How Safe Are Glass Balustrades?

Glass balustrades make a highly attractive design addition to any office, industrial or residential space. Their transparency works to maximise light and thus opening up an area, they remove visual barriers and open up floors, rooms and mezzanines into bright, broad spaces.

Finishes such as frosting allow potential for attractive, effective customisation or branding, while their simple construction matches any minimalist, modern design scheme.

Unfortunately, when designing open plan spaces, many people will decide against glass. Usually because they are concerned about the safety.  Glass has a reputation for being fragile, too easy to shatter and too much of a risk.

In actual fact, there is little risk involved in choosing glass balustrades. This post will look at the many regulations and requirements that surround the construction and design of glass balustrades and demonstrate exactly what makes them a durable, attractive and SAFE choice.

Are glass balustrades safe?

Professionally installed, legislation-compliant balustrades are incredibly safe. Adding a balustrade, banister or barrier will always improve the safety of a staircase, mezzanine or balcony and your choice of material won’t change that.

A number of building regulations exist purely to ensure safety. Building Standard 6180: 2011 sets out the requirements for barriers that are constructed in any residential or industrial building, including the specific requirements for any made of glass. It specifies the type of glass that is needed, the necessary height a balustrade must reach and many other glass balustrade regulations.

As long as these regulations are adhered to, along with the ones contained within Approved Documents K and M, you can trust that any glass balustrades you install are one of the safest options you can use.

What type of glass is used for glass balustrades?

One of the key factors in the safety of glass balustrades is the type of glass used to make them. The thickness is another important factor. This is why building regulations clearly specify what is and what isn’t suitable for use in the construction balustrades.

In the UK, the regulations allow the use of two types of safety glass:

  • Toughened or tempered glass
  • Laminated glass

Toughened or tempered glass is the most frequently used type. It is made by exposing the glass to a very high heat, around 700°C and then rapidly cooling it. This is called ‘quenching’ and the whole process only takes around 60 seconds. Despite being so quick, this process can increase the strength of glass by up to four times by locking tension in the inner core of the glass.

After treatment, tempered glass is incredibly hard to break. The process also changes the way it breaks. Rather than splinter into sharp, dangerous, shards, tempered glass will shatter completely in to small, granular pieces. The smaller size and softer edges of these pieces make it much safer to clear up, ensuring that no jagged edges are left standing in frames or clips.

The other type of glass that can be used is laminated. This is made by sandwiching a thin layer of plastic between two layers of glass. It means that if one layer breaks, the second should stay standing.

The thickness of glass used will depend on the design and purpose of the balustrades. The minimum thickness for any glass balustrade is 10mm but certain situations may require the glass to be anything up to 21.5mm.

What height should glass balustrades be?

The required height of a glass balustrade will again depend on the purpose of the building it is used in and where in that building it will be used. These many variations are explored in Approved Document K which outlines specific heights for specific situations.

In residential premises, internal balustrades used to edge stairs, landings or internal floors or mezzanine levels must be at least 900mm (90cm) in height. External glass balustrades for balconies, staircases or rooftops, must be at least 1100mm (110cm).

Does a glass balustrade need a handrail?

It is possible to have a frameless or cantilever glass balustrade without a handrail. However, there are strict regulations over the type of glass that can be used without a frame or handrail; the balustrade must stay secure, even if part of it fails. This usually means having glass that is both laminated and toughened. You can consult BS 6180: 2011 for more details.

Safety benefits of glass balustrades

Not only are glass balustrades a safe choice, in many cases they are the safest choice.

  • They’re durable and long-lasting

Glass is a highly robust material that doesn’t degrade over time. Whereas wood might rot, or brick may start to crumble, glass will stand firm for the duration of its life. It is also immune to the impact of pests or pets and won’t suffer any structural damage from exposure to water.

  • They’re strong and hard to break

As we’ve discussed above, toughened glass is incredibly difficult to break. Whereas wood can splinter, or one spindle can snap. With glass, the stress of any impact is spread across a far greater area and thus lessened.

  • They’re transparent

As well as being an important design feature, the transparency of glass is also a potential safety benefit. It allows better visibility of what is going on around any stairs or balcony and allows better judgement of height.

Are glass balustrades child-friendly?

The last massive safety benefit of glass balustrades is that they are so child-friendly. Wooden or metal railing and banister options are designed with slats and gaps to stop them being visually overwhelming. This creates a big risk for eager little fingers or limbs. Glass balustrades can be designed with gaps too small for any miniature body parts to slip through or get stuck in, without needing a thick, ugly wall of material to block up the flow of your house.

Picking glass balustrades is a choice without compromise. They’re a stylish design statement that look attractive and maximise light and space. And, when you purchase them from KLG, you can also trust that they’ll be strong, secure and completely safe too.

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