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With modular solutions that increase efficiency and reduce carbon footprint, contemporary balustrade design is at the forefront of modern methods of construction. Peter Melia, National Sales Manager at neaco, explains the benefits of modular systems and the key considerations involved in the design process.

Increasing site efficiency and safety whilst reducing environmental impact are the key objectives of modern methods of construction. They are primarily achieved by completing as much construction activity as possible off-site; with components already finished at the factory stage and quickly assembled on delivery, modular balustrade systems are ideal for that purpose.  Site impact is significantly lower than ‘hot works’ construction and factory conditions enable better risk management whilst eliminating delays caused by external factors. A factory environment also enables better quality control and waste management – for a full explanation of these benefits, please visit our Members Area and download our guide to the benefits of modular building. In addition, below are some of the performance and materials considerations involved in choosing a suitable balustrade system – if you would like to find out more please contact one of our products specialists.

 

MEETING PERFORMANCE DEMANDS

 

As well as improved environmental performance, the uniform quality of modular balustrade provides reliable performance in meeting Building Regulations. When choosing suppliers, it is important to check that their systems are manufactured in accordance with BS6180: 2011 which provides a comprehensive guide to the design, structure, height and strength of barriers. Balustrade must offer suitable horizontal load-bearing capability for its particular environment. For example, in areas where people congregate without crowding, such as a stairs or corridors, it should bear uniformly distributed line load of up to 0.74kN/m, whereas restaurants, retail/public areas not subject to overcrowding and pedestrian areas in car parks require a load-bearing capability of up to 1.5kN/m.

 

 

CHOOSING MATERIALS – ALUMINIUM

 

 

Popular choices of material for high-aesthetic handrail and balustrade are aluminium, timber, stainless steel and toughened glass. Aluminium has a number of natural advantages: it is lightweight yet durable, non-toxic, non-combustible and with time generates a protective oxide film coating with excellent resistance to corrosion. It is also 100 per cent recyclable, with no downgrading of its properties and very little energy required for re-melting, and has the ability to accept different surface finishes such as anodising and powder coating, thereby providing aesthetic versatility with RAL or metallic colours. Powder coating offers a maintenance-free, non-chip finish which is smooth, safe and warm to the touch. In extreme conditions, external metal handrails can become extremely cold and uncomfortable to the touch (BS 6300 recommends that handrails should not be cold or hot to the touch) and the low thermal conductivity of powder coating addresses this problem.

 

 

CHOOSING MATERIALS – TIMBER

 

The natural beauty of timber is an attractive aesthetic option, but a number of disadvantages are worth considering: ongoing treatment is required to maintain its appearance, prevent absorption of bacteria and control infection. Advances in powder coating mean that aluminium can now be finished with the detailed appearance of natural wood grain, providing the traditional aesthetic of timber without its drawbacks.

 

 

CHOOSING MATERIALS – STAINLESS STEEL

 

Stainless steel also provides high-class appearance and, compared to timber, its aesthetic virtues are less compromised by practical disadvantages. It is extremely hard wearing with no ongoing maintenance required to maintain its visual quality. Different grades suit different environments – for example, typically Grade 316 for external use and Grade 304 for dry internal use.

 

 

 

 

CHOOSING MATERIALS – STRUCTURAL GLASS

With no supporting uprights, structural glass is an ideal balustrade solution for maximum visibility and a minimalist aesthetic. To meet performance requirements free-standing structural glass must toughened in accordance with BS EN 1991-1-1:2002  – the stronger systems on the market will offer load bearing capability of up to 1.5kN. A factory heatsoaking process can accelerate crystallisation, reducing the risk of potential breakages when the glass is in situ.

 

 

 

HELP IS AT HAND

 

Though the process can be complex, architects shouldn’t feel intimated by balustrade design.  With established expertise, services and procedures to back its products, a good balustrade supplier can provide technical support to help guide the design journey and a team of installers to ensure that a concept is realised with 100 per cent accuracy.