Key Questions to Ask When Selecting a Material for Railing Systems

Combining look, feel, safety and performance, and still bringing the design vision to life

A key element of choosing a material for a railing system is whether it’s the best fit for the overall design. It’s easy to choose based on looks alone, but that’s not necessarily the right material to meet ALL expectations in the end. You might even find yourself at odds with the building’s owners if they request a material that you know won’t work for whatever reason.

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.

Here are key questions to ask when choosing a material for your railing system.

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. Determine the amount of wear and tear the railing system will undergo. 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?
Environment includes indoor or outdoor and elements. 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 the salinity level. The harsher the environment and the higher the use, the stronger railing material required. Meaning, carbon steel and 304-grade stainless steel might not be appropriate in some environments.

What is the risk for 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 since 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 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 equal in a Livers Bronze designed and manufactured railing system. And since we manufacture all of our railing systems in house, we’re a helpful source of information for selecting railing materials best suited to your project.