Volume 39, Issue 3, March  2004


Code Concerns
Dear USG,
It is helpful to publish articles promoting various types of handrails, balusters and guardrails utilizing glass balusters such as the article “Riding the Rails” does (see November 2003 USGlass, page 36). However, if such articles are to contain technical information it needs to be both clear and correct.

I believe the statement quoted below is incorrect: “Chapter 24 of the Universal Building Code by the International Conference of Building Officials states that all glass railing systems must have a top rail.”

I believe that the authors are referring to the Uniform Building Code published by the International Conference of Building Officials. However, they failed to state the year to which they are referring.

The latest editions of the model codes and their replacements are listed below:
National Building Code by Building Officials and Code Administrators International, 1999 edition; Uniform Building Code by the International Conference of Building Officials, 1997 edition; Standard Building Code, by the Southern Building Code Congress International, 1999 edition; and the International Building Code, by the International Code Council, 2003 edition.

All of these codes contain similar requirements for structural glass balustrades used with handrails and guards. These model building codes contain the following requirement pertaining to handrails used with glass balusters: “Glass balusters shall not be installed without an attached handrail or guard.” None of the mentioned codes requires a handrail or what is more commonly called a “cap” on the top edge of the glass baluster.

Your readers should be advised that the determination of whether a cap is required on the top of the glass baluster depends on how the glass baluster assembly was tested. If the cap was used in determining the maximum load-carrying capacity of the glass baluster assembly, then that cap or equivalent must be installed as part of the glass baluster assembly. 

To inform readers otherwise would appear as an attempt to sell a component that is not always required by all manufacturers.

Daniel M. McGee, P.E.
Code Consultant
Julius Blum & Co. Inc.
Middletown, N.J.

Dear USG,
On behalf of Morse Industries, thank you for the opportunity to read and respond to the above letter to the editor written by code consultant Daniel P. McGee, P.E. As a structural engineer with more than 24 years experience in the design profession, I would like to share my perspective regarding this letter.

With regards to Mr. McGee’s assertion that the code reference statement is incorrect, we respectfully disagree.
The writer misspelled the name of the building code referenced in the article, causing a simple, typographical error. Here, it should be noted that the article is not a technical document or a technical analysis of code provisions, but rather a brief article meant to popularize glass railings in general. As such, the code reference made in the article was a general one, and the language in the reference was a paraphrase and not a quotation. Using the term “top rail” instead of “handrail” is certainly acceptable and is fully consistent with code provisions. 

In addition, we respectfully disagree with Mr. McGee’s assertion that “None of the above listed codes requires a handrail or what is more commonly called a ‘cap’ on the top edge of the glass baluster.” The code provision specifically says that a handrail or guardrail is required. This rail can have many forms, including a “cap” as Mr. McGee calls it, and even a casual reading of the code would show that the published statement is not contradictory or limiting to code provisions.

Also, with regards to Mr. McGee’s assertion that the article appears to “attempt to sell components that are not always required by all manufacturers,” the article does nothing of the kind. The article appears upbeat and fair and states nothing that would limit the assessment of other product groups by engineers or installers.

Finally, the vast majority of structural glass balusters are engineered on the basis of strength of materials. The empirical testing of top rail assemblies on structural balusters is not the standard of engineering practice in the design of glass railings as Mr. McGee asserts.

While we appreciate Mr. McGee’s technical perspective, his apparent concern that the article become a technical treatise is not well founded.

Respectfully submitted,
M.V. Paul Worland, P.E.
Registered Professional Engineer
Ramona, Calif. 


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