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What Is The Best Type Of Glass To Use For Glass Balustrades?

Glass balustrades are a very popular feature of modern architecture and interior design, providing aesthetic value, increased natural light and enhanced safety. A common question that customers have about glass balustrades is whether to use toughened glass or laminated glass. Here’s what you need to know.  

Glass architectural features are made from two main types of glass: toughened glass and laminated glass. It is often assumed that these are two different terms for the same product, but this is not the case. They are both stronger and more shatter resistant than standard glass, but they have different purposes. 

Toughened glass, sometimes called tempered glass, is subjected to intense heat followed by rapid cooling during the manufacturing process. This creates a very strong outer layer that can withstand heavy impacts and is also fire resistant. If the glass does break, in shatters into small blunt pieces rather than sharp shards, minimising the risk of injury,

The purpose of this toughening process is to ensure that the glass is safe and durable enough to use in architectural design features such as glass balustrades. Laminated glass is not subject to thermal toughening processes, so technically it is not as strong as toughened glass. 

However, laminated glass has a PVB interlayer between two panes of glass, which is designed to hold the panes together if they should break. The layers of glass also add thickness and extra strength to the laminated glass, providing insulation and extra protection against damage. Laminated glass is heavier and more expensive than toughened glass.

When deciding which glass to use for a balustrade, first and foremost it should comply with the UK building regulations so refer to these first. For example, if the balustrade is protecting a high balcony or mezzanine floor, laminated glass may be stipulated because it doesn’t crumble on impact, and the safety barrier stays in place.This minimises the risk of falls.

Furthermore, because laminated glass is designed to remain in place on impact, it helps to maintain the structural integrity of the building. Another consideration is that the UVB interlayer provides UV protection, which is an advantage if you want to minimise fading of furniture and other interior design features.

Toughened glass is generally cheaper than laminated glass, and can be thinner and more lightweight, which may be a consideration when choosing glass for the interior of your home. It is also tougher than laminated glass, because it needs a lot more force to break it. 

Ultimately, which glass to use depends on your budget, the location of the balustrade and your safety concerns; and whether a specific type of glass is specified in the planning or building regulations. Both types of glass are subject to stringent safety controls and tests, and you should always check they carry the relevant safety kitemarks.

A further point to consider is whether you want framed or frameless glass balustrades. Framed balustrades are a more traditional type of design that can be incorporated with metal or wooden posts and handrails. This might be a consideration if you want to increase the visibility of the balustrade and provide support for people to lean on.  

Handrails may be a requirement if the balustrade protects a fall greater than six metres and you use toughened glass rather than safety glass. Framed glass balustrades fit in well with more traditional properties, providing a pleasing blend of the old and new. 

Frameless glass balustrades offer a more seamless and contemporary look for indoor or outdoor settings. They offer a completely unobstructed view, supported by deep U channels rather than post and rails. Some frameless installations may require glass that is both toughened and laminated for optimum safety, which will add to the thickness and cost. 

Finally, consider any decorative features you want incorporated into the glass, such as colours, textures, designs and so on. Both options can be supplied with design features, although you will need to confirm these with the supplier and there may be differences or limitations between the two types of glass. 

Whichever type of glass you use, always remember that the installation must comply with the UK Building Regulations and the British European Safety Standards with regard to impact load, width, and minimum thickness of the glass.

The safety and durability of the balustrades also depends on the quality of the installation. Unless you have particular experience in this area, it’s recommended to use the supplier’s installation team or other approved tradespeople to ensure that the work is carried out correctly and safely.

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