As kids, we all slid down the banister. Some of us still enjoy it as adults. Of course it’s a little harder once you’re grown up, because a part of you is worried about the railing holding your weight. In reality, your sense of balance is probably a bigger challenge than your numbers on the scale. After all, railings are built to withstand the mass of someone falling across them – which is why people fall down stairs and over banisters rather than through them.
Apart from aesthetic value, a railing requires a smooth finish. This isn’t just so you can slide down it, though that does help. The finish prevents accidental injury, if the bannister scrapes your skin or snags your clothes. It also helps if it’s easy to clean, because nobody wants to scrub a staircase railing. People touch it all the time, so if you could get away with wiping it down once or twice a day, that would be great.
Safety before beauty
The choice of railing often matches the material used to make the stairs themselves. This helps to create a uniform style and theme. It also ensures the wear and tear is parallel. It would be strange if your railing looked brand new while your steps were worn down. Using the same material for both reduces this likelihood.
The main function of your railing is safety. So make sure the gaps are too small for a child’s head to get stuck. The material should be sturdy and carefully installed. They need routine inspection to be sure they’re still securely latched. Let’s look at some viable options.
The classic beauty of iron railings is somewhat nostalgic. It’s usually pitch black and can be oiled to a glisten, though some builders prefer to paint it. It holds colour quite well. It can be powder coated to prevent rust and corrosion, especially in seaside regions. Wrought iron railings can be coiled and twisted into beautiful patterns.
They’re generally thinner than other kinds of railing, so extra attention needs to be paid to gapping. Wrought iron gathers a lot of dust but doesn’t need much maintenance beyond wiping and occasional oiling. It’s likely to get less grimy than other types of railings, because it’s cold to the touch, which discourages lingering palms.
Many home owners are wary of wood because it needs careful attention. It’s a safe choice for railings though, because they won’t experience much wear. Wood gives you lots of styling options. You can carve intricate patterns and motifs, paint it in interesting colours, varnish it to retain its natural shade, or stain it as desired.
Indoor wood railings don’t need much attention, but if your staircase is outdoors, your wood will need extra treatment. It will require protective coating against rain damage, insect attacks, and sunlight. Whether the rails are indoors or external, they must be sanded smooth to prevent splinter injuries.
When this material is used for railings, the pipes are often hollowed out to make them lighter (and cheaper). They work well outdoors, where their glint catches the sun. Stainless steel is naturally resistant to ultraviolet rays, rain, salt, and sand. It doesn’t rust or corrode, though it easily shows fingerprints and water marks.
A lot of people would rather paint stainless steel railings when they’re used indoors, because the metallic shade may seem out of place against the backdrop of your colour scheme. Still, if you’re using glass balustrades in your stairway, or if your house has embraced the industrial look, the silvery steel works perfect.
Hollow steel doesn’t weigh much, but if kilos are your main concern, you can opt for something even lighter, like fibreglass, aluminium, or PVC. Their (lack of) weight can be worrying, so work with your builder to make sure their construction and installation is sturdy. They offer wide options for style and colour, so they could be the easiest aesthetic.
Their variety in terms of design makes them a good way to embellish your outdoor staircase. Plus, they’re not adversely affected by sun, wind, or rain. They’re the cheapest option in terms of railings, so you might be worried they’ll lower your status if you use them indoors. At the other extreme, you could get natural stone railings. They’re heavy, and expensive.
Marble, limestone, and sandstone are all pretty choices. However, the railings would have to be carefully counterbalanced because of their density. They also have a likelihood of cracking and chipping if they’re not well maintained. Outdoor stones can be sealed to reduce porosity.