Railings for Stairs Buying Guide

Railings for Stairs
  • Getting Started

  • The railing is an important part of any staircase, as it provides necessary support for anyone on the stairs. However, the railing can do more than enhance safety: it connects the downstairs and upstairs areas and create a unifying line for the home that combines different distinct floors and creates a sense of logical continuity. It's possible for owners to take an advantage of railings and create a natural flow for their homes that's welcoming and stylish. But before buying railings, you should choose design and material as well as take other important things into consideration.

  • What to Consider

  • Safety

    The first consideration in choosing a perfect railing is safety. Before purchasing any model, read if the manufacturer follows any safety standards. These can vary from state to state, but the basic rules are:

    Baluster spacing or the opening between balusters shouldn't exceed four inches.

    Railing height requirements vary significantly. The most commonly used minimum height is from 36 to 42 inches from the surface to the railing top. You can find information about it on a package or ask a salesperson for additional information.

    Style, architecture and other design elements

    It's highly recommended to match your railing to the design of your home because it is going to be seen from anywhere in your house, be it near or far, for better or for worse. Thus, railing is one of the most important decorative elements. The color, style and size of the railing usually have a huge impact on the feel and look of your interior, and can help blend several floorings together. As a rule of thumb, the railing should complement the other details of your house by having matching colors and being in the right proportion with them.

    Possible exposure to sun, water and other elements

    Environmental factors play a huge role in the appearance and function of your railings. Choosing a dark metal rail isn't the best decision for a deck that will be exposed to UV lights in a tropical climate. A glass railing within reach of dirt or dust will look just awful, and glass balusters can increase the temperature on the surface in hot climates while cutting down on airflow.

    Choose the right color

    Not all rail types are available in many colors, so keep in mind that it can be a tricky task to find a perfect model. For example, if you want a white railing it's better to first search for models that come in white and then look at their type. Some manufacturers have a limited color range, especially for expensive railings. However, cheaper options often have a nice variety of colors that allow you to match or contract with details of your home. Note that the darker the color of your railing, the clearer view through it will be achieved.

    Maintenance issues

    Before purchasing a railing, think how much time you can spend maintaining its look. Traditional wood railings are labor and time intensive to maintain, so choosing a different material (a metal railing, for example) can free up a lot of time. Glass balusters or panels may also require additional treatment to minimize spotting, but copper and several types of aluminum are maintenance free.

  • Railing Material

  • One of the most traditional railing materials is wood. However, modern railings are often made of metal, vinyl, or glass. The material you choose for it dictates the cost, so you should go through all available options.

        •  Wood is a traditional material for railings and it provides a homely, cozy feeling in many settings. Common choices are ash, oak, and pine, which are lighter woods. Darker woods such as mahogany are also popular but they can add a formal and stifling feel to small homes, so they are used on manors and period homes.

        •  Glass railings are a good choice if you want to open up a living space where other materials could be overwhelming and oppressive. The glass allows light to penetrate and creates a sense of an open area that is welcoming and airy. It's best suited to modern offices and homes, where it's paired with steel handrails for a contemporary look.

        •  Metal railings are wrought steel or iron. They are often more expensive than others, but don't require any maintenance and will last you a long time, making them perfect for exterior staircases. They give a house an industrial look that is often more suitable for big areas than for small warm homes.

        •  Wrought iron railings are an alternative to materials that break and age. Wood, for example, changes its look even when coated with waterproof formulations and other coatings made to protect its appearance. Wood ages, no matter how much you care about it. It can splinter, and it attractive grain fades. Metal, on the other hand, stays the same no matter what. The finish adds extra protection, helping withstand the heavy rain and the contraction of metal. Those finishes are chemical galvanization, epoxies or powder coatings with an ebony accent.

        •  Aluminum is a cheaper alternative to iron or steel railings. It is a strong material that has the natural resistance to corrosion and rust, making it perfect for both outdoor and indoor use. Aluminum railings come in many finish options, from satin finishes to more polished to soft-matted looks. While satin finishes can hide fingerprints, aluminum that is mirrored needs careful maintenance to keep smudges at bay. Many manufacturers offer painted rails in many different colors to suit your needs.

        •  Copper railings feature nice, warm color. Copper naturally develops a green patina, which helps protect it from corrosion. Copper is one of the most expensive materials for railings, making it less traditional choice for high-end homes. Copper railings are naturally anti-microbial and keep germs at bay.

  • Size

  • While railings have a great potential to enhance your home decor and become a nice accent, they are there for safety and laws control their size and position. The handrail should be between 35-38 inches high, and there should be clearance, approximately 1.5 inches, between the wall and the railing to allow for gripping. Besides, the railing should extend more than 5 inches into the stairwell. Before choosing any railing, check if it follows safety standards.

  • Types and Features

  • Balusters/Balustrade - Balusters mean the railings with rails that are positioned vertically in railings and remind the pickets on a fence. When many balusters are connected at the bottom and top with a hand rail, they are called balustrades. The balusters can be decorative with different designs for an aesthetically pleasant look or left plain.

    Belly Bow - Belly Bow is also called "The Romeo and Juliet Railing" and that's exactly how it looks. This is a railing that is used on windows and balconies to prevent falls. It's called belly bow because the bottom bows out or curved. They come in many finishes and manufacturers give belly bows a high pressure wash and bake them in a powder coat so that they maintain sophisticated look under harsh weather conditions. This additional coat leaves railing with a lifetime protection.

    Footing - Footing is a term that describes the rail that runs horizontally along the bottom of balustrades and is often made of iron or wood. It serves to provide additional support and looks attractive and appealing. Not all railings have footing and it adds to the cost, but it's usually worth the investment. Speaking of added features, the top of the rail can also have a handrail cap. It's an additional feature that includes a rounded design over an iron or a wooden cap and emphasizes the railings.

    Posts - Some railings have posts at the end of each section that look just like fence posts. They are there for two reasons: to provide extra support to the railing and ensure advanced stability. But they are also a nice decorative feature.  Posts are often individually designed to match other design elements in the home. Some railings also have scrolls that are also known as curled balusters. Some railings have scrolls without vertical pickets while others can have several ones. Manufacturers often offer a customized design to match the railings and the interior design of your home.

  • Cost Considerations

  • Railings are available in a big range of materials and styles and are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. Furthermore, enclosed staircases have wall-mounted brackets to provide extra support to the railings while open staircases have posts and spindles for this purpose. All these features influence the railing price. Prices vary significantly and a railing can cost as little as $200 or as much as $20,000 or even more for unique, hand forged railings. Thus, it's important to set up a budget that will help you define your goals clearly and limits the number of railings you can choose from. Whether you think that you want one more design element on your railing, check back to your plan and consider how the little change will impact the overall cost of your railing.