Taking glass to new heights

While the aesthetic appeal of glass balustrades and Juliet balconies is obvious, thought needs to be given to the careful and safe installation of such systems. Simon Boocock of CRL Europe takes a look at some of the solutions available

Creating a minimal, high-end finish on buildings, glass is fast becoming the material of choice for balustrades and balconies. Providing an uninterrupted view, this look is particularly popular on high-rise buildings and has widespread aesthetic appeal.

Small spaces can be made to feel much bigger through the use of glass, and Juliet balconies in particular are increasingly being chosen for new buildings as a way of filling the room with light and natural ventilation, without the need for any planning permission. Unlike a bolt-on or decked balcony, they do not need the foundations of a property to be re-evaluated to accommodate them, making them a useful solution for refurbishment and renovation projects.

Once installed, Juliet balconies are effectively maintenance-free and can be suitable for even the most corrosive seaside or coastal properties if they are made of 316 Grade stainless steel and accordingly tested. Although glass infill panels are often perceived as a more expensive option than metal, glass isn’t necessarily beyond the reach of projects with a limited budget.

For the installer though, fitting a glass balustrade or balcony can be a more demanding – particularly when scaffolding is required and the system needs to be installed from the outside in, as this raises many health and safety issues. Maintenance, too, can be a challenge, as by their nature balconies and balustrades involve working at height.

Wet fit balcony systems need to be held securely in place, and this is often achieved with cement to ensure a tight fit. Cement can be messy however, particularly on retro-fit projects. Often the architectural hardware used for installation will be heavy and cumbersome to fit, particularly when working at awkward angles and from height, and can even compromise the minimal aesthetic if it is poorly designed.

Specifiers need to be mindful that the general Code of Practice for barriers in and around buildings is confirmation to BS6180:2011 and a system that can be fixed back to the stone or brickwork of the building will offer the best solution in terms of security. However, a dry-glazed railing system suitable for frameless glass balustrades is a hassle-free alternative to the mess and awkwardness of working with cement and scaffolding. This solution simplifies the fitting and maintenance process, enabling installation from the safe side of the balcony or balustrade, reducing installation times and providing safety and security for the installer and end user.

Juliet balconies fall under Part K of the Building Regulations Act 2000, stipulating that gaps in any railings must not be more than 100 mm and that the top of the balcony must be at least 1100 mm from standing floor level.

With glass Juliet balcony systems; less is more, and the secret here lies very much in the strength of the handrail. The stronger the handrail the fewer supporting posts, connectors and cap rails will be required, resulting in a greater span of glass. Installers should also look for a system that makes maintenance easier, with any necessary replacement of glass panels able to be carried out from the safe side, internally, and with no need for scaffolding.

Both dry glazed railing systems and Juliet balcony systems tap into the big trend for frameless glass balustrades, and balconies have less architectural hardware, providing an improved aesthetic when compared to standard vertical posts. What hardware is on show can be chosen in a number of attractive weather-proof finishes so a minimal, high-end look can be easily achieved.

With the right systems used, the end result can be a balcony that takes full advantage of the strength and aesthetic qualities of glass, while being virtually maintenance free and very straightforward to install.

Simon Boocock is managing director of CRL Europe