As one of the essential features of a building, the balcony catches the eye. The expansion of the usable area is therefore an important design element at the same time. Above all, the balcony railing emerges as a relevant design feature. Previously mostly following local traditions, today wood, steel and glass offer a wide range of options. In addition to the look, security and costs play a major role in the selection.
Table of Contents
The tasks of the balcony railings
Although their importance may differ from case to case, the dominant tasks of a balcony railing are always the same:
- Miscellaneous (esp. privacy screen)
These individual things make very different, sometimes even contradictory, demands on the components used:
A balcony railing must be safe in several respects. Of course, it should stay in place permanently and not fall on people’s heads under the balcony. Beyond this matter of course, however, it is much more important that it must protect the people on the balcony from falling down. Although in reality the 500 kilogram load assumed by the structural engineers per square meter of balcony should only rarely come together, several people can definitely lean on the railing at the same time. Even extreme cases such as shaking, falling against it etc. must be managed safely. In order for this to succeed, DIN standards regulate the requirements that a railing must meet. The same also applies to the assembly of the railing on the balcony slab or on the house wall.
In addition to the practical protection against falling, the balcony railing should also protect privacy. This can be achieved with an appropriate visual protection. First of all, one might think of complex and at the same time often unsightly constructions made of fabric, sticks or even straw or raffia mats. Fortunately, these are only necessary if they were not well planned from the outset. Because completely independent of wood, steel or glass, privacy protection properties can be easily achieved if required. Wooden materials as well as metal in the form of perforated plates, grids or individual components can achieve the desired degree of permeability or opacity as a dense arrangement of rods or flat panel cladding. Glass surfaces, on the other hand, can be reduced in their transparency with printing or in the form of a sandblasted surface.
The design ideas of the owners are usually very individual. A balcony railing is able to make a building open and inviting, or to deliberately shield the private outdoor area. At the same time, the visual weight of a building can be increased depending on the balcony construction, or deliberately designed to be light and floating.
How to create a safe balcony railing?
While the look depends heavily on the ideas of the owner and can sometimes be individual to idiosyncratic, the issue of security is very easy to look at objectively:
The structural stability of a balcony railing is the easiest to consider. It includes those aspects that generally come to mind first when speaking of construction. What is meant are the component dimensions and the combination of individual components to form a coherent system. Components made of wood have to be dimensioned larger than components made of steel due to their lower load-bearing capacity. Glass, on the other hand, can be technically used for load-bearing elements, but is generally not used due to the extremely high outlay involved. Common dimensions for load-bearing posts and frames are:
- as a steel construction from approx. 20x20mm
- as a wooden construction around 40×40 to 60x60mm
When filling the railings, individual bars can be thinner the closer they are placed and the more of them are used to absorb the loads that occur together. Again, steel can be made much thinner than wood. Glass is usually only used as a flat covering, but thanks to modern glass constructions it can score points with a high level of breakage resistance. The materials also allow very different face widths for the railing infills:
- Steel rods from 10mm diameter
- Wooden sticks from 20mm diameter
- Wooden slats from 10x30mm
- Glass only flat from a material thickness of around 8 to 10mm as safety glass
Not immediately, but at least in the short term, an appropriate choice of material makes a major contribution to safe balcony railings. Unfortunately, all treated materials are exposed to wind and weather. Moisture in particular causes them considerable problems. But while metal is very durable due to a corresponding refinement or coating, all types of wood react more or less strongly with water. Moisture is absorbed and released. In the process, protective ingredients in the wood are washed out and must be laboriously restored using glazes or other coatings. Overall, the lifespan of the wood is therefore shorter than other materials. With increasing age, the risk also increases
A good execution of the constructive details is the last pillar of a safe balcony railing. Three aspects are particularly important here:
- Constructive wood protection: design connections and transitions in such a way that no rainwater can penetrate cracks, joints or holes and cause permanent damage there.
- Fastenings with static safety: Execute screw connections and other connections in such a way that loads that occur do not immediately lead to failure, even if they are overstressed.
- Use of approved fasteners: Tested and approved fasteners such as screws or dowels guarantee the load-bearing capacity of the construction as planned.
- Trouble-free choice of possible designs: If there are different methods of design to choose from, variants that are as damage-free as possible contribute to lasting safety. While screwed-in wood screws can tear out due to weathering when the wood density decreases, push-through connections made of screws with nut locks are insensitive to this.
The choice of material
If all of the sub-areas already discussed, which contribute to a safe balcony railing, are to be implemented in a way that is convincing in all areas, a mixture of different materials results in many cases. Steel, wood and glass contribute their strengths to an optimal overall construction:
- Steel posts or frames with wooden rods – natural filling with filigree, heavy-duty load-bearing construction
- Steel supporting structure with glass panels – highly resilient construction with minimalist, elegant railing panels
- Steel construction with filling of metal rods or sheet metal – uniform materiality with minimal component thickness
Depending on the budget available, balcony railings can generate very different costs. Very simple constructions can use financial resources sparingly, while complex designs quickly turn the element into a cost driver.
Finally, of course, the question arises as to how high the costs for a balcony railing are. It is obvious that there is no uniform price. Instead, different materials, constructions and finishes represent a wide range of possible costs. Price jumps cannot be tied to a change to another material. For example, a simple steel railing can be far cheaper than a pure wooden construction made of high-quality wood. On the other hand, the metal construction made of stainless steel, Corten steel or other special materials can be significantly higher than the wooden railing. The following prices can be used to roughly classify different typologies. The prices always refer to the running meter of railing including posts,
- simple steel railing with bar filling, galvanized: from 100 EUR/m
- Galvanized steel railings with railings made of wooden bars, natural: from EUR 100/m
- Galvanized steel railing with bar filling, attached stainless steel handrail: from EUR 120/m
- Galvanized steel railing with flat metal filling (perforated sheet metal, stainless steel sheet etc.) with stainless steel handrail: from EUR 150/m
- Wooden railings Douglas fir with support posts and wooden filling, metal connecting elements: from EUR 150/m
- Galvanized steel railings with glass infill VSG (laminated safety glass) and stainless steel handrail: from EUR 180/m
- Stainless steel railings with laminated safety glass panels, printed or sandblasted: from EUR 300/m
- Self-supporting all-glass railing VSG without metal posts, clamped at the base: from EUR 500/m
It becomes clear that even a supposedly simple fall protection allows an enormous variety of different designs. There can be price increases of several hundred percent between simple, functional designs and luxurious systems with an extremely reduced look. Before commissioning an executing company, it is therefore worth conscientiously weighing up all aspects in order to ultimately obtain exactly the desired result.