Volume 50, Issue 5 - May 2015


Getting Edgy: Handrail Code Change Means Managing Expectations

Safety comes at a cost, in one form or another.

Code adoption takes time, so most fabricators and suppliers haven’t yet seen a massive influx in orders for laminated glass due to a recently approved International Code Council (ICC) proposal that requires the use of laminated glass in handrail assemblies, guardrails or guard sections.

However, as more projects start popping up with laminated glass railings, a crucial piece of the puzzle for fabricators is managing customers’ expectations—particularly regarding exposed-edge

“People have been accustomed to polished edging,” says Bruce Butler, general manager of Hartung Glass Canada.

“When you have two pieces laminated together, there are two different polishes. Now, you’re lining up edges.
You’ve got to have the edges lined up and the holes lined up. Even if it’s done perfectly, it doesn’t look the same as single tempered ... and managing those expectations is important.”

Customers prefer the glass to be polished after lamination, Butler says, but that practice can affect whether the glass meets ASTM standards.

Kevin Nash of Architectural Glass North America (AGNORA) explains that while vision glass is “typically evaluated mostly on a two-dimensional plane, railing glass is critically viewed for its edgework, also. With laminated balustrades, your variables increase. Like tempered monolithic, you can judge edge polish, but now you’re also critical of edge alignment and interlayer edge treatment.”

Because of these factors, laminated glass in railings and balustrades puts a premium on fabricator ability and resources. Butler says manufacturing for laminated can be three times more difficult compared to tempered. And the cost is significantly higher.

Fabricators say the recent code changes calling for laminated glass in certain handrail applications have not yet spurred increased demand.

“From a fabricator’s perspective, laminated glass requires more capital, equipment, materials, labor and skills,” adds Nash. “Customers have a higher cost for laminated glass. It’s the price of gravity for overhead installations.”
Those kinds of challenges are not unique to North America, either.

Gary Aspden, marketing and technical manager at G. James Glass & Aluminum, says the Australia-based glass company made its policy years ago not to install tempered glass on balustrades of high-rise buildings due to the consequence of failure.

With that, the cost concern is one he sees come up as a result.

“Changing to heat-strengthened or [tempered] laminate for use in balustrades is a difficult sell due to the additional cost over monolithic [tempered] glass,” says Aspden. “However, like in North America, we hope changes to our building code will assist this process.”

Ultimately, time will tell how quickly the code changes will affect the demand for laminated glass—if at all. While there has been a lot of talk about the code changes of late, Butler says it hasn’t translated into significantly more purchase orders.

Viracon vice president Rick Voelker says laminated glass volume was virtually the same from 2013 to 2014, and he doesn’t anticipate a significant increase in 2015.

“Having been with Viracon for the past 38 years, the three most significant influences on laminated glass usage were the building code changes in the ‘70s requiring laminated glass overhead in skylights, hurricane impact code requirements and bomb blast applications,” he says. “We thought that laminated glass volumes may also be affected by the FEMA tornado glass design considerations, but as of yet haven’t seen this get legs under it, either.”

—Nick St. Denis

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