Glass railing is the only railing that offers a truly unobstructed view of the area beyond, be it a beautiful landscape or interior living space.
Installing glass railings can add an element of luxury while offering a functional, safe boundary to stairs, decks, balconies, or landings.
Is Glass Railing Safe?
The thought of giant panes of glass out in the open can be a little intimidating, if not worrisome. Fortunately, the advent of building codes and manufacturing innovations has led to a world of glass that is virtually injury free (despite the depictions of action movies).
There are two types of glass used for railing, both with safety features built in - laminated and tempered. Laminated glass is two pieces of glass with a layer of material pressed in the middle. The middle layer adds a component of safety by ensuring only one side of the glass breaks, meaning less chance for big shards and injuries.
Glass railing is typically made from tempered glass. Tempered glass uses a process that hardens the glass using a heating and cooling ordinary glass. The heat used is wildly hot - 1200 degrees fahrenheit or more! It is then cooled quickly (a process aptly called quenching) to create a glass panel far stronger than plain old glass.
The stronger glass is vital to holding up to the rigors of railing. Tempered glass is also resistant to breakage. While it is not unbreakable, it shatters into a million pieces rather than big, sharp shards that could be dangerous. Tempered glass is used in places where breaking might be an issue (railing, public windows, vehicles), as it is safer when it does shatter.
We always recommend you check with local laws, ordinances, and regulations regarding the installation of glass railings. There are plenty of local requirements that go beyond simply the type of glass, setting standards like specialized tinting or demanding the use of specific installation hardware.
If you are unsure at all about installation requirements, you might benefit from using a professional installer.
See our section below, Using a Professional Installer for Glass Railing, for more information about finding a highly qualified glass railing expert in your area.
The Allure of Glass Railing
Glass railing fits in many designs both inside and outdoors. It is considered a high-end product and can be found in many different settings - homes, businesses, and commercial buildings.
Glass railings are often considered a luxury option. There are several reasons glass railings are so highly thought of.
Unobstructed views of your landscape or of your open concept home are made possible with transparent glass railings. The beauty of glass is it can make the most of big open spaces while feeling smaller rooms feel larger.
Glass railing may require the least maintenance of any other type of handrail. Wood can face bug infestations, while requiring maintenance like staining or replacement. Metal options require painting or other anti-corrosives to be applied.
Glass has no such needs. Simply keeping it clean is all the maintenance required of glass railings. Outdoor glass railings are very weather resistant and most are strong enough to take a beating.
Safety may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when discussing glass railings but they are one of the safest railing options available.
Glass railing installation requires specific hardware and installation, making it less likely the railing will be installed improperly. Well installed railing is safer.
When installed around pools or other areas that might be dangerous, glass railing adds the security of railing and a transparent view.
As we mentioned previously, glass railings are quite strong. This adds an element of safety for railings that might be leaned on frequently or regularly face harsh weather conditions.
Glass railing is far more versatile than you might expect. There are options for almost every home and aesthetic.
You can mix toprails, hardware, and installation types to fit into many designs. Glass railings fit in at malls while looking great in a cozy home.
Glass railing is strong. There is no doubting the strength of the glass, as it is designed to withstand punishment.
When installed properly, glass railings are the strongest, safest railings you can find.
Types of Glass Railing Installations
There are three main types of glass railing installations. Your selection may depend on the setting where the glass railing will be installed.
This type of glass railing uses systems of glass clips that are often mounted to the posts, railings, or shoes. Clamped glass railing installation is beneficial because you can combine the glass panels with wood or stainless steel posts.
Clamped glass railing uses lots of hardware, so you will want to select something that looks good, as the hardware cannot be hidden.
A dadoed glass railing secures the glass panel inside the top rail and bottom shoe. It basically fits the glass into a frame. This style of glass railing offers a very clean look, as it requires very few clips or hardware.
A standoff glass railing features glass panels that are secured using round stainless steel posts called standoffs. This type of glass railing installation eliminates the “framed” look and hides a majority of the hardware used for installation.
Pros and Cons of Glass Railing
Like every railing, glass railing does have its pros and cons to consider before installing. Take each into account as you decide whether glass railing is right for you.
Glass railings are anti-corrosive. Tempered and laminated glass are anti-corrosive for obvious reasons but most installations use aluminum posts and hardware, which is also unlikely to corrode.
The anti-corrosive properties are perfect for installations near water like pools or on an oceanfront balcony.
If you use different types of post (wood, steel), you might consider what that decision does from a corrosion and maintenance standpoint. This advice is even more pertinent for glass railings installed near salt water or in harsh weather conditions.
Glass railings are weather and temperature tolerant. Glass is resistant to most forms of weathering including cracking. Tempered glass, specifically, resists shattering even when damaged.
While glass does have a con in regards to temperature, you can rest assured that your glass railing will stand up to hot temperatures. Glass is strong and durable, remaining safe year-round.
Glass railings require little maintenance. We discussed maintenance earlier, but the low maintenance requirements of glass railings is a definitive pro. Most other railings require some form of regular maintenance including staining, replacing, or painting parts.
Glass requires a simple cleaning with soap and water to maintain its beauty. This quality is ideal for settings that deal with the impacts of weather like sun, rain, or saltwater.
Glass railings are customizable. While glass railings are not amenable to standard customizations like painting or staining a wood railing, there are some design selections like varying degrees of frosting from translucent to opaque.
There are also options regarding the posts and hardware that lend themselves to offering a customized look.
Glass railings are easy to install. Believe it or now, installing a new glass railing is not terribly challenging. This is not to say that everyone can take the project on as a DIY weekend task but it is not one that takes weeks for a professional to complete.
Many glass railings come in kits based on the dimensions your project requires, with pre-cut panels and ready to install hardware. Some provide the posts and hardware, requiring measuring and ordering glass.
Glass railings can be costly. Tempered and laminated glass is expensive. The systems that make up glass railings are expensive. The hardware used to install glass railings is expensive.
With that said, the pros of glass railings can outweigh the costs if you can afford it. Glass railings are certainly a case of “you get what you pay for.”
See our Sample Costs & Comparison Guide section below for details on costs.
Glass railings are transparent. While this is considered a pro to many people, it can also be considered a con for those who value more privacy than transparency offers.
There is always the option of frosting or selecting tinted glass for railings that will lend some privacy in areas where that might be beneficial.
Glass railings do require cleaning. We listed their low maintenance as a pro but if you are not a fan of cleaning glass, you might want to avoid glass railings. Fingerprints and other smudge offenders can be infuriating to those who are sensitive to such things.
Cleaning glass can certainly be an easier task than restaining or painting other forms of railing materials. It is a maintenance requirement that cannot be overlooked.
The greenhouse effect. In some cases, depending on the location of your glass railing, the greenhouse effect can come into play. This can lead to the area just beyond the railing becoming warm or hot due to magnification of the sun. This can be mitigated by tinting or frosting the glass, if necessary.
How to Install Glass Railing
We mentioned earlier that installing glass railing is not an impossible DIY task. You will want to be confident in certain skills like cutting, measuring, and leveling before setting off on such an expensive project.
Many glass railings come in full kits that make installation a reasonable task to take on. Below is an example step-by-step self-installation of a glass deck railing. While this is not a comprehensive installation guide, it will give you an idea of whether you feel capable or if you should consult our Using a Professional Install for Glass Railing section below.
- Check the box. Glass railings require a good amount of hardware for proper installation. Always check the packing slip and instructions to make sure all the pieces are present.
- Mount the posts. The posts should be appropriately spaced based on the glass panels and installed directly into the decking.
- Install the mounting hardware. The glass railing panels will be supported by various types of hardware. These will be installed appropriately to ensure a safe, solid glass railing mount.
- Install the top rails. Top rails will be run from post to post.
- Install the bottom rails. Bottom rails will be run from post to post.
- Take measurement for glass. You will need to measure for appropriate glass sizing depending on your project, posts and rails. Some kits may already have the glass measured while others are designed simply to to assist you in building a deck railing.
- Install glass. You will need to secure the glass with the aforementioned hardware.
The advent of self-installation kits has made glass railing installation possible for skilled DIYers. However, it is not a project for the faint of heart or who have never installed railing before. If self-installation worries you, read on about using a professional installer for glass railing.
Using a Professional Installer for Glass Railing
Not everyone is a DIY railing expert. We understand that. Glass can be difficult to work with and the expense of the project makes it one that you want done right the first time.
Finding a qualified glass railing expert can be a challenge, given the specific nature of the work. Use our convenient tool to help find a well-rated glass railing installer near you!
Sample Costs & Comparison Guide
We have mentioned that installing glass railing is a beautiful addition to almost any design. It certainly comes with a price.
The average cost of glass railing is $500 per linear foot, which is five to ten times that of stainless steel cable or wrought iron.
The hardware alone is expensive, offering insight into why glass railing projects are so pricey.
- Posts: $230/each
- Clamps: $30/each
- Top Rail: $15/foot
- Handrail: $15/foot
- Caps, Moldings, Brackets: $50/foot
Glass railing is expensive, even compared to other high-end options like stainless steel cable railing and wrought iron railing. The finished product is certainly worth every penny if you can afford it!