You may not be familiar with the word balustrade but you have probably come across many different types of balustrades in your every day travels that serve as protection on a balcony and that guide you up or down a staircase with ease. A balustrade is a structural element in a building that can consist of various materials like, glass, stainless steel, mild steel, timber or even concrete. Balustrades are found on balconies, staircases, atriums and double volume areas in buildings. The main function of a balustrade is to prevent those that are utilizing the building from falling off of staircases, balconies and any areas that are higher than 1meter off of the ground level. A balustrade can comprise of many different designs, like post and vertical infill rails, horizontal infill rails or even glass infill panels with a top rail. Timber post and rails or even cast concrete or composite materials are also what you may find in balustrade systems. Frameless glass panels secured in various ways have also become trendy in the latest balustrade designs. In South Africa, the minimum required height of a balustrade is 1meter from the finished floor height and if there is an up-stand on the floor level, then the height and width of the up-stand needs to be taken into account when calculating the balustrade height. If the up-stand is wide enough for someone to step up onto, then the balustrade height needs to be 1 meter from the top of the up-stand. It is essential to remember that a balustrade is first and most importantly, a structural safety feature in your home or building and secondly, an aesthetic feature. There is no point in having a balustrade that looks appealing but doesn’t function as a safety mechanism. It is also irresponsible in taking the decision to have absolutely no balustrade system on a staircase or exposed area due to aesthetic reasons. The South African National Standards have a set of building codes that balustrade systems need to comply with. Ensure that you select a balustrade contractor that can provide you with a professional structural engineers certificate in order to ensure that your balustrades comply with SANS. Here are some types of balustrades that have become popular in the South African market:
Stainless Steel Balustrades:
Available in either grade 304 brushed stainless steel or in grade 316 mirror polished stainless steel. You have access to numerous designs like; posts with horizontal infill rails with a top rail and or posts with vertical infill rails and a top rail. Tensioned stainless steel cables are also a current option as in-fills to stainless steel balustrades. The grade of stainless steel is advised and selected according to the environment that the stainless steel will be applied to. Corrosive environments like coastal areas that are exposed to salt spray or coastal sea air, are recommended to use grade 316 stainless steel, in a mirror polished finish. Grade 316 stainless steel has non-corrosive properties that will withstand the environment that they are exposed to. Grade 304 brushed stainless steel is recommended for all other areas in balustrade applications where there aren’t corrosive elements to be concerned about. Stainless steel is a hygienic material that is environmentally friendly and very low in maintenance and has become the material of choice for many home and building owners. Stainless Steel tubing is available in many different sizes, shapes, diameters and thicknesses. It is therefore important that you ensure that your balustrade contractor is using the correct size and thickness of material for your balustrade and that he can prove that the balustrade system consists of the correct materials and that the balustrade that he is about to install in your home has been tested and signed off by a professional structural engineer.
Mild Steel Balustrades:
Mild steel balustrades have become less popular over time due to the fact that it is highly corrosive, unfriendly to our environment and it requires ongoing maintenance and painting. However, this material is still being installed on some commercial buildings and on specific residential projects where the design or budget constraints require a painted, mild steel balustrade design. Consumers don’t always understand the long-term costs of mild steel when they are facing budget restraints on their projects and instead opt for the initial discounted cost of mild steel instead of stainless steel for the balustrade installation. Only to discover that a year or two in, they are required to sand, treat and repaint the entire balustrade due to the rust caused by the environment that the balustrade has been exposed to. As South African designers become more and more aware and concerned about our environment and the life cycle costing of building materials, mild steel will become less popular as a material for use in balustrades.
Toughened safety glass has become the latest trend in balustrade designs and is very popular with South African designers. Glass balustrades offer uninterrupted views and compliment the modern designs in South African architecture. The latest architectural masterpieces in the country all feature glass in some shape or form in their balustrades. Due to the safety concerns of glass being used as a material in balustrade systems, it is crucial that the correct thickness toughened safety glass is used and that the application of the glass as a balustrade system is tested and signed off by a professional structural engineer. There are numerous frameless glass applications available that are suitable within the perimeters as set out by SANS. Stainless steel posts and glass infill panels are also available as a glass balustrade design option. Now that you know more about balustrades, the next time you encounter a balustrade system whether you are in a shopping center, airport, hospital or even at home, remember the most important words, What is a balustrade? It is there for you and your loved one’s safety and should you trip and fall, there should be something strong enough for you to grab onto to prevent you from falling further.