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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Condo Balcony Railings That Install Quickly and Don’t Rust

Many years ago, with the ink still drying on his Associates of Science Degree and a kid on the way, one of my friends moved into a condo with a loan from his parents. It was managed, as most are, by a homeowners association. After a series of fees levied against my friend over the way he parked and the patio furniture his wife bought, he rebelled, running against the HOA president on a platform of reasonable rules, reasonably enforced, and he won by a landslide.

This left him responsible for maintaining the common areas and any areas of private residences that could be seen from the common areas. He wasn't too concerned about patio furniture. As long as it wasn't ragged or broken, you were okay. The railings on the condo's patios, balconies, and stairs, though, were another story. They were in rough shape and could quickly become a safety problem-one that he was now responsible for. He needed condo balcony railings that would install quickly, look good, and last for a long time in order to make the best use of association funds.

What Damages Railings?

To inform his decision on choosing replacement railings, my friend first looked at what was damaging his existing balcony railings, to see if there was a way to repair them. An inspection revealed that rust was the biggest source of damage to both the appearance and the structure of the existing railings. The corrosion had caused large sections of paint to come off on the handrails, balusters, and posts. A more serious concern was that the rust had created holes in the railing around where the balusters attached to the bottom rail and the bottom rails attached to the posts.

The cause of this corrosion was inadequate rust proofing of the welds. Welding-the fusing together of metal pieces into a railing-burns the rust-resistant galvanized coating off the metal, and irregularities in the weld create places where moisture can gather to start rust. This was the reason there was most rust in the areas of the railing where pieces of metal were joined together.

His inspection also revealed the presence of Bondo, a non-structural automotive body filler that's usually used to repair dents near some of these spots of rust. This half-hearted effort at repair hadn't fixed the problem, but it had been repeated several times at great expense, according to the HOA's records. This led my friend to seek estimates from a local welding company for repairs, which turned out to be prohibitively expensive. However, it also turned out that the cost of total replacement wasn't that much more than the cost of a comprehensive repair. This got him looking into replacement railings that might go in quickly and last much longer than the last ones.

Condo Balcony Railings That Install Quickly

When my friend pressed his local metal shop for a detailed breakdown of the costs, the largest part of the bill was the labor. This wasn't just installation, but the overall cost of making and painting the railings, with a sizeable buffer for making on-site alterations. However, paying just for the cost of materials and installation looked affordable, so my friend started seeking out railings that didn't require welding or altering on-site.

What he discovered were railing systems. These are prefabricated sections of railing that are simply cut to length and then installed. These sections of railing, instead of being welded to the posts, simply mount with brackets that are screwed into place using self-drilling screws. Operating a screw gun is an easily acquired skill when compared to welding, and commands a lower labor cost. Cumulatively, this adds up to considerable time savings on installation and cost.

The choice for my friend came down to steel vs. aluminum railings. Although aluminum only cost slightly more, in a condominium complex with 600 units, that slightly higher price added up to a sizeable amount, making steel the obvious choice. However, after his experience with the condo's previous steel railings, my friend wondered if opting for steel would create a corrosion problem down the road.

Choosing Steel Railings That Will Last

As my friend did research on the steel railing panels available, he discovered some issues. One frequent complaint from customers who'd bought the least expensive steel railing systems was how easy it was to bend the balusters. Other railing systems looked like solid panels, but came disassembled. They would have to be put together on-site, which increased the costs of labor. To his surprise, though, there were relatively few complaints about rust or other corrosion on prefabricated railing systems.

It was at this point that he called me, the only metal worker he knew, to explain why this was. His first question was, how could factory-produced railings have fewer corrosion problems than more expensive custom railings? I gave him my answer was in three parts:

  • Welding on-site is nearly impossible to rust-proof, and because mounting brackets are proprietary, most small companies have little choice but to weld brackets on at the installation site. It’s the only way to get things level and installed to code.
  • Factories, however, are able to pay special attention to the welds. As I mentioned before, the welding process burns off any protective coating that may have been on the metal, and leaves microscopic crevices in the welds that can harbor rust. Pre-assembling railing panels enable manufacturers to give the welds special protection from rust.
  • Factory coatings are made in controlled environments. This allows the manufacturer to use special processes like e-coating and powder coating that bond to the metal better than anything a small shop can do with an airbrush. It turns out that the best paint for metal railings isn’t actually paint, but a high-quality powder coating applied in a controlled setting.

Even the best welders can build railings that rust in a few years. No matter the quality of the welding, there's just no adequate way to rust-proof steel on-site. My friend's response was to ask me if the absolute cheapest, bottom-of-the-barrel pre-assembled railings would work. I told him that the rust profile might be all right with those railings, but a condo really needs railings made of substantial steel that isn't easy to damage. He needed something that was high-quality. fully welded, had factory coatings added afterward to prevent rust, and was modular so it would install quickly.

Fe26 by Fortress Railing fits those criteria perfectly. It's a fully welded steel panel railing that's durable and quick to install. The steel comes pre-galvanized before welding, and after welding, it receives an electrically bonded e-coating that fills in all the crevices in the weld and keeps rust from taking hold. It's finished off with a high-quality DuPont powder coating for appearance and UV protection. All in all, it's a handsome, robust railing with a multi-tiered defense against the elements (and tenants). Fortress Building Products gives the same attention to detail to all its offerings, from Infinity composite decking to secure commercial fencing.


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