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Perfect Balcony Railing Materials: 13 Things to Consider

Elevated balconies are a great way of adding value and style to your home, but they also pose some challenges for homeowners.

The most obvious challenge is that you need to make sure that your balcony railing material is suitable for use on an elevated surface.

Related: What Is a Floating Balcony?

This can be difficult because there are many different types of materials available, each with their own pros and cons.

The most important things to consider when choosing the right balcony railing material are:

  • Building codes / ADA compliance
  • Cost
  • Weather
  • Replacing existing railing
  • Future construction plans
  • Unobstructed view
  • Consider your space
  • Color
  • Durability
  • Functionality
  • Maintenance
  • Vibration resistance
  • Wind load capacity

This article will help you decide which material is right for you. It will also help you understand why certain materials are better than others.

1. Building codes / ADA compliance

When building a balcony railing, there are many things to consider. For example, you need to be aware of local building codes and regulations, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The most important consideration when choosing balcony railings is safety. Building codes dictate the minimum distance between balusters or spindles, and the maximum height of balcony rails.

Related: Child Safety Balcony Railings Guide

According to the International Residential Code (IRC), the maximum height for balcony rails must not be less than 36 inches from the floor level.

The IRC also states that the distance between the vertical, horizontal or diagonal members that support the handrail should never be more than 4 inches.

Also read: How to Block Balcony Gaps: 8 Ideas

Bright balcony realestateke
Image credit: Freepik

If you’re planning to build a balcony railing, you should consult with your local building inspector to ensure compliance with local building codes and regulations.

In addition, you should contact your local fire department to find out whether they require a certain type of railing material.

Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that balconies be accessible to people with disabilities.

Accessible routes can include ramps, elevators, stairways, and other types of access. This is to make sure that people who use wheelchairs are able to reach the edge of a balcony railing.

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Related: Can a Balcony Have Stairs?

In some cases, contractors may install a special railing system in a commercial or residential property that allows wheelchair users to enjoy outdoor spaces in multistory buildings.

2. Cost

The cost of balcony railings depends on many factors, including

  • the material used,
  • the height of the railing,
  • and the type of balcony

The materials used for balcony railings can be expensive. In fact, they’re often the most expensive part of building a deck or patio. But there are ways to keep costs down.

First, consider the material itself.

Wood is usually the cheapest option, but it doesn’t last forever. Steel is durable, but it’s not as attractive as wood. Aluminum is lightweight and inexpensive, but it’s not very strong.

Second, consider the cost of installation.

Balconies are typically installed after the house is built, so the contractor may charge extra for this work. Also, some materials require special tools and skills, which add to the overall price.

If you want to save money when building a deck or patio, consider wooden balustrades instead of steel or aluminum. They’re cheaper than metal options, and they’re more affordable to maintain.

At the same time, if you’re buying a prefabricated balcony, you may be able to get a better deal by shopping around for different materials.

However, a pre-built balcony from a builder will usually have limited design options to choose from.

3. Weather

Inside your home, it’s warm and cozy.

Your balcony railings should reflect this warmth and comfort while being weather resistant.

The weather outside may be frightful and can be a major factor when choosing the right balcony railing material.

Related: Is It Safe to Be on a Balcony During a Thunderstorm?

For example, if you live in a cold climate, aluminum may not be the best choice because it won’t hold up well in freezing temperatures.

If you live in a hot climate, however, aluminum might be perfect for your balcony railing. Aluminum is lightweight and doesn’t get too hot during summer months. In fact, some people prefer aluminum over wood because it’s lighter and stronger than wood.

If you live someplace where there is rain, consider installing a railing with a waterproof coating. Waterproof coatings are great for preventing moisture from getting inside your home.

Plastic railings are inexpensive and withstand many weather elements, but they’re not attractive. These types of railing may be prone to cracking and breaking.

4. Does the home already have a balcony?

If you’re replacing an existing railing, you’ll need to remove the existing railing and inspect it. Then, you’ll need to measure the height of the balcony and decide where to cut the railing. 

This will help determine if you need to add additional features to the framework of the balcony.

Next, you’ll need to attach a railing that fits in the balcony frame.

But before that, you need to determine the right material for that work.

Decide whether you want a solid railing or a lattice style. Solid railings are usually made of metal or wood, while lattice styles are typically made of aluminum or plastic.

Also, determine whether you want a single or double railing.

Single rails are typically used for balconies that don’t extend over the edge of the building. Double rails are typically used for balcony rails that extend over the edge of a building.

double railing realestateke
Image credit: Getty Images

Finally, decide between a diagonal, vertical or horizontal railing. Vertical railings are most common because they offer greater stability than horizontal railings. However, horizontal railings are more flexible and allow for more creative designs.

When you use diagonal railings, ensure the spacing between balusters does not exceed 4 inches.

5. Future construction plans

Your balcony railings should be strong enough to withstand future construction projects.

For example, if you’re designing a balcony railing for a condo unit, be aware that the building may undergo renovations in the future.

You want a balcony railing that will stand up to these changes without compromising the look of the balcony.

You won’t have to worry about changing materials later on because the railing is designed to handle any type of change.

In fact, you may even be able to save money by selecting a railing that can be easily modified down the road, such as vinyl or lattice design. 

A good place to start is by looking at the balcony railing design of other condos in your area.

It’s also helpful to check online and see what others have done with their balconies.

Or, take advantage of the services offered by local contractors who specialize in balcony railing installation.

6. Unobstructed view

In some cases, the view of the outdoors may be important to you.

For example, if you live near a busy road, you might not want to block people’s views of the street. But if you’re lucky enough to have a beautiful view, don’t let anything get in the way of enjoying it!

The best way to make sure you have an unobstructed view is to carefully consider how the railing will affect the view.

Think about things like:

  • How high will the railing be?
  • Will there be trees or plants blocking the view?
  • Do they block the sun?
  • Will you be installing a fence around your balcony?
  • If so, how tall will the fence be?
  • What kind of railing do you plan on using?
  • Is it possible to install a railing that allows you to enjoy the view from inside 

Lattice railings are often preferred when there is a view of nature.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a nice view from a balcony using a solid railing.

Acrylic or plexiglass railings are great options for those seeking a clear view of the outside world.

Solid railings are still very popular among homeowners who prefer privacy.

concrete wall balcony railing realestateke
Image credit: Getty Images

If you choose a solid railing, make sure it has an opaque finish or a concrete wall railing so that no one can peer into your home through it.

Blocking the view may be necessary for people who are concerned about privacy issues.

However, if you’re worried about security, consider installing a screen instead of blocking the view.

Screening allows you to enjoy the view while still protecting yourself from unwanted visitors.

7. Consider your space

Gathering space is another factor to keep in mind when choosing a balcony railing material.

If you have limited space, you’ll need to think about whether you want to maximize the amount of space available or just go for something simple and easy to assemble.

The answers to these questions determine whether you should use a faux balcony or real balcony railing.

Faux balconies are usually used when there isn’t enough room for a full length railing. Real balconies are big enough to support a group of people standing on it.

If you live in a condo building, you may not have access to the exterior walls of your unit. In this case, you might be able to install a faux balcony instead of a real balcony.

Faux balconies are great because they’re inexpensive and easy to install.

So if you’re looking for a cheap way to add some style to your home, go with a faux balcony.

But if you’re planning on spending a lot of time entertaining guests on your balcony, you’ll probably want to invest in a real balcony with a classic railing design.

8. Color

Bold colors can really make a statement. If you want to draw attention to your balcony, you might want to opt for a bold color scheme like red, blue, orange, white, or yellow.

On the other hand, if you prefer a more subtle look, try going with a neutral color palette such as gray, black, silver, or tan.

When choosing a balcony railing color, remember that darker colors tend to absorb light, which makes them better suited for outdoor areas.

Light colors reflect light, making them ideal for indoor spaces.

The same goes for the color of the balcony.

If you live in a sunny area, you might want to use lighter colors, since they reflect sunlight and keep the home cooler.

You can also take advantage of different textures by selecting a smooth surface like polished wood, stainless steel, plastered railing wall or glass.

You can also select a rough texture like stone or brick to create a rustic feel.

Accessories can also help bring more color to your balcony.

For instance, to give the balcony a tropical vibe, you could hang a large umbrella over your seating area.

Or you could place colorful planters, lanterns and even small sculptures or water features around the perimeter of the deck to add visual interest and a unique personality.

9. Durability

Cleaning up after a party will be much easier if you choose a durable balcony railing material.

Whether you’re cleaning up after a barbecue or a birthday celebration, you’ll appreciate having a sturdy railing that won’t break down easily.

When selecting a balcony railing material, consider its durability. This includes factors such as weight, strength, ease of installation, and cost.

Some materials may be cheaper than others, but they may not last long.

For example, aluminum is lightweight and inexpensive, but it doesn’t hold up well over time. Aluminum tends to rust, especially when exposed to rainwater.

On the other hand, wood and concrete are very durable. But concrete is heavy and wood expensive.

The right balcony railing material depends on your budget, needs, and lifestyle. So weigh these factors carefully before making your final decision.

10. Functionality

Your balcony should do more than just provide an attractive feature. It should also serve practical purposes.

In this regard, you’ll need to think about how many people will be using the balcony. Will there be children? Or pets?

Related: Can Cats Get Fleas From a Balcony? How to Keep Them Away

What kind of activities will be taking place on the balcony?

Will you have a grill out there? How often will you host parties? Do you plan on hosting special occasions?

These questions will help you determine what type of balcony railing material you should purchase.

A balcony railing that’s too heavy or bulky isn’t likely to meet all of your needs.

So, if you plan on entertaining guests outdoors, you might want to go with a heavier-duty material like metal or concrete.

However, if you don’t plan on hosting any events outside, you can opt for a less substantial railing such as wood or PVC.

Regardless of whether you plan on entertaining or not, you’ll still want a strong balcony railing.

In other words, you’ll need something that can withstand the elements without breaking down. 

This way, you can save money while still getting the functionality you desire. 

11. Maintenance

Purchasing a balcony railing material that requires little maintenance is ideal.

After all, you probably don’t want to spend hours every week maintaining a balcony railing made from a material that requires frequent repairs.

Related: How Long Do Balcony Repairs Take? (+Hiring Contractor Tips)

Wooden railings require regular maintenance, such as painting and staining.

Steel requires little maintenance, but aluminum needs to be painted every couple years.

Concrete and metal railings usually require minimal upkeep. However, some types of concrete require special care.

Metal balustrades are usually coated with paint or powder coatings to prevent rusting. These finishes may fade over time, however, and require frequent repainting.

Glass balustrades are highly durable, but they must be cleaned regularly to avoid scratches and smudges. Glass balustrades are also expensive, so they’re not recommended for use in areas where children play.

If you plan on spending most of your time indoors, then you won’t need to worry about cleaning your balcony railing.

But if you plan on spending lots of time outdoors, you’ll want to choose a balcony railing material that’s easy to clean like plastic or vinyl. 

12. Vibration resistance

A balcony railing that has poor vibration resistance could cause injury to those standing near it.

Causes of vibration around your home are numerous. They include:

  • furniture moving in the house
  • children playing on the balcony
  • heavy equipment used by construction workers
  • heavy vehicles driving past your house
  • natural disasters (like earthquakes) 

For example, a balcony railing made from softwood could easily vibrate when heavy machinery is operated around your home. This would lead to injuries because the vibrations could cause the railing to break apart. 

Similarly, a wooden balcony railing could break when someone leans a heavy object against it.

When choosing a balcony railing material, consider the amount of weight that will be placed upon it. You’ll want to make sure that the balcony railing material you select can handle the stress caused by these heavy loads.

The right balcony railing material should also be able to absorb vibration energy without causing damage. 

The same thing applies to glass balconies. If there’s no reinforcement inside the railing, it could shatter under pressure.

The vibration resistance of balcony railings is important because it affects the safety of your balcony. In fact, balconies are often the most dangerous place in your home.

They’re usually suspended above ground level, which means they’re more susceptible to damage than floors or walls and anyone who falls off them will fall onto hard surfaces.

You’ll want to make sure that your new balcony railing meets these requirements before purchasing it.

If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, consider installing a balcony railing made out of steel instead of wood.

Steel is stronger than wood, and it won’t splinter or break easily. 

13. Wind load capacity

Rails that are too weak could blow away during high winds.

This could happen even if the rails have been installed securely. The wind might push the balcony railing, causing it to crack or snap.

Wind load capacity refers to how much force the balcony railing can withstand without breaking.

Wind loads are forces exerted on structures by moving air.

They’re measured in pounds per square foot (psf). 

Some materials may be too flimsy to withstand strong winds.

Also, some materials may not be suitable for balconies located near trees or buildings because they may sway in the wind.

In this case, you’ll need to install a balcony railing with extra support. 

For instance, a steel railing provides better support than a wooden one. It’s also safer because it doesn’t bend or break as easily.

Enjoy the outdoor view with the correct balcony railing material!

Gaining access to your balcony is a great way to enjoy fresh air and natural light while still being close to your living space.

But, you don’t want to put yourself at risk by using a balcony railing that isn’t safe.

Choosing the right balcony railing material is essential to ensuring that your home looks its absolute best.

There are plenty of materials available, from wood to metal to glass, but each has their pros and cons.

For example, wood is beautiful, but it can easily warp over time. Metal is durable, but it can rust and chip away. Glass is easy to clean, but it can break easily.

The best option for you depends entirely on your personal preferences and budget.

So, before you buy anything, take a moment to think about what you want your balcony railing to look like.

Then, use these tips to help you choose the perfect material for your home.