A Practical Guide to Selecting the Right Code for Glass Railing Installations

By Andrew Chatfield
August 1, 2016

PanelGrip dry glaze structural railing system with lighted railing from The Wagner Cos., wagnercompanies.com, panelgrip.com.

Identifying the most sensible code to follow for any given glass railing project requires taking into consideration optimal safety, liability, costs and a host of other factors. Adding to the complication are recent modifications to the International Building Code, which changed certain requirements for glass railings and impacted local code adaptations. Codes and compliance are a complex matter, and determining which code to follow can present challenges for any glazier or installer.

Here are key considerations for every glazier and installer to keep top of mind, and steps to select the right code.

Ensure the specified code meets specific project criteria

For installation, profitability depends on getting in and out of the job as quickly as possible. It can be easy to look at specifications and the applicable codes for glass railing systems without understanding or questioning code specification.

In reality, with so many local variations of the model codes, it’s difficult even for architects/specifiers to stay on top of them all. Doing so requires constant education, reaffirmation and a deeper appreciation of what should actually be looked at for the specific job.

Architects may pull from their own local codes or use central resources/codes as a reference when specifying. However, localized factors, such as geography, topography, building design and building use, ought to be considered to ensure the product performs as needed.

To ensure a project meets the right guidelines, it’s important to remember model codes are measuring sticks that are adapted and modified locally, and may not be regionally, locally or project specific.

Understand key factors in determining the right code

There isn’t a single approach to following the right code and ensuring code compliance. So what is the right code? That answer depends on a host of factors that each has to be carefully vetted. There are, however, overarching factors of which every glazier and installer should be aware.

  1. Life/safety. Keeping the end user in mind should always be a primary consideration. A building code is a minimum safety standard, and therefore, depending on the specific project, there may be value in heightened safety measures beyond what the building code requires. The key question is “what is the product being asked to perform against?”
  2. Local standards and requirements. Geographical or topographical differences may necessitate highly stringent codes, such as the Los Angeles County Building Code or Miami-Dade Building Code. However, be aware that these localized and geography-sensitive codes are often referenced in geographic locations with dissimilar stringency requirements.
  3. Liability. A glass railing system not properly specified or installed may result in a huge liability in terms of life-safety and cost should an accident occur. If an inspector determines an installation doesn’t meet applicable codes, the installer will be required to make repairs or improvements at the installer’s expense.

Leverage the experts and authorities to ensure compliance

Glaziers and metal fabricators need to understand which code to follow based upon the specific application of their 2016 project and local standards. Below are a few basic steps to follow to ensure the right code is met.

  1. Turn to a trusted supplier. Before turning to the authority having jurisdiction, be prepared and turn to the experts in railings first. A good supplier can provide guidance in terms of what’s needed in order to meet the requirements of a specific project. When glaziers and installers work directly with suppliers, they can bring a clear assessment of building use, application, geographical concerns, and all that affects the specified glass railing system and installation, to their meeting with the local AHJ.
  2. Consult with the local AHJ. The local AHJ can confirm local requirements and interpretations. Building codes and standards register hundreds of pages across a range of building requirements. They can change and be constantly updated. Even for those most intricately involved in the local codes, it’s a lot to follow. Don’t take any risks.
  3. Use the supplier as a guide for good installation techniques. It’s not only about following the right code. When it comes to meeting the code and protecting against liability, proper specification and installation are critical. A good supplier can help meet specification for any glass railing system and work with glaziers and installers to come up with a solution that meets project needs whether custom or off-the-shelf.

Code compliance is complex, and the requirements, standards and codes that apply vary project-to-project. While there isn’t a simple book to follow, there are experts in the field who can help determine how to meet local requirements while balancing profitability.

Chatfield is director of architectural glass systems for The Wagner Cos. Contact him at 414/214-8389.