A couple that I’ve done work for in the past have found their dream property. It’s set on a huge two-acre lot next to a lake and is a secluded patch of heaven that they can do anything they want with. The home itself, although large, is less dream-like. With its shag carpeting and Laura Ashley wallpaper, it stopped dreaming somewhere around 1985, and seems to have become a repository for unwanted furnishings more than the weekend retreat it was meant to be.
One of the most noticeable features is the chunky wooden railing indoors and out. Inside, on the stairs and landing, it’s dark varnished wood growing darker, and outside, on the deck and patio, it’s white paint peeling to reveal gray wood. The couple themselves are a fan of modern design when it comes to urban homes, but in their wooded retreat, they’re open to more rustic railing ideas. Deck railings with metal balusters are a good place to start; metal balusters offer versatility and metal baluster shoes make them easy to install without having to replace the entire wooden railing.
When to Replace Your Balusters
A dated look is one good reason for a new homeowner to modify a home’s railing inside and out, but it’s not the only one. Old wooden railings have a dated look for sure, but they also can break easily due to wear or rot. When a homeowner buys a home that hasn’t been updated in a few years they should check the railing indoors and out for the following:
- Improper spacing: The International Residential Code requires that a railing be 34 to 38 inches in height and that a four-inch sphere cannot pass through the baluster or beneath the bottom rail. The stairs have the same height requirement, but the measure is taken from the top of the tread and instead, a six-inch sphere should not be able to pass beneath the railing on stairs.
- Unrepaired damage: A new homeowner should visually and physically inspect a railing for loose or broken balusters. If a baluster can be moved by hand, it is loose. Visible cracking of wood or bending of metal balusters is a good reason to consider replacements.
- Inexpertly repaired damage: Some owners aren’t handy, but, wielding all manner of glues, tapes, and fasteners, attempt repairs anyway. New owners should look for the telltale signs of repair like glues or epoxy around the top, base, or body of a baluster, or nails at the ends of the balusters.
If damage is discovered then the homeowner should make plans to repair the damage, replace the railings, or modify them to bring them up to code. While planning these repairs it’s also a good time to think about the aesthetics of the railing and to plan for replacements that not only meet code, but create a more beautiful and more livable space. Metal balusters are a good way to do both these things.
Why Choose Metal Balusters
Metal railings have a long history that starts in the early industrial age. The originals were made of iron that was stretched, twisted, and shaped into a variety of ornamentations in a variety of styles that are collectively thought of as wrought iron. Modern equivalents are made of steel, which is much stronger than iron and far more durable. Yet, many of these balusters have the same wrought iron look that people associate with classical elegance. This enduring look is a great choice for my acquaintances who want to update the home with something that is timeless enough to look good far beyond the end of the decade. This criterion is easily met by steel balusters with added ornamentation like twists, baskets, and knuckles. There are also more modern options to consider.
Modern forms tend to be more streamlined than past styles. Simple round or square balusters can bring the enduring strength of steel to railings and have a more modern look that combines well with wood to create a rustic or farmhouse style. There is also a lasting elegance in simplicity that can give a railing a timeless look.
Whichever style a homeowner chooses, they’ll benefit from modern steel working, which produces better, stronger, and more rust-resistant steel than in the past. Modern coatings help with this, and a quality coating with multiple layers improves rust resistance to the point where metal balusters are nearly maintenance free. The only parts still vulnerable to the elements are the rails–specifically the parts where the balusters insert into the rails. Wooden rails can trap water, creating a moist environment around the ends of steel balusters inserted into them. This is where modern metal baluster shoe mounts can help. They also make metal balusters easier to install.
Why Use Metal Baluster Shoes?
Typically, installing metal balusters in wooden railings requires you to drill holes into the top and bottom rail. These holes must be the right size and depth and the holes in the top and bottom rail must be perfectly aligned. While there is some flexibility in the hole’s depth, drilling a hole that’s too small, too large, or is out of alignment most likely means discarding the rail and starting over.
Some manufacturers make metal baluster shoes, but these are typically cosmetic. They’re slid over the base of the baluster to help conceal the joint between the baluster and the rail. Metal baluster shoe mounts, on the other hand, are actual mounts that hold a baluster in place, and this type of shoe makes installing metal balusters a lot easier. They have a number of advantages over drilling holes in the wood or placing purely cosmetic metal shoes over the bases of the balusters:
- They don’t require drilling a large hole in the wood, which helps keep the rail intact and strong.
- Screws don’t take up much space in the wood, meaning that when the wood swells with moisture it puts less stress on the wood rail than a baluster might.
- Baluster alignment can be adjusted easily. With baluster shoe mounts, if your alignment is slightly off on one mount, you can take out the screw and re-attach the mount in the correct location.
The biggest disadvantage of this method is that these shoe mounts aren’t as common as cosmetic shoes, and won’t work with every baluster. However, if you can find a manufacturer that makes attractive, high-quality balusters and baluster shoe mounts, it can make replacing a crucial part of your railing much quicker and easier.
Fortress Railing is one such manufacturer. They make powder-coated steel balusters in a variety of styles and finishes with multiple rust-resistant coatings. They also provide several different products to make mounting the balusters easier, from iron baluster shoes to hidden peg-type mounts that slide inside hollow steel balusters. These options give homeowners a variety of style options that make easy upgrades possible. Find out more by contacting Fortress, and check out Fortress Building Products for other easy-to-install and elegant home improvement products.