When my friend's great-grandmother passed away, she left the family's old Gothic-style home in such disrepair that none of her children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren wanted to take it over. The paint was peeling, there were rats in the basement, and it was anyone's guess if the two-story front porch could support a person.
Nevertheless, my friend was unwilling to let anyone else have the family's historic seat, and she gamely volunteered to take over the house. To her delight, the structure was mostly sound, an exterminator was able to take care of the rats, and most of the damage was due to years of neglect rather than a structural flaw. But my friend resolved that the generation that followed her wouldn't have to choose between giving up the family seat and spending thousands of dollars on repair. She chose to fix the home using long-lasting materials that wouldn't have any trouble lasting for 50 or more years. When it came to the wraparound porch, though, she was at a loss to choose railings that wouldn't need constant attention or quick replacement. The old custom steel railings on the front porch had rusted through, and she learned that her great-grandmother had them installed only five years before she passed. My friend wanted something different, something that would not only enhance the home but would be stand up to almost any abuse without requiring repair or maintenance. She started looking for steel railing designs for the front porch that would complement the home's architecture but wouldn't look dated or worn in a few years.
Choosing Among Railing Options
My friend's home is a Victorian-era home, but less ornamented than the gingerbread-type houses that most people think of as Victorian. The original railings on the front porch were a simple design with spindles made out of wood. My friend's great-grandmother had commissioned elaborate wrought iron look railings for the house, thinking it would take the home back to its origins. This wasn't the case, and these slightly gauche railings looked out of place and didn't last nearly long enough to justify the price. This gave my friend the idea to look for something more durable, with just a bit of ornamentation. There are a few different steel railing designs that fit the bill.
- Custom fabricated railings are assembled by a welder from parts chosen by the customer. The big advantage of this option is that is that it lets you design your own railing. The drawbacks are that these types of railing are expensive and the end result is heavily dependent on the skill of the welder and the equipment he or she is working with. It’s entirely possible to pay a high price and end up with railings that don’t meet code or don’t last.
- Prefabricated railing panels are more reliable than their custom fabricated equivalents. These railings are produced to engineered specifications that usually exceed building codes by a large margin. The drawback is that customization options are limited to those offered by the manufacturer.
- Decorative railing balusters are a mix of the two previous options. As opposed to complete railing panels, these are individual balusters that can be ordered in batches and it’s up to the homeowner to choose between them and to choose what kind of rails and posts to use with them. These usually offer more customization options than pre-made panels, but take more time to install, though they can still be easily put together by a reasonably handy DIYer. If made by a reliable manufacturer, these also tend to be very durable.
My friend hadn't expected to be the one taking over the house, and this meant there were some limits to what she could spend. The chief considerations were that the railings could be installed relatively quickly by herself, her spouse, and some friends. This would save her the cost of labor, and allow her to reinvest those savings into the railing or one of the other projects in the house. This narrowed her choices down to either a steel panel system or steel balusters that she could install herself.
Creating a Railing for the Front Porch Using Balusters
In order to create a railing design with individual balusters, you must be able to attach them to rails and attach those rails to the railing posts. This isn't a difficult project; all that's needed is the skills to operate a tape measure, saw, screw gun, and level. The individual balusters either fit into holes drilled into the top and bottom rails, slide over mounts that screw to the rails, or are screwed to the exterior side of the rails.
Balusters come in designs that are as simple as smooth round or square tubes and as complicated as solid steel twists, hollow baskets, and other variations. These can be used to create custom patterns to the homeowner's taste. Baskets and twists can alternate, or double baskets can be alternated with single baskets to create a diamond pattern. Unusual baluster types can also be used, such as curved steel or even glass. However, in spite of the many advantages of customizable balusters, they are not the easiest or quickest railings to install. That distinction belongs to steel panel railings.
Creating Steel Railing Designs for the Front Porch Using Panels
Steel panel railings are preassembled in the frame and require even less in the way of specialized skills than individual steel balusters. This makes them the easiest railing type to install. For someone like my friend who specializes in IT and whose husband is a web developer, this makes steel panels an easy choice. While the customization options may be more limited than for some other railing types, good manufacturers will offer options like:
- Accent panels that attach to the top of the railing. These add interest to the railings as well as contrasting or complementary ornamentation.
- Top rail caps that attach to the top rail to give it a heftier look. A wooden top rail cap can at as a rustic accent or a place to set your drink, while steel rail caps provide a narrower and more formal accent.
- Knuckles that wrap around the baluster. These ornaments can be attached to the balusters in ways that create unique patterns, engaging the eye and giving the look of classic wrought iron to a steel railing.
- Center inserts that slip into a cutout in the center of a prefabricated railing section. These circular metal pieces might come in designs like wrought iron-look scrolls or stars, and can be used to make a railing stand out.
The fact that steel railing panels-even with ornamentation of the kind we've just described-install very quickly is a definite plus for anyone, especially someone maintaining two houses. However, not all railing systems are manufactured to high standards and some come partially disassembled. When choosing a railing system, pick one with panels that come fully welded for strength and easy installation. Rust-resistant coatings, as well as a powder coat, are also important for low maintenance porch railings.
The Fe26 steel railing from Fortress Railing fits all these categories. This railing system is fully welded and has multiple layers of rust protection, including an e-coat and a powder coat. It also features a range of personalization options that can match the style of homes from traditional to modern. Contact Fortress Railing for more information on steel railing designs available, and if you're looking for other products from the Fortress lineup, take a look at the Fortress Building Products site.