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Sunday, September 10, 2017

How to Choose a Child Safe Balcony Railing That Gives Peace of Mind

In 2015, little three-year-old Freddie Coulton from East Sussex, UK slipped between the balusters on a balcony railing and fell ten feet. The poor boy landed on carpeting in the historic Lewes Town Hall, and thankfully (and miraculously!) walked away with little more than a few bruises.

It doesn't always end that happily. In the U.S., roughly 140 deaths from falls occur annually in children younger than 15 years old. Another 3 million require emergency treatment from fall-related injuries. Fortunately, modern building codes are mandating railings be built with child safety in mind. There are also railing options that eliminate the risk of entrapment between railing balusters. But balusters aren’t the only consideration when it comes to kids and railings. There are also environmental and even lighting factors to take into account when choosing a child-safe balcony railing.

Preventing Falls with Modern Building Codes

Because of the danger of railings coming loose or allowing children to slip between or get stuck between balusters, railing systems manufactured and installed today must be up to code. Specifically, they must follow the International Residential Code (IRC) or International Building Code (IBC) respectively, depending on the exact criteria of the home. This means that any product you buy today meets quality requirements and is safe for children. The responsibility of proper installation--by following the manufacturer’s instructions and using proper hardware--falls on whoever installs the product, be it a contractor or yourself.

Modern building codes require that all the spacing of components on decks and balconies, like balusters and posts, be small enough to prevent even a very small child from getting their head between the balusters. It also requires that railings maintain a minimum level of strength and height to reduce the risk of falling.

Proper Baluster Spacing for a Child Safe Balcony Railing

If baluster spacing is still a concern, there are railing system options that simply don't have balusters. Full panel glass railings use a sheet of glass fastened to posts with either very little or no spacing between the glass and the post, depending on the design. This creates less space for children to stick arms, legs, or objects through.

Glass railings are made of tempered glass, which is much stronger than regular glass and can be hit with a blunt object without cracking. One thing to keep in mind about glass is that while these railings are easy to clean, they’re also pretty easy to smudge and get dirty. This is especially true when you have small children. The good news is that cleaning glass railings is usually as simple as wiping them down with a soap-and-water or vinegar solution. If you use the vinegar solution, be careful to not get the vinegar on exposed aluminum, cast iron, or waxed surfaces. The metals may react chemically, and vinegar may strip the wax. Hardware and home improvement stores both carry outdoor glass cleaners that come in a bottle designed to attach to your hose. If you choose one of these products, it simply involves turning on your hose and spraying the glass down.

Illumination and Safety

Let’s not forget about lighting! Sufficient lighting is key to make sure your home and balcony are safe. For many people lighting is an afterthought, yet poor lighting contributes to over 18,000 deaths in U.S. homes every year.

Lighting for stairs, balconies, and decks must also be up to code. You as the homeowner can even be liable if guests are hurt on your property due to poor lighting. Stairs and decks with access to grade (i.e. stairs or another area that is not level) are both required to be lit.

Residential lighting codes also require that at least 75% of all the bulbs and permanent lighting fixtures in your home be high efficiency. Examples of high-efficiency lighting are Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CLF) and LED lighting. Some railing manufacturers produce high-efficiency LED lighting options for your railing system, like LED railing post lights or baluster light fixtures, that meet energy efficiency and lighting regulations.

Other Railing Systems

As we noted earlier, modern railing systems made and installed in the United States must follow the IRC or IBC, so they’re safe for you and your family. However, horizontal railing styles can be dangerous to children because of the ‘ladder effect.’ To prevent children from climbing and falling over railings, avoid horizontal-style cable railings.

  • Vertical cable railings use taught stainless steel wires in lieu of traditional balusters. The cables are unpainted, polished stainless steel so there’s no possibility for your child to be exposed to toxins in paint. They are very simple and easy to clean and require minimal time and effort to do so. This style of railing is highly recommended for children.
  • Steel can be a great choice for children as well, depending on the quality of the finish. Paint should be non-toxic and will need to be touched up and monitored for chipping, but high-quality finishes, like powder coat, are non-toxic, inert, and extremely unlikely to chip or rust.
  • Aluminum is also strong, non-toxic, and does not rust. Like steel, it can be purchased with a powder paint coating that has a very long life and is inert and non-toxic.
  • Vinyl is a good choice as well, as it’s easy to wipe down if children get it dirty. One downside is that vinyl is subject to mildew, which can be bad for your health. This is simple to clean off but will require regular inspection.
  • Wood is beautiful to look at but can be very high-maintenance. You should regularly look over your wooden railings to ensure there is no rotting, damage from insects, chipping paint, or splinters. Neglecting wooden railings could result in cracking or rotting, which can leave railings dangerously weak. Unpainted wood railings can also be difficult to clean, while painted railings may present toxic hazards from the paint.

There are many balcony railing options to choose from that are both visually stunning and safe for children. If you feel that your home could use a safe and attractive new railing system, take a look at our gallery of railing products by Fortress Building Products. Every one of our products adheres to code standards and has undergone rigorous testing. Contact us through our website for more information. We also offer innovative and durable decking, fencing, and a variety of lumber fasteners and anchors at


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