Volume 40,   Issue 5                                  May 2005

The Farnady Files

The Rail
The Ins and Outs of Glass Handrails

by Dez Farnady

I was leaning on the white-painted redwood railing on my back deck when I felt it move. Railings are not supposed to move, particularly those that are 12 feet above a concrete walkway. I know exactly how far it is to the bottom because all four of my children saw “the egg test” when they were four or five years old. 

I suppose you want to know what the egg test was. It was a very simple way to prove to my kids that railings were not good places on which they should play or climb, or lean over with their feet off the ground. We would talk about the rail and I’d explain the dangers, illustrating them by dropping a couple of raw eggs down on to the concrete to watch them splatter.

My children were not very old at the time but they all got the idea. Decades later all four still have distinct memories of what happens when something goes over the rail and kersplashes on the cement below. We never had any problems with that rail, at least not with the kids. I, on the other hand have had a few, such as when the railing moved; it moved because a large family of termites had been feeding on it. 

More than Wood
A section of the rail cap had to be removed and replaced. Of course the wood had to be milled to match the old rail and then painted to match the rest. It may sound like no big deal, but you were not leaning against the rail when it moved and suddenly thinking about the raw egg going kersplash below. The decades of maintenance has also been a major pain because parts of the deck and the rail are below a 100-year old oak tree that dumps dirt, pollen, leaves, ants and acorns all year around. 

And here I am, an authority and expert in the glass business, too unconscious to put in a glass handrail. Lots of companies all over the United States make factory-painted, aluminum-extruded, deck-mountable and easily assembled handrails. These handrail systems can accept pickets or quarter-inch tempered glass infill panels in order to make a very attractive, durable, low maintenance handrail. And the price is reasonable, particularly compared to what you pay for good wood these days.

The Right Rail
The handrail systems only require sound attachment to the deck or structure below to accommodate the code required for lateral load. Since the railing is the structure and the glass is only an infill panel all you need is tempered safety glass. And, of course, here we go again. You can get adventurous and not use quarter clear, but then of course I know that most of you will. How about a blue rail with blue glass? If you are married to wood, try a brown rail with bronze glass. I know, I know you think a white rail with clear glass is best. 
Typically rail codes require a minimum of about 36 inches to 42 inches in height with post spacing at about 5-foot centers. These rails work for fences as well as handrails with glass or picket options. They are attractive and low maintenance and you never have to paint the pickets. Of course if you are like me you never paint the pickets anyway. I usually claim that I don’t want to pollute the atmosphere with aerosol Rustoleum. Of course hand-painting a couple of hundred half-inch pickets is out of the question. 

If you live in an upscale house and want interior handrails, there is no slicker way to dress up your abode than with an all-glass rail. For the outsiders who buy retail, this looks like it costs a fortune but for us glass guys, it is only a matter of finding out who your friends are. All glass handrails require at least half-inch tempered and need to be set into a structural base. But a half-inch glass rail with a shiny polished brass base and a slick brass rail on top is just the thing to keep you in need of a lifetime supply of Brasso and Sprayway. 

The Author:
Dez Farnady serves as general manager of Royalite Manufacturing Inc., a skylight manufacturer in San Carlos, Calif. His column appears monthly.

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