing around escalator shafts. For those projects, a systems approach is one way to simplify the design/bid process. For example, our company’s glass railing system components are designed to work in conjunction with each other to create a continuous, seamless look. The handrail is precision-engineered, allowing for a higher tolerance to be held in respect to the diameter of the rail. This allows a smooth connection for splices, corners and end caps. We also offer coordinating base material, tubing, brackets, fittings and accessories such as connector sleeves, protective inserts and cladding.

The method for attaching the base material to the substrate is another critical factor in determining the strength and durability of the finished system. It is important for the fabricator to know which methods have been tested and approved by the material provider. We have tested four methods, including flush mount, fascia mount and two options for surface mounting. Our aluminum shoe moldings were subjected to testing by an independent testing lab.

Adventure Glass president, Tony Chang, also cited surrounding details as a consideration in the bid for materials and labor on a glass handrail project. "Any structure (such as a column that interferes with the continuity of the glass) creates an additional challenge," said Chang. "The point where the glass meets another material must be aesthetically pleasing and that requires foresight and creativity."

Regardless of the design, inventory of products maintained by a particular supplier is one of the most important factors when time is of the essence. For example, we maintain a large inventory of stock lengths in both our East Coast and West Coast (TACO West) locations. This allows for quick delivery on deadline-oriented projects. By offering a single source for custom design, production, warehousing and delivery of all glass handrail components, our company is able to save the fabricator both time and expense.

No matter how simple or complex a glass handrail system design is, careful analysis of the necessary components can simplify the planning and expedite the fabrication. By creating an alliance with a reputable, dependable components supplier, the fabricator can make every job a more profitable experience.

Mike Kushner is vice president of sales for TACO Metals based in Miami, FL.


Copyright 1999 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.