Volume 49, Issue 1- January 2014

Contract Glazing

Experts Offer Best Practices for Glass Railing Installation

Glass railings have been a topic of much discussion, due in part to the numerous cases of falling glass over the past several years (see related article on page 20). A faulty installation might not necessarily be the blame for such occurrences, but glass railings make up a product category that comes with its own set of unique installation challenges.

“If you’ve got a long, straight run a glazier can do that work, but when it comes to stairs, that’s a whole other ballgame. Throw in a curved stairway, and there are red flags being thrown up left and right,” says Lara Morgan, president of Global Glass Railings in Buford, Ga.

As Morgan explains it, installing railings isn’t necessarily the same as installing glass in other applications and it shouldn’t be assumed that because you can do one you can do the other. In fact, she says that one of the common problems she sees is projects where the glass railing scope of work is minimized and, as a result, may not get the attention that it needs early on. “One of the hurdles is just making sure the scope of work is addressed correctly ahead of time so that we have enough time to prepare for it,” Morgan says.

Paul Dructor, general manager of ARTACO Railing Systems in Miami, also finds it is important to talk early on with designers, as this allows the glazing contractor an often-needed opportunity to better understand the design. As he explains it, “We commonly see installers ‘literally’ translating the architects’ conceptual railing drawings. Often, these drawings are more representative of the type of railing desired than having the proper safety and code requirements for the systems. For estimating purposes, we look into the complete component breakdown and true costs required to complete a system that we know to meet code, while others will quote on the components necessary to complete a railing as drawn,” Dructor says.

While not getting into a project early enough may be a problem, Alex Tuttle, executive director of sales for Tuttle Railing Systems in Fishers, Ind., points out that installing the railing on the project too early on brings its own issues.

“A big red flag is the contractor wanting our rail onsite too early when it can get damaged by general construction traffic,” Tuttle says. “Contractors want all of the trades to have their product onsite so they can see things are getting done, but it doesn't do anyone any good to have nice, expensive, stainless steel handrails getting banged up with carts and forklifts. That just drives up costs and arguments.”

If you are setting out to install railings, take advantage of your product manufacturer as a resource on which you can lean. Dructor finds that he often troubleshoots for glaziers, explaining, among other things, what size glass is needed for a proper railing installation.

For example, he says, “When it comes to glass railings we often are asked if our components will accommodate glass that is too thin for railing. This in an indicator that we have an inexperienced installer who needs a little more guidance.”

Steve Cobian, owner of Diamond Erectors in Indianapolis, has his own suggestions about what to expect from their glaziers taking on this work.

He says, “Railing installation takes a combination of ironworking, glazing, carpentry and someone who can react. Things happen on jobsites and generally you have to make a change on the fly. The installer has to know what the product is supposed to look like and what meets code and then be able to fix problems. ”

Code compliance is another area where these railing experts say glaziers may run into problems.

“Always check with the local building codes as these are different throughout the United States, and regional codes are better adapted to the conditional requirements of an installation,” Dructor advises. —Megan Headley

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