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A Look at Railing Materials

by avcongrm

img_1496A building without some form of guardrail or handrail is almost non-existent. The railing can barely be noticeable or it may be a major architectural statement. The purpose of railing however, extends far beyond just being cosmetic; it is a life safety issue. Can you imagine yourself several stories in the air on a walkway or relaxing on a balcony without the protection offered by a railing system? Aside from the safety that a properly engineered system infers, a well-designed railing will enhance your property’s value. However, if allowed to deteriorate, it will have the opposite effect. Because railing is such a necessity, and often so visible, it is important that anyone considering which type of railing to use becomes familiar with the different materials traditionally used to fabricate railing systems. Each will have pros and cons. The areas that must be considered when selecting which type of railing system to specify can be grouped in the following categories:
  • Style and Ascetics
  • Strength and Durability
  • Cost and Maintenance
Style is subjective and highly personal. Most systems are offered in several styles in order to accommodate varying design intents. We will assume that you’ll purchase a railing system that adds to the building aesthetics. The same is true in the area of strength. Any system specified must meet stringent building code requirements. You should always choose a railing system that exceeds those code requirements. Be cautious. Some rail systems claim to meet code but have not been tested by an independent and certified accredited testing facility. Additional concerns emerge when cheaper materials are used that may meet code for a short time when originally installed. However, as soon as time and the elements go to work, the materials lose that safety factor. Be concerned too, about a style that looks good, only to become an eyesore when the same corrosive and otherwise damaging exterior elements start taking their toll. As is common with many products, most rail systems come in a good, better and best grade. Be astute in this area. The rail system that reduces maintenance and lasts longer will end up being less expensive than the one that requires costly and continuing upkeep to look attractive and preserve safety. Railing is a necessity but it’s also a commodity. It’s everywhere and often goes unnoticed unless it’s missing or has failed. There are multiple styles, types and materials available. The materials most commonly used to manufacture railing are:
  • Wood
  • Iron/Steel
  • Aluminum
  • Plastics/Vinyl
Wood: Wood can look good and be strong, for a time. Depending on the wood selected, it can have low upfront costs, but long term maintenance and replacement costs need to be factored. Proper design will meet code. You should remember that with time, maintenance and insect infestation would occur. Both will happen and will prove to be expensive. Certain climates, especially coastal communities, are very destructive to most types of wood and therefore not the best choice. Wrought Iron/Steel: The same is true with wrought iron and steel, both of which are widely used in the railing industry. Each can be strong, attractive and designed to be as decorative as your budget will allow. The negatives to metal are mainly in the areas of rust. With rust comes a loss of strength and a deterioration of appearance. Care must be given to the quality of the particular product and its finish. Getting what you pay for is true in this industry as well as others. Large sums of money can be invested in galvanizing and paint systems to prolong and protect the system. However, an eventuality that cannot be escaped is that in time expensive maintenance and replacement will occur. Did you know… Rust will begin to occur after only 4 days once a metal railing system is exposed to the elements? Aluminum: Aluminum doesn’t rust like steel or iron, but it most definitely corrodes if the system isn’t coated and protected properly. It can be a cost effective, low maintenance solution when carefully selected. Understanding the finish grades being offered is key to long term low maintenance. Asking how the system will be finished (powder coat or wet paint) and the grade, warranty and life expectancy of the finish will save you money on refinishing and maintenance in the long run. Thermoplastic/Vinyl: Plastics have come a long way since first inception into the building industry. Depending on the resins and processes used, today’s plastics are resistant to UV radiation, salt spray corrosion and atmospheric changes making it a cost effective, low or no maintenance alternative. Properly formulated thermoplastic railing should not be confused with PVC plumbing pipe. PVC plumbing pipe is a great product for running water through but as we all know, it cannot meet the needs of a UV radiation resistant, structural railing system. Thermoplastic can be formulated in just about any color and does not have the same fading and chipping problems of paint, simply because there is no paint or finish to reapply; but like metal railing there are designs that should be avoided, such as any system that has glued seams or fittings. These types of systems allow water to freely enter the railing and in turn the structure it is attached to. You want to also look for a railing system that is fully reinforced and carries proof of code compliance. Whichever railing material type you ultimately choose, do some homework first and educate yourself on the manufacturing processes and warranties being provided. Ask questions that relate to water infiltration, such as weep holes and fasteners used. Understand the performance of the finish and how it relates to your area of the country. These questions will help guide you to the right decision for your project and offer the best solution for years to come. For more information about Advanced Products’ railing systems, click here.

When is Fence a Railing and Railing a Fence?

by avcongrm

what is the difference between a railing and a fence A recent conversation went as follows: Client: “Hi, we have a pool in our complex that doesn’t have a fence around it. We thought about erecting a block wall but decided that this would be overkill, so can you give us information on a fence?” Advanced Products: “Absolutely. We are a railing manufacturer but can also supply fence if needed.” Client: “Yes, that’s what I need, a fence, you know, a railing around the pool”. This necessitated a more detailed explanation of the difference between “fencing” and “railing”. Most people have little reason to consider those differences and in truth, there are areas, the so-called “gray area”, where both can accomplish the same purpose. To best understand where the two products are not compatible requires a brief review of the purpose for each. An analogy to an industry we all know may help. Let’s look at transportation for a moment. Transportation in our mobile society is a necessity. For your own protection and assurance of always safely arriving at a given destination, would you consider a military tank as your primary means of travel? Hardly! Our automobiles perform that task very nicely, and a tank would be massive overkill, yet both offer a means of transportation. This may be an over exaggeration of the issue, yet it drives home the point. A tank is designed for different purposes than a car. As we are all aware of the purpose of a tank versus a car, this knowledge allows us the ability to logically decide where and when one would be used in place of the other. Knowledge of the design criteria of fencing and railing can allow us the same ability. This is very important if you are sharing in a decision to buy a fence or guard railing for your project. By necessity and for our benefit, safety and building codes have been established to control the use and application of products within the buildings we occupy. Few would question the fact that these codes have greatly improved the quality, comfort and safety of our homes, offices, commercial and public buildings. Practicality dictates when these codes are established. An entry door, for example, is engineered to resist unwanted access by intruders. It must also keep the elements of rain, wind, heat and cold from easily entering. Would you expect the same criteria for the doors that close off interior closets and other rooms? Typically, no! Herein lies the point between the proper use and specification of railing or fencing. Never would you consent to fencing on your balcony and it would be unnecessary to invest in guardrail to close in your yard or playground. Fencing, regardless of style or the material it is made from, typically is used to restrict access to an area, such as a pool. It can be used as a barrier or simply for privacy-or both. Railing, on the other hand, is required to meet additional engineering and design criteria. The strength of a product at ground level where access, not strength, is the main requirement is considerably different than where falling would be extremely detrimental to your well-being and possibly your life. Throughout most of the country, a simultaneous vertical loading of 200 pounds per linear foot and horizontal uniform loading of 100 pounds per linear foot has been established as a minimum requirement for a product to be used as railing. Fencing, however, does not need to meet any of these values. Consideration needs to be given also to the rails’ ability to maintain those code requirements over time as the effects of the elements begin to work on it, to say nothing of the cosmetic appearance of the product. When designing a Railing System, these points and more are considered: 
  • Meeting mandated engineering/design criteria of local, state and national building codes such as:
    • Spacing maximums between independent members
    • The handrail “grasp ability” for ADA compliance
    • The connection and mounting pull out values
  • Will the acidity of a salt laden atmosphere negate the load values of the original system?
  • Deflection
  • Water infiltration
  • Reduction in strength due to rust, oxidation or other corrosion, electrolysis
  • Degradation caused by ultra violet sunlight
Fencing has no such stringent restrictions when being designed. Fencing must only exist and meet your appearance requirements. So when seriously evaluating your needs, consider closely whether a fence product or a true railing system is appropriate. You should do the research necessary to ensure that you receive the full benefits of the boundless technological advancements that have occurred in the past two decades. Educate yourself on which materials offer all the requirements and assurances necessary, while taking into consideration the long term advantages and disadvantages of each material type. Bottom line: Get the best value and the product you need. For more information about Advanced Products’ railing systems, click here.

Making an Informed Choice

by avcongrm

Belmar8 Would you agree that we live in a litigious society? Without any consideration to the merits of any particular “lawsuit”, would you not agree that the possibilities of being sued are ever present? This is true individually but more so if you manage a business or have some responsibility in choosing what products are used. Whether building a new structure or upgrading an existing one, Building Codes have been created for the purpose of protecting occupants and users of the structure. When an incident occurs, one of the first things considered is the applicable Building Code(s) to determine if any violations exist, which may have contributed to the incident. Is just meeting a particular code enough? It is a devastating fact that often, the goal is not to improve safety, but to find basis for litigation. There are several authorities that have contributed to creating a National Building Code. This is a positive development. Architects, Contractors and Manufacturers must be familiar with the codes in each market where they operate, design or sell their products. Many manufacturers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with certified testing facilities to show their products meet and / or surpass code requirements. Many require a safety factor several times code. While this article is not a technical guide on building codes or couldn’t possibly address every product that could be used, it is intended to promote questions that could apply to most products. Simply put – is claiming to be “Code Compliant” enough? We will focus on one building product that is often overlooked, however this could apply to almost any product or material. When your safety is concerned, or that of your occupants, the astute specifier or owner will not skimp on research. One of the most liability-prone products is the railing used on the ramps, walkways, porches, balconies, roof top perimeters, boardwalks, and stairs. Railing is so familiar and commonly needed, it is often given little attention. Unfortunately, this approach may mean missing the technological advances and updated products available in the railing industry. More attention needs to be focused on the factors needed to insure that a railing system will continue to meet the design code or strength once installed.
  • Will the system retain sufficient margins of safety once the influence of use, abuse, the environment and weather take their toll? Keep in mind that testing is done in a controlled environment.
  • How do you insure that proper installation and fastening will maintain the same safety margins?
There are various types of materials used to manufacture railing. Depending on the intended use, railing is made from wood, steel, aluminum, plastics, glass, etc. and a variation or combination of these. Not all are appropriate for every type of structure. With the internet, there is a wealth of easily available information on the pros and cons of each. Speaking to your local distributor or manufacturer can help, but may not be sufficient. Things to consider:
  • Does your source handle or make just one or two types of railing?
  • Will they attempt to steer you to their own, even when a system more appropriate may be available?
  • Not all rail is created equal. As with most products, there is often a good, better, or best grade in each category. Is your source knowledgeably concerning the benefits of various paints, power coatings, metals, plastics, gauges and qualities of both metals and thermoplastics? What experience do they have with each?
Knowing the answers are incumbent on making the most appropriate decisions. Let’s look at some questions which should be asked. Many are common to each. For example, most railing systems are made in a residential and commercial grade. Quality is always important and must be balanced between need, value and cost. You would not want to use a residential strength system on a high rise or multi-story building or a heavily used area subject to large crowds or abuse. Beyond certified testing showing code compliance, here are some important questions to ask;
  1. Aluminum. What gauge? Welded or mechanical? Painted or Powder Coated? What pre-treatment is used to insure adhesion of the finish? Can this material withstand the effects of a coastal salt laden environment? Is the system a boxed program, designed to be field trimmed and fabricated, or is it made to fit my building? What danger is there that if not properly field assembled, the system will maintain its strength and therefore, code compliance?
  2. Thermoplastics. Plastics are “recipes” or formulas. What type of plastic? Is it PVC, ASA, HDPE? Can I use the same PVC residential deck railing on a commercial structure? Is the railing reinforced for strength? Do the issues common to some plastics, that of fading, brittleness, lack of colors, etc., apply to all type of plastics? Why would one use a “plastic” system in a highly corrosive of abusive application?
  3. Steel. What grade and gauge of steel? What about the finish and potential for rust? Is the system welded or mechanical?
The aforementioned are but a few of the generic/basic questions. Each project will have its own idiosyncrasies. Also important to know; is the manufacturer confident enough in his product to offer a warranty? As with all warranties, the devil is in the details, so be sure to read the fine print. Of course, having a uniform building code is important and beneficial. While knowing the details is not guaranteed against potential lawsuits, it can mitigate the risk. For this reason and your own satisfaction, it is necessary to consider these factors before, during, and even after a product is chosen and installed.

Powder Coating vs. Wet Paint

by avcongrm

powder coating vs. wet paint “I love your aluminum railings, but I am curious as to why a “wet paint” finish is not available and you only offer your aluminum railings Powder Coated?” ― a question that we have heard countless times over the years and will continue to hear for many years to come. First, let’s state for the record, we do not believe there is anything wrong with a wet paint finish for railings, we simply believe that a Powder Coated Finish is better. This belief is based upon Powder Coating’s: Performance Standards, as set forth by AAMA, that it’s a Green/LEED environmentally friendly option when compared to wet paint and its reputation for hardness and durability, particularly when Powder Coating comes in direct contact with the public, which railings most certainly do. Before addressing these benefits in more detail, let’s take a look at the most common reasons why we are being asked for a “wet paint” finish?
  1. Number one, it’s what everyone knows ― as wet paint is what we grew up with. In our younger years, we went to the local hardware store and bought a bucket of paint. We did not purchase a bag or a drum of powder!
  2. Second, the wet paint manufacturers have done an admirable job, making it easy to specify their products ― there are color wheels everywhere.
  3. Third, certain exterior building components, window-curtain wall systems, and metal building facades are provided in a “wet paint” finish and the designer is looking for the railings to match.
How does powder coating address these items? Educating oneself on powder coating is quite simple in today’s world. The Powder Coating manufacturers have done an outstanding job in now making their products easy to specify, including the availability of color charts. Powder Coating is available in scores of readily available colors and color matches, and when necessary, are rather quick and simple. Now, let’s delve a bit more into the benefits of Powder Coating. Most individuals in building construction are familiar with the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA), which provides the prevailing performance standards for aluminum extrusions. AAMA also provides the specifications for minimum performance criteria in regards to a coating’s chalk resistance, fade resistance, color fastness, color retention, and gloss retention ― we know them as AAMA 2603-02, AAMA 2604-05 and AAMA 2605-05. AAMA-2603-2 has the least demanding criteria, while AAMA 2605-05 requires the most stringent criteria to be met. Our Powder Coating finishes are available to meet any of these standards, allowing the design professional and purchaser to be assured that the railings they receive do indeed meet the project’s needs. “Green”, perhaps too vague of a word, so let’s fine tune the definition to be the rating system, as defined by the U.S. Green Building Council, better known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). All individuals in construction understand how LEED has transformed our industry ― so what makes Powder Coating the better LEED alternative? Powder coatings are made without solvents and do not emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s), while wet coatings are made with solvents and do emit VOC’s. Although some wet coating applicators have managed to overcome the VOC emission challenge, the process does emit carbon, which increases their carbon footprint. The powder coating process offers additional environmental benefits. Powder Coating has less waste than wet paint during the application process and in many instances, the excess powder can be recovered, resulting in an efficient production line. Powder Coatings also require less manufacturing and transportation energy. Powder Coatings have a well deserved reputation for hardness and durability and are often the preferred coating system when the finished product comes in direct contact with the public. In all but a small number of decorative and unique applications, railings certainly do come in contact with the public, whereas the exterior surfaces of windows, curtain walls and building facades most certainly do not. In the most severe use applications, a clear top coat can be added to the powder coating process, further enhancing the railing’s durability. You have gone through the effort of specifying the performance criteria for your railing’s finish. You have made sure the coating provides a Green/LEED friendly alternative. Lastly, you have selected a finish whose hardness and durability will best allow your railings to maintain their look for many years to come. The question has been answered and now you know why we offer our Aluminum Railings solely with a Powder Coated Finish. Resources: Color and Sustainability: Liquid vs. Powder Metal Coatings, by Henry L. Lowman  Advantages of Powder Coating vs. Wet Paint, by Arnold Machine Inc.  Architectural Applications for Liquid and Powder Fluoropolymer Coatings: A Comparative Review, PPG April 2009

It Happened at the Battery

by avcongrm

A True Story by Larry S. Stanley, CEO, Advanced Products, LLC charleston battery It was one of those “gotcha” moments! There I was enjoying a drink after a hard day on the golf course. The local TV network was interviewing the Department Head for the Public Works Department. I still remember his exact comments…. But first let me digress… Picture It: Charleston, South Carolina I was in Charleston, South Carolina. It seems the day before, an 86-year-old woman decided to go fishing at “The Battery,” a world famous area where the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers meet. With the Stately Antebellum style homes overlooking Waterfront Park on one side and historic Fort Sumter out in Charleston Harbor on the other, she leaned up against the guardrail as she prepared to cast her hook into the river. Well, the guardrail didn’t do its job. It was only about a 4- to 5-foot drop to the waters below, so when she found herself joining her bait, fortunately she was not seriously hurt. However, frantic attempts to rescue her by more than one passerby did not work. It became obvious she needed assistance from the bay side. It was being reported that it took the Coast Guard all of 45 minutes to respond. They found a feisty little lady waiting, cold, tired and somewhat bruised but, and as the reporter commented, in seemingly good spirits and, under the circumstances, in relatively good condition – thankfully! “The Moment of Truth” Now, back to my “moment”. The reporter had just asked the question to the Department Head of for the Public Works Department, “What is being done to protect our citizens against the dangerous conditions that are apparent here?” As this was being asked, the camera was panning the long line of seawall railing that reached almost as far as the eye could see. Everywhere, repairs were evident to the deteriorating guardrail and to the concrete the guardrails were mounted into. The answer this beleaguered public servant gave was my unforgettable and forever remembered moment. To appreciate why his answer was so exciting to me, you need to know who we are and what we do. The company I had started just a few years earlier was created to produce and improve on a technology which would provide a structural building material impervious to the ravages that Ultra-violet light, chemical and a salt laden atmosphere’s wreck on exterior exposed products. If you live on the coast and have seen how salt in particular corrodes exposed metals, you would understand this completely. If you by chance were in the railing business, as I had been, you had an added insight in the safety, not just cosmetic, issues this presents. We were in the Railing Business. His comment went like this; “We are actively and frantically researching the country, looking for a railing system impervious to the salt conditions we have here in Charleston. We need a system that will meet our building codes, withstand the salt and stay that way so we do not have to keep finding funds to replace the same railing over and over again!” Making the Connection Let me tell you honestly, I almost laid an egg… and did almost choke on my beer! I was so into what I was hearing that I failed to get his name. I wanted to speak with him and show him – we had the answer! To make a long and tedious story short, in the weeks and months that followed, I made several calls to the local television station just to ask them to reveal his name so I could attempt to contact him. They treated me like I was some “salesman”. Worst yet, a “Yankee” salesman! Truth be known, yes, I did have something to sell and the company is primarily made up of “Yankees”, however I am not one of them. I did get somewhere when I told the receptionist that I too was a fellow “South Carolinian”. (It’s true – I was born just a short distance from Charleston.) Finally, the nice woman told me where to call. At last I was thinking… I had accomplished something, only to again be repeatedly put off by other well-meaning not always so nice ladies attempting to protect their boss. Finally, one of them after speaking to “the man” simply said, “send him a sample and if he likes what he sees, he will get back to you. Needless to say I did…and he did. He was impressed. That gave me the excuse to again visit the area of my birth and family. Thermoplastic Guardrail Still Going Strong Charleston-0157[3]Today, some 20 plus years later, as you walk the expanse bordering those two rivers you will see black, highly structural thermoplastic guardrail. Of course, you will not know it is a special highly technical and proven material. It will just look good. In Charleston there is a special historical pride. Our railing needed to mirror the look of 200 years ago. One of the most powerful agencies in Charleston is the “Preservation Society”. Other than some unsightly bird residue, it looks as good as the day it went in and just as good as in the days of the Civil War. More importantly, it has proven the fact that a railing system does exist that will not succumb to salt, sun and sea. As good as it is, with advancing technology the railing produced today is even better. The only thing I have always regretted is the fact that I was never able to meet and thank that 86-year-old lady for falling in the bay! As the saying goes; “This is a True Story”. For more information about Advanced Products’ railing systems, click here.

Five Questions to Determine if You’re Getting The Best Value For Your Railing Dollar

by advrail

When a Condominium Association, Hotel, Motel, or private owner must repair or replace weathered or deteriorated railing, they are faced with taking action on possibly several thousand linear feet of material. With such quantities of material at issue, price shopping is a logical temptation… and appropriately so. In the final analysis, however, the cheapest railing systems may not be the cheapest or most intelligent alternative. Value trumps cheap. Before selecting a railing system, consider the following questions:
  1. Will the railing system meet all relevant building codes? More importantly, will it maintain its performance standards over time or will it diminish under the pressure of environmental conditions?
Organizations whose developments are in coastal regions should be particularly concerned about the deleterious effects of salt air and water. The structural components of the railing system are compromised very quickly in these climates. Safety must be a top priority.
  1. It the railing system requires maintenance, how much will it cost? How often will it have to be maintained? How long will it take to complete?
If you can answer this question before purchasing, your organization may include itself in a growing number of associations who purchase systems with maintenance-free finish.
  1. Is the railing system’s appearance consistent with the image you wish to present?
Railing systems provide a necessary service, but that does not mean they have to be an eyesore. For architects and designers, railing is often used to complement their aesthetic themes. Consider utilizing a railing’s finish, color, or style to create architectural accents.
  1. Why the fuss about railing?
Despite its proliferation on condominium complexes, hotels, motels, and other structures throughout the country, railing has proven to be one of the most problematic exterior building products. Since most railing is forged from traditional railing materials such as concrete, steel, aluminum, wrought iron, and wood, building and property managers fight a perennial battle against the degenerative effects of weather and time. More often than not, it is a battle that consumes money and rarely restores original appearance or performance. Fortunately, consumer demand for greater value and higher quality has redefined manufacturing objectives and inspired the research and development race, which drives all industries. The building materials industry is no exception. Consumers want products to be stronger, more durable, more attractive, and, with regard to exterior building products, maintenance free. Increasingly, plastic technology is fulfilling this demand.
  1. But why plastic railing??
For decades plastic applications have emerged with thermoplastic technological innovations to shatter preconceived notions of plastics and redefine user expectations. Thermoplastic railing attributes establish a yardstick that is difficult for other materials to match.
  • Maintenance-free.
  • Corrosion resistant.
  • Does not fade, crack, or peel.
  • Complies with all national building codes.
  • Flexible design.
  • Smooth, high-gloss finish.
Do Some Homework: Consider Thermoplastic Railings Walt Disney and other major theme parks, almost every recognizable Hotel chain, Condominiums, Entertainment Coliseums, Sports Stadiums, Public Transportation, and Commercial Facilities are part of the rapidly growing number of buildings that are utilizing thermoplastic railings in areas where safety and control are real concerns. Thermoplastic railing satisfies their expectations for appearance, strength, and safety more completely than any railing product on the market. Once an organization has decided to purchase thermoplastic railing, it should take the time to learn about both the manufacturer’s compound and design details. Ensure yourself that appropriate outdoor compounds are being used, and investigate the methods used by the manufacturer to assemble all the components that make up the “system.” Enlist architectural and engineering professionals to assist in specifying the products and company that can ensure you getting all the benefits thermoplastic railing can offer. Interested in learning more about thermoplastic railings? Click here to learn more about our common railing systems.

Benefits of Aluminum

by advrail

It’s light and strong, beautiful and recyclable. And it won’t cost you a fortune.

It’s strong – Aluminum profiles can be made as strong as needed for most applications. Cold-weather applications are particularly well-served by aluminum because, as temperatures fall, aluminum actually becomes stronger. Read the rest of this entry »