Cable Railings Versus Glass Railings for the Beach House: The Pros and Cons of Two Unique Materials

Jan 10th 2019

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When you choose a railing system for your oceanfront property, you need to think about the wear and tear that salt spray and humidity put on your railings, because the ocean can be tough on materials. But you’ll also want to think about appearance. An ocean view is a beautiful thing and sometimes the railing of your deck isn’t where you want the focus. If this is the case, consider using materials that don’t obstruct your view, like glass and cable railings.

The Lowdown on Glass

One big benefit of glass railings is that glass is more resistant to corrosion than stainless steel, which is the material used in cable railings. Glass does not react with salt water, while stainless steel can pit and corrode when repeatedly exposed to ocean spray. This does depend heavily on the grade of the stainless steel, however.

Some consumers are concerned about the maintenance involved in keeping glass railings clean, but in reality, it’s pretty similar to cleaning your windows. You will want to use cleaners that won’t degrade the coating on the rails and posts, and some manufacturers suggest using a pH-neutral detergent solution on their products to maintain their warranty.

A good manufacturer will offer a couple different styles of glass railing, such as full panel glass railings and glass baluster railings. Each of these choices has its own pros and cons. Full panel glass railings tend to block wind well. This can be perfect for a beach-house situation if you want to cut down on sand blowing onto the deck or keep the wind from toppling furniture. If you choose this style, though, you should know that full panel glass creates a significant greenhouse effect which heats up the deck, so if your house is in a warm climate and you tend to visit it when the weather’s hot, full panel glass might not be the way to go.

Glass balusters, on the other hand, have the same unobtrusive appearance as full panel glass, but they are spaced to allow wind to come through, and to give less of a warming effect.

The Scoop on Vertical Cables

In a cable railing, stainless steel cables replace traditional balusters. This is the option you’re looking for if you want unobtrusive railings that are easy to keep clean and that let the breeze right through. You’ll also want to choose a vertical, rather than horizontal, cable system, especially if you have kids or pets, as the vertical design prevents climbing on the railing.

While stainless steel is fairly resistant to corrosion, if it’s used on an oceanfront deck it will still require regular cleaning to prevent salt buildup. Leaving salt to sit on the surface of the steel can cause premature corrosion. High-quality cables are made of 316 marine-grade stainless steel, which is highly resistant to corrosion. This means that it will last years longer than 304 or 305 stainless, though not forever. The design of the product affects this as well. Smooth surfaces don’t let salt build up easily, but since cables have crevices, you’ll want to wipe down your railing cables once in awhile.

Selecting Rails and Post Material

Glass and cable railing systems can usually be installed with a variety of post and railing materials, such as aluminum, wood, vinyl, iron, and composite. You’ll want to choose your railing and post materials carefully when you live near the ocean, as some materials are more susceptible than others to corrosion and fading from the sun.

Wood is beautiful and has a rustic style, but the humidity and salty air will take a toll on it, causing it to rot more quickly than other materials. It’s still a popular material for many beach side decks and railings because of its low price point, but it’s not recommended if you live near the ocean. Vinyl is very resistant to corrosion by salts, but some types of vinyl railing can fade if exposed to a lot of direct sunlight. Composite posts and rails may be a better alternative for the beachfront compared to wood or vinyl, and it can come in a number of colors to match or complement a deck and home.

Iron has a reputation for being a bad choice around beaches and the oceanfront, but it may not anymore. While salty air and humidity can cause iron to rust and corrode, if it has a high-quality finish, iron can last a long time, even by the ocean. Some manufacturers have begun applying a high-quality coating that mimics the one developed by the automotive industry to prevent the rust and corrosion caused to the underside of cars by deicing salt.

Aluminum does not rust the way iron does, making it another good choice for railings and posts. It is not corrosion-proof, however, so it’s important to install aluminum rails and posts that have a top-quality powder coating. A powder coating is extremely durable, lasts far longer than paint, and works very well to protect the underlying material from the elements. As with iron, though, bear in mind that most manufacturers offer a drastically reduced warranty on their product if it’s installed within one mile of the coast, and they may even void the warranty if the product comes into contact with saltwater.