Increasing Use of Laminated Glass in Railings
Means a Need for More Awareness
by Ellen Rogers
Glass handrail systems are featured prominently in the Olympia swimming and leisure complex in Dundee City, United Kingdom. The project incorporates the CRL GRS Taper-Loc dry glaze glass railing system.
You might say there was just one broken glass panel too many. After multiple incidents of spontaneous breakage in railing systems on high rise balconies, in 2012 the writers of the International Code Council (ICC) said enough is enough. That’s when it approved a Glazing Industry Code Committee proposal to require the use of laminated glass in handrail assemblies, guardrails or guard sections (see sidebar on page 31).
But the ICC wasn’t the first. In 2011 after a fifth lite of glass fell from one of its Toronto condominium balconies—falling 29 stories and hitting a pedestrian who, fortunately, suffered only minor injuries—Lanterra Developments said that’s it for tempered glass. The developer issued a statement noting its “first priority is the safety of the public and our residents … [and] that the tempered glass on these balconies will be replaced with a laminated glass …”
Canada has also taken action, and is working to develop a standard for the design, testing, installation and maintenance of glass in handrails and guardrails (see sidebar page 32).
“What now?” you might be thinking if you’re with a company that supplies these systems. Evolving codes and standards will bring changes for you as well. While ensuring safety remains top priority for everyone, suppliers agree, there will still be challenges.
Projects in the U.K. have required laminated glass in handrail applications for some time prior to the code change in the U.S. The City Peninsula, located in Greenwich, London, features the CRL GRS Taper-Loc dry glass railing system with cap rail.
Preparing for Change
Glass railing systems historically have been constructed with monolithic tempered glass, but given the new code requirements, that is set to change. First, though, the code, which is updated in three-year cycles, must be adopted. States and jurisdictions can opt to adopt—or not adopt—various versions. According to the ICC’s website, Connecticut, for example, has adopted the 2003 IBC statewide. Illinois has adopted the same code language in the 2009 version, but with limitations. In other words, while the code may say one thing, the adopting state or jurisdiction can still make its own modifications.
Perhaps it’s fear of falling glass, but companies supplying these railing systems agree they are already seeing increasing requests for laminated glass.
“Previously, 90 percent of our jobs were tempered,” says Mike Kushner, vice president of sales for Taco Metals Inc. in Miami, explaining they have seen a significant increase over the past year in laminated glass being used in railings given the codes change.
Chris Hanstad, brand manager for architectural railings and metals at C. R. Laurence Co. Inc. in Los Angeles, says his company is also seeing increasing interest in laminated glass. He, too, points out its use made up a small portion of their projects prior to the code change—about 10 percent. He says this is mainly due to the added cost over tempered.
“We do see the laminated glass railing market growing, but not in huge numbers yet,” he says. “Most of the industry still specifies/uses monolithic tempered glazing. It will be interesting to see what happens when the states or regions around the country decide to adopt the 2015 IBC that will require the use of laminated glass where broken glass can fall on persons below.”
Dan Stachel, vice president of SC Railing in Minneapolis, says his company builds a lot of custom projects, ones he describes as highly engineered.
“They are more of a system and are larger and more expensive in nature [compared to some others] so we were already using a lot of laminated glass,” he says. “For us it’s not as significant of a change and has not been as dramatic a shift.”
He adds, “The highly engineered systems are about overall performance and less about cost; commodity systems provide the bare minimum.”
So far, railings companies have seen little change to their business operations given the pending code.
Hanstad’s company has offered a laminated option for some time now and feels prepared for future changes.
“When we expanded our business to Europe years ago we saw the need for laminated glass guard rail products. Europe is ahead of us in terms of codes, and they were already calling for laminated-tempered glass in many guardrail applications,” he says. “At that time we went ahead and engineered and tested a full line of laminated balustrade systems that is currently readily available in North America and throughout Europe.”
Kushner adds, “It really hasn’t affected us, other than customers using our stainless steel glass clamps for glass in-fill rails need to be sure to specify the correct pad thickness for laminated.”
Andrew Chatfield, director architectural glass systems and international sales with Wagner Architectural Products, says as far as his company’s products, the code change will likely not have a major effect. “Where I see the biggest impact is, however, in the support we provide our customers. We receive many calls asking for support on code issues and I am sure this will only increase as people become aware of the new requirements.”
Glass railings systems from SC Railing bring a unique aesthetic to the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts located in San Antonio, Texas.
Nothing is Perfect
While the pending change may have little effect on manufacturers, they do have some concerns about areas such as aesthetics, performance and even future use and specification.
“Because it is a frameless system, edge quality has been a concern within the industry. Glass fabricators need to work to improve edge quality; you have two exposed edges every 4 to 5 feet on average, so there can be a high rejection rate,” says Hanstad, who also has concerns about the type of interlayer used.
“Another important aspect is making sure the correct interlayer is specified for the application. Exterior installations should always use a rigid interlayer, such as ionoplast. This will not only provide the required strength needed for the glass baluster, but you will also eliminate warranty-related issues concerning creep, discoloring or delamination with exposed edge applications,” he says.
But an even bigger concern, he says, is the high price tag compared to monolithic tempered glass.
Glass handrails are commonly used in stadiums and sports arenas, such as Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. SC Railing supplied more than 60 styles of railing for the project, which is set to host Super Bowl 50 in 2016.
“This new code mandate will push the industry to provide safer and stronger systems but will also increase the cost of these balustrade systems which can hurt the market if we are not careful,” says Hanstad. “The last thing we want is glass balustrades getting value engineered out of the design by the owners and architects. As we continue to grow this industry we need to work to bring down the cost of the laminated glass using rigid interlayers. It’s a good code, and we support it, but we’re wondering how the market will accept it.”
Chatfield agrees that the code change is a good idea, but has a similar perspective on the matter of cost.
“Railings are a safety product and any and all enhancements which increase the product’s ability to offer this can only be a good thing,” he says. “Laminated glass is obviously more expensive than monolithic-tempered and I am sure if a product requires holes in it this adds to the cost. This, if anywhere, is where I see the threat to glass balustrades. If the cost significantly rises will it drive specifiers to consider other options, such as metal infill, timber, composite materials, etc.”
Stachel also has some quality concerns.
“In terms of laminated glass, [the change] will require a more qualified fabricator; the glass quality will become more and important,” he says. “From a cost standpoint, the way handrails are affixed can add two to three times more to the cost when you’re putting a hole in laminated glass compared to tempered glass.”
He adds, “As we shift into the use of more laminated glass there is a broad spectrum of performance levels these interlayers can provide. Failing to understand the complexities of laminated glass may push out some [companies that] are importing and not doing their own engineering.”
Likewise, Stachel says more thought will need to go into the upfront design process, because “the exposed laminated glass edges are going to see increased scrutiny and that will be important and might lead to more picture framing in the glass where it’s totally captured rather than longer runs of exposed edges.”
Glass handrails can be designed to match many different styles. Park Nicollet, located in Plymouth, Minn., features a variety of such products supplied by SC Railing.
As the industry prepares for a new code and the expected increased demand for laminated glass, there may need to be other changes throughout the industry.
“I think railing providers will need more regional-based glass fabricators to provide the laminated glass quickly; increased demand may overload the good glass fabricators so [customers] will have to broaden the list of approved fabricators,” says Stachel.
Hanstad adds, “[Railings] can still be intimidating to many glazing contractors, but they are a great way to increase business and diversify … [installers] don’t have to be doing this 10 years to do this job—even with the code change. It’s still a business that’s relatively untapped and there is lots of more room for growth.”
Stachel adds that general contractors will also need to be informed and educated on the changes “to make sure the bids are reviewed on an apples-to-apples basis. For example, ASTM has said what is acceptable in terms of ‘mismatch,’ but will that be consistent with what the architect expects [aesthetically] for the finished product? [As suppliers] we have to buy product that industry (ASTM) says is acceptable in terms of quality, but I don’t know if the architect will agree.”
That’s why education will continue to be critical. CRL, for example, hosts educational webinars and classes for architects and Hanstad says discussions around glass railings are some of the most popular.
The 2015 version of the IBC was completed in 2013, giving states time to review for adoption starting this year.
Let There be Laminated
The 2015 International Building Code change calls for the use of laminated glass in handrail/guardrail systems that are constructed of either single-fully tempered glass, laminated fully tempered glass or laminated heat-strengthened glass and to comply with Category II of CPSC 16 CFR Part 1201 or Class A of ANSI Z97.1. The glazing used in railing in-fill panels must be of an approved safety glazing material that conforms to the provisions of Section 2406.1.1. For all glazing types, the minimum nominal thickness must be 1⁄4 inch (6.4 mm). Fully tempered glass and laminated glass must comply with Category II of CPSC 16 CFR Part 1201 or Class A of ANSI Z97.1.
An exception is provided for single fully tempered glass complying with Category II of CPSC 16 CFR Part 1201 or Class A of ANSI Z97.1 used in handrails and guardrails if there is no walking surface below or the walking surface is permanently protected from the risk of falling glass.
CSA Group Moves Closer to Guardrail Standard
Over the past few years the city of Toronto has seen a number of cases involving falling glass from balustrades and railings. And as a result the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Group began work on the development of a standard in 2012, which would cover glass used in guards and railings. Valerie Block with Kuraray America Inc. provided an update on the standard’s development during the Glass Association of North America’s Fall Conference Laminating Division meeting, last September in Toronto. Dwayne Torrey with CSA Group also addressed conference attendees, providing an overview of the CSA and the progress it has made on the standard development.
Block explained that the standard, CSA A500 Building Guards, which is not yet complete, is complex and there are a variety of stakeholders involved.
“It’s pretty much an ongoing process to create a very comprehensive standard,” she said.
The standard’s scope is intended for use in design, testing, installation and also maintenance of these guards. “So the use of the standard is continuous through the life of the guard itself,” she said, and also pointed out that the glass requirements of the standard rely heavily on AAMA, ASTM standards as well as the DIN standard for heat soaking.
Torrey also elaborated on what Block had said, adding that the standard is being develop by a comprehensive team of experts from both Canada and the U.S.
Giving a bit of history behind the development, he said it goes back in 2012 and the numerous guard failures in the Toronto area, some of which, he said, were primarily related to material failure. Others, he added were due to system design and installation. He said an assessment was done and they found there were no substantive guides for building guard systems [and] there were different protocols being used by designers on building guards.
Given considerations such as designers’ unique architectural tastes, and different regions having different design parameters, Torrey said a common approach is needed. The standard, he said, will help create an easier way to ensure consistent regulation … and will allow a consistent platform for regulation. It will also provide a baseline to allow designers to create unique products, he explained.
According to Torrey, there are three levels involved in the standard’s development. Strategic steering oversees the work of the technical committee, which has full control of the technical document. “[That group] develops, writes and approves the standard,” he said. Below the technical committee there are various task forces. He added that the technical committee is the group essentially responsible for the standard’s development.
CSA A500, he said, will address specific requirements for the design, installation alteration and maintenance of guards in and about buildings. It does not include temporary guards, barriers for restricting impact from vehicles, walls acting as guards, etc.
He said the standard will also include a series of annexes covering topics such as commentary, fixing glass in guards, risk assessment for glass breakage, handling glass, test methods for guard re-evaluation, rigging loads for window cleaning and maintenance, maintenance plans for railing systems, composites and other materials, among others.
Looking at glass specific clauses, this will include topics such as general applications for glass, materials, design and detailing, fabrication, heat soaking and construction and assembly.
As far as publication, he said they are working toward approval and publication sometimes in 2015.
Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.
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