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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Choosing and Installing Outdoor Railings for Stone Steps

When I was younger, I used to pretend that I lived in a castle. If I’m being honest, I sometimes even daydream about it as an adult. Castles are the home of royalty and riches, after all, and what better place to keep it all safe than a towering structure made of stone? That’s probably why I like working with stone so much. Whether it’s for a fireplace, flooring, or outdoor steps, it adds a little bit of old-world class to a space.

But I also just love the look of stone. It has a rustic feel to it that softens the transition from the indoors to the outdoors. Bluestone may be the stone of choice for landscapers and contractors, but stone can come in a variety of shades and types. Because stone is a unique material, it doesn’t always go with all railing styles and needs special care when it comes to installation. That’s why when choosing an outdoor railing for your stone steps, you want to make sure you know the options for installing it, as well as the style of railing that’ll make it look its best.

Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing Outdoor Railings for Stone Steps

While there are always things to think about when you’re installing a stair railing on any material, stone steps have properties that require a little more attention. Stone can be a bit more expensive than some other materials, and like most expensive things, tends to be more fragile. That’s one of the things you’ll want to think about when you choose a railing, as well as:

  • Style: Stone in all colors and kinds has an aesthetic that looks great with lots of different styles of railings, but can clash with others. From a design standpoint, rough stone works best with a simple stair railing system with little to no ornamentation, like aluminum or steel, while smooth stone can take a more ornamented railing system, like curved or twisted balusters.
  • Installation: Like installing a railing on a concrete porch, installing a railing in stone requires some know-how and caution. With stone, you often need to drill into the stone and fill in around the screw to secure the posts. And if the drilling is not done correctly, the stone can crack.
  • Safety: One major concern when installing a railing on stone steps is safety. If you’ve ever walked on smooth stone after it’s rained, you know how slippery it can be. That’s why it’s important to have a railing with a good sturdy top rail that can be gripped easily, such as powder coated steel or narrow wood. Railing systems without a top rail, like some types of glass railing, may not provide enough of a handhold and could be dangerous.

The Best Materials to Complement Your Stone Steps

Choosing a railing for your stone steps is like choosing what shoes to wear with your outfit. If your shoes don’t go with your clothes, the whole look is ruined. That’s why it’s important to carefully consider the look you’re going for when choosing a railing for stone, especially when it’s in a major focal point of your outdoor space like the stairs. The following three material types are my choices for stone steps:

  • Aluminum railings: Aluminum railings are a good match for stone steps because they’re strong, provide a safe grip, and often come in simple, sleek styles that go well with stone. They are also one of the more affordable railing systems, which can be a way to offset the extra cost that often comes with stone steps.
  • Steel railings: A steel stair railing is a great way to accent stone steps. Dark powder-coated metal balusters add architectural dimension to the soft neutral tones of most stones. Steel railings have a more polished, clean, and expensive look than vinyl or wood, which can help pull together the look. When it comes to installation, some manufacturers even make steel railings with adjustable panels that can be attached with brackets to any type of railing post, including stone. So if you’re not an expert on how to install railings on stairs, you railings will still come out looking great, with everything at the right angle.
  • Glass railings: A really edgy stair railing style uses glass panels or balusters. These “invisible” railings are a great way to allow the stone to stand out and provide contrast between the two materials. As long as there is a top railing along the glass for safety, panel style or individual glass balusters are a truly unique way to complement stone steps.

Methods for Installing Your Railing on Stone

Almost as important as the type of material you choose for your stair railing is how you install it. Stone has is both strong and brittle, which means that a special kind of drill called a rotary hammer drill is needed to bore a hole through it without cracking it. These are the two most common methods of attaching a stair railing, and the special steps you’ll need to take for stone.

  • Fascia installation: When attaching a railing system to the side of stone stairs, it’s important that the face plate attaching to the stone is wide enough to distribute the load applied to the railing. Otherwise, the pressure applied might be concentrated enough to crack the stone or loosen the railing. After drilling the bolt holes and fastening the bolts from the railing to the stone, the space around the bolt should be filled with a quick setting epoxy cement and cured.
  • Surface installation: Installing a stair railing to the face of the stone requires boring holes to anchor the posts. If there are concrete steps below the stone, it’s important to bore down into the concrete to get a more secure attachment. This must be done carefully to avoid cracking the stone steps in the process. After the hole is bored and the bolt put in, the space around the bolt needs to be filled with epoxy just like in the fascia installation.

Gliding down a set of stone stairs feels like entering another world where life was grander. Even if kings and queens didn’t descend those stone steps, they still make your home feel regal. That’s perhaps why stone steps add so much character to an outdoor space. But, since stone can be treacherous to walk on, you can’t skip the railing. And when it comes to stone, not just any railing will do.

On my projects, I like using the metal railing systems from Fortress Building Products. Having variety to choose from is really important when you’re working on different types of homes, and Fortress® has materials, finishes, and styles to match all sorts of stairways, including steel railings with a fancy multi-layer coating system that keeps them from rusting or wearing. And if you’re adding railings to your stairs, you might be working on some other projects as well. In that case, definitely take a look at all the products Fortress offers, including composite decking, fencing, and ornamental hardware--all of it stylish and way more durable than other brands. With a few Fortress items, you can make over not just your stair railings, but your whole deck and yard.


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