How to Select the Perfect Materials for a Railing System

Performance and Look & Feel go Hand-in-hand

It’s easy to choose materials for a railing system based on looks alone, but railing material has to be more than decorative. Take use, environmental conditions, location, load requirements and view in mind to bring the entire design vision to life. No matter how attractive in the beginning, any railing material that doesn’t hold up in its’ environment is bound to disappoint. When choosing the right materials, here are some questions to ask:

How and where will the railing material be used?

Form, functionality and price make steel, and stainless steel, the railing material of choice for many architects. Aesthetically, these materials match well with several styles, especially modern and traditional. In terms of longevity and durability, steel and stainless steel are hard to beat. To choose the best steel for your project, determine the amount of wear and tear the railing system will undergo, then match use and exposure to the type of steel. Ranking low to high…

Exterior use

● Carbon steel: lower cost with higher risk of corrosion.

● 304-grade stainless steel: mid-priced with better corrosion resistance, but vulnerable in harsh environments and needs periodic maintenance.

● 316-grade stainless steel: high corrosion resistance, stands up to harsh environments but comes with a higher cost.

Interior use

● Carbon steel: lower cost, suitable for lesser-used railings since it’s prone to scratches and nicks.

● 304-grade stainless steel: low maintenance and stands up to high traffic wear and tear, saving money in the long run.

How well will the railing material stand up in its environment?

First, define the environment by whether it is indoor or outdoor, and by what kind of environmental elements it will be exposed to. For example, typically indoor railings withstand more traffic, requiring a tougher railing material. On the other hand, outdoor railing material should be chosen based on temperature ranges it must withstand, exposure to water (rain, snow, ice), wind load and salinity level. The harsher the environment and the higher the use, the stronger railing material required. Therefore, carbon steel and 304-grade stainless steel might not be appropriate in some environments.

What is the risk of damage?

A railing system in a performance theater won’t be as banged up as one installed at a sports arena. A railing system installed in a private building will not have the risk of vandalism as one in a public space. When it comes to assessing damage risk, it’s less about indoor or outdoor use, and more about the users. Railing lights are prone to vandalism, which is why architects like our Illume Linear and Puck systems—as they are fully integrated in the railing and recessed into the rail, protecting it from intentional harm. Rougher usage will require a strong material, taking aluminum out of consideration (for the most part). Stainless steel is a good option and can save money in replacement and maintenance later.

How much load must the railing material withstand? Superman isn’t called the Man of Steel for nothing. Steel and stainless steel can withstand more weight and is the material of choice for railings with higher load requirements. However, if budget can’t handle the extra financial load of steel, aluminum is an option. Aluminum can be reinforced with inserts and used in shorter spans to help increase its load capacity.

What Type of Illumination Works Best?

Commercial architects are using Livers Bronze LED illuminated exterior and interior handrail systems to put an exclamation mark on their commercial designs. It’s no wonder considering the benefits LED lighting brings not only to the design aspect, but also energy efficiency and safety.

When working with glass and metal exterior or interior handrailings, architects are replacing traditional fluorescent, incandescent or halogen fixtures with LED integrated handrailings as an innovative and eye-catching alternative. LED makes the most sense if you’re looking for energy saving solutions and improved safety features without sacrificing aesthetics.

How Important is Energy Efficiency?

Livers Bronze LED illuminated handrails consume far less energy than traditional lighting, which reduces utility costs. LEDs emit more light per watt and burn ten times longer than fluorescent bulbs and up to 30 times longer than halogen bulbs. This long life span cuts down on expensive bulb replacement and frequent maintenance. Livers Bronze is known for rugged designs and housings, so installations in wet environments are always an option.

LEDs outperform traditional lighting with reduced noise and heat output. Since LEDs minimize heat build-up, they are the lighting choice for commercial handrail systems with recessed lighting. All these combined help reduce your carbon footprint, and that’s good for everyone.

Livers Bronze was green before green was a thing. Offering LED illuminated handrail systems was just a natural path given our early years as Livers Lighting and Bronze Co., specializing in custom light fixtures. The processes we follow when manufacturing glass and metal handrail systems are sustainable, plus we use recyclable materials and offer architects green options.

Is Ancillary Lighting Needed?

LED handrail lighting eliminates the need for ancillary lighting because LEDs can be placed exactly where they need to be to make areas safer for the public. LEDs reflect brightly on walking surfaces without adding ambient light like other lights do, which is especially important in museums, theaters, and such.

Incandescent and fluorescent bulbs are fragile and prone to break when hit or bumped, which puts the public at risk of glass cuts and toxic mercury exposure. LED lights are manufactured with solid-state components and contain no filament or mercury.

What should I do if I need advice on which material would work best for a specific railing system?

Just ask us. Livers Bronze has been building railings and relationships since 1946. We’ve always been committed to matching functionality with beauty. Cost, function, design and installation are all equal in a Livers Bronze designed and manufactured railing system. And since we manufacture all of our railing systems in-house, our expertise will help you select railing materials best suited for your project.