Story at a glance:

  • Trex designs pre-engineered systems for safety and aesthetics.
  • Trex Signature® Railing is an aluminum system that is durable and made using 50% recycled material.
  • Trex looks at a site’s loading requirements to establish the engineering demand for the system.

On top of a beautiful high-rise, inside a busy stadium, or waiting for a concert—railing systems play a bigger part in most people’s lives than they may realize.

But too often railing is an afterthought in the design process, and that can make for serious headaches and create substantial cost overages for project budgets, according to Tony Barnes, director of structural engineering at Trex Commercial Products.

Pre-Engineered Systems

Barnes defines a pre-engineered railing system simply as one that is engineered to meet code requirements. “Part of our job is to review the particular railing given the building construction and codes that exist. We make sure the design is consistent with jurisdictional requirements.”

Trex Commercial Products looks at a site’s loading requirements (what is the environment? location? use?), which establishes the engineering demand for the railing system. Rails must be engineered to meet this demand without failure—typically defined as permanent deformation or fracture of a component. Each project is assessed individually, as environmental loading will vary along with the substrate to which the railing is attached.

Trex Commercial Products’ engineers design railing to meet all of these requirements, which differs from their competitors who supply product off the shelf. “When end-users, the general contractor, or the glazier buys product from a supplier without appropriate engineering considerations, then it’s left up to those parties to determine if the product meets building codes,” Barnes says. With Trex Commercial Products, the liability rests with their team of internal experts.

trex railings pool Commercial Railing Systems

Engineering experts at Trex Commercial Products design systems in-house and take the liability off of architects. “We take that liability and we’re looking at those aspects down to 1/16th of an inch, so they feel comfortable. You can delegate that design.” Photo courtesy of Trex


“Inherent in the code is a level of safety,” Barnes says of Trex Commercial Products’ pre-engineered railing systems.

But as more projects look to incorporate glass, how we design with glass is changing. Barnes says the primary difference between laminated and tempered glass is the interlayer within laminated glass. The code is moving away from tempered glass, which will crumble into granular chunks, and moving toward laminated glass, which holds together, preventing any falling shards.

“Glass is a very versatile, tough material when you add a laminated interlayer,” Barnes says. Historically, some architects in the US have been reluctant to design with glass as compared to Europe, but that’s changing. “People are specifying it more, and as engineers we’re forced to hone our technical. We have to understand how to use it.”

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Dickies Arena in Fort Worth has 14,000 linear feet of custom architectural railing from Trex Commercial Products. Photo courtesy of Trex

Design Features

Besides ensuring occupants are safe and buildings are up to code, Trex Commercial Products’ pre-engineered architectural railing systems also add beauty to projects. They can be applied to grand staircases, balconies, and overlooks in styles ranging from classic and elegant wood top rail combined with sleek stainless details and glass infill to modern and minimalist stainless cable and rod infill choices.

Barnes is seeing a lot more glass used in projects, including tall glass systems at the edge of a high-rise, for example. “That really requires an expertise of glass,” he says, noting that Trex Commercial Products has that very expertise, with options like the Ascent® Glass Windscreen—an aluminum plus glass system that incorporates steel. Ascent offers a standard system at a height of 6 feet tall that’s capable of handling 80psf wind loads, elevating windscreen options to altitudes not possible with previously offered specifiable systems. This product’s height and finish are customizable.

Trex Commercial Products also offers the Point™ supported glass railing, with fascia mounted stainless steel nodes; and Monaco™, an adaptable economical glass railing solution for high-traffic commercial environments. Then there’s Equinox®, whose defined clean lines amplify the best features of glass railing with an innovative rod-and-disc assembly that features zero visible fasteners. It offers a modern look with even more design possibilities. And these are just some of Trex Commercial Products’ many product offerings.

At Princeton University, more than 3,300 linear feet of internal and external ornamental glass railing from Trex Commercial Products was installed. There, Point series glass railing systems with 1-inch laminated tempered low-iron glass surround the stairs and overlooks. Recyclable materials contributed to the university’s LEED Gold status. Almost every one of Trex Commercial Products’ jobs is custom, as they’re often pulled in to design railings with unexpected shapes or add graphic cutouts, as seen on a custom railing project at Fort Worth Arena.

Barnes says about half of architects consider railing to be “simple,” and in some cases it is. But very often it’s not, and that’s when he wishes they’d turn to the expert engineers for help. “Sometimes they don’t know there are people out there like us who are providing that level of service,” he says. “We were probably the first ones in the industry to put together a strong technical team to really get a good grasp on this, and that technical team is in-house.”

Sustainable Options

Trex Signature® Railing is an aluminum system that is durable and made using 50% recycled material and, as a 100% recyclable, renewable resource, it can contribute valuable LEED points to commercial projects. The railing is manufactured in-house to ensure quality control over each step of the manufacturing process. It’s cost-effective and almost like a kit out of a box, Barnes says, in stark contrast to Trex Commercial Products’ more rigorous customizable products. However, Trex Signature Railing has the capacity to be customized upon request.

Future of Safe Railing

The future of safe railing construction will require more design and engineering rigor to meet the demands of stricter building codes and more complex architectural schemes. From design to delivery, a knowledgeable fabricator with in-house engineering capabilities can prove to be an invaluable resource by fostering greater communication, assuring code compliance, and overseeing quality control. With a good supplier partner, glaziers, architects, and general contractors can confidently take advantage of the increased demand for safe railing in today’s commercial arena to grow their business.

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