The Differences Between Handrails and Balustrades: Which Do You Need?

Does your project require handrails or balustrades? We're here to help you get exactly what you need

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    You probably use both every day. But when tasked with a new project, you might be wondering what the difference is between a handrail and a balustrade. When should you use them, and what are their legal requirements?

    In this article, we discuss the distinction between these two essential elements to help you make the right decision during your project. We also explore factors to consider, helping you to meet safety standards while aligning with your vision and budget.

    Handrails and Balustrades: The Differences at a Glance

    The two elements are often confused and believed to serve the same purpose, but there are important differences between them.

    At a glance, a handrail typically runs alongside a staircase, balcony, or other raised feature, and is designed for the user to hold onto for balance, gripping it as they walk up and down steps.

    By comparison, a balustrade is the bit below the handrail. Depending on your chosen material, this is either made up of vertical posts or a solid section. It sits parallel with the raised staircase, balcony, or feature, to offer protection and safety and stop people from falling.

    Handrail vs Balustrades: Functional Differences

    With that said, there are some important functional differences between these two solutions. Take stairs as an example, to which their purposes differ:

    • The handrail you choose should ascend the staircase, to provide grip, support, and balance. In short, they are designed for stability.
    • By comparison, your balustrade should serve are broader purpose, by creating a barrier which prevents accidental falls, crucial in high areas where the risk of falls is significant. 

    In essence, while both components are vital for safety, their roles are distinct—handrails for balance support and balustrades for fall protection.

    The Materials Used on Balustrades and Handrails

    While the materials in which balustrades and handrails are available do vary, both are typically made from similar materials. Which you choose should ultimately depend on your project requirements. For example:

    • Mild steel is a budget-friendly option, which is typically powder-coated and available in a range of colours.
    • Stainless steel offers both durability and strength. Depending on your chosen type, it is ideal for both indoor and outdoor use. Its ability to withstand harsh weather conditions is a significant advantage.
    • Glass systems provide a touch of aesthetic elegance, creating the illusion of more space in a property.

    Whatever your design requirements, we have you covered. Here at Gatehouse Architectural, we provide balustrades and handrails in a range of materials to meet every requirement. Get in touch today to learn more.

    Budget Considerations

    The price of your balustrades and handrails can vary drastically depending on your specific requirements. The cost of your systems is likely to be impacted by factors including:

    • Your material choice (as mentioned above).
    • Your chosen style. For example, opting for a spiral design typically costs more than a straight one. 
    • The length of the railing and the number of balustrades you require.
    • Your intended use. For example, balustrades designed for outdoor use may require more expensive materials or coating to ensure they withstand the elements.
    • Your timeline. For projects which require a fast on-site installation, we provide prefabricated steel stairs (to which handrails and balustrades can be installed as standard).

    When selecting a provider, it's important to consider these factors and weigh them against the project's financial constraints to ensure a balanced and cost-effective solution. We have over a decade of experience providing budget-friendly and stylish systems, so get in touch today to find out how we can help you.

    Balustrade and Handrail Building Regulations

    Navigating balustrade and handrail regulations can be tricky, so it's essential you familiarise yourself with the key requirements to ensure your project complies. As a starting point, note that:

    • The height of your handrails should fall between 900mm and 1000mm from the top of your handrail to the pitch line.
    • As per BS 6180:2011, you must design your balustrades such that a 100mm sphere cannot pass through any gaps. This is to ensure safety and prevent accidents, especially in children.

    Ultimately, regulations can vary depending on the specific application of your project. For example, whether it’s a staircase, balcony, or terrace — or whether it's intended for a domestic or commercial setting. As a starting point, we recommend reading our balustrade regulations guide, to learn more about structural requirements; fire safety; material regulations; and glass balustrade regulations.

    You should consult all the relevant building codes and standards before you begin. If you’re ever in doubt, we recommend seeking expert advice from our team

    Our Balustrades and Handrails

    Looking for a balustrade or handrail for your project?

    Here at Gatehouse Architectural, we provide a diverse range tailored to suit every design need. From an off-the-shelf to a bespoke solution, we have you covered. Our balustrade ranges include:

    ZuBar — Mild Steel Balustrades

    ZuBar is our budget-friendly and durable solution, made up of mild steel vertical balustrade infills. Depending on its application, each infill may be powder coated in your choice of our standard colour range.

    Mild steel is known for its strength and flexibility, while our powder coating adds an extra layer of protection against the elements, making them ideal for both indoor and outdoor use.

    This robust structure will stand the test of time, whilst cost-effectively fitting your aesthetic preferences.

    Mild Steel Balustrade with Wooden Handrail

    ZuGlass — Glass Balustrades

    ZuGlass pairs stainless steel tubular balustrade posts with clear toughened glass infill panels, perfect for elevating your space in a way that promises elegance and durability.

    This combination isn’t just about aesthetics, it’s also about choosing the right material for your environment. Here, our stainless steel comes in two grades: Grade 304 for internal applications, and Grade 316 for external applications, guaranteeing resistance to corrosion and weather conditions.

    Whether you’re enhancing your home’s interior or adding a touch of class to an outdoor area, ZuGlass has you covered. It’s an ideal choice for adding form and function to your living spaces.

    ZuGlass: Steel and Glass Balustrades

    ZuTrac — Frameless Glass Balustrades

    Our ZuTrac system is a frameless glass system which redefines elegance in the spaces they are installed. By incorporating structural glass panels housed in a cast aluminium track, ZuTrac offers unparalleled transparency and a sleek design.

    This maximises your view and the light entering your space, without compromising on safety and blending effortlessly with any architectural style.

    ZuTrac: Frameless Glass Balustrades

    ZuLine — Wire Balustrade Infills

    Our ZuLine range offers wire balustrade infills from either mild or stainless steel, providing you with a sleek look for any space.

    Wire infills offer the added benefit of unobstructed views while maintaining safety, making them a popular cost-effective choice for balancing form and function. This system is also straightforward to install and offers a modern twist to traditional systems.

    ZuLine: Stainless Steel Wire Balustrades

    ZuPlex — Mesh Balustrade Infills

    Our ZuPlex solution is a mesh balustrade infill, offering another dimension of sleek, durable design for your spaces. Crafted from either mild or stainless steel, this is a visually appealing, robust, and long-lasting system.

    This design allows for a unique aesthetic that blends transparency and privacy, making it a versatile option for various settings. Whether you’re enhancing a residential balcony, a commercial stairway, or an outdoor deck, our mesh balustrades promise safety without compromising on style.

    ZuPlex: Steel Mesh Balustrades

    Our Handrails

    We also offer an array of handrails, allowing you to customise your finished system to perfectly match your project needs.

    As part of this, we invite you to mix and match our handrails and balustrades to your vision or requirement.  Whether it's a modern, sleek design you're after or something that fits more traditional aesthetics, our range has the versatility to support your project's unique character.

    Just after a handrail? Our ZuRail range is perfect for when you’re not connecting to a balustrade system. This metal wall-mounted handrail system is a perfect standalone handrail solution which provides support without the need for a balustrade counterpart.

    Whatever your balustrade or handrail requirements, we have you covered. Get in touch today to discuss your needs and to get a free quote.

    ZuRail: Gatehouse Architecturals Wall Mounted Handrail Solution

    By now, you should understand the various balustrade and handrail systems you could choose from, and the factors to consider when selecting them.

    Here at Gatehouse Architectural, we have a range of solutions to meet any project requirement. Get in touch today to decide on a range which best suits your project.


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