Whether you’re a contractor without time to fabricate your own railing or an owner that wants to tackle the railing installation on your own, a pipe and fittings railing is the right fit for you.
There are experts available to help you design the railing you need and walk you through its installation. However, the joy of pipe and fittings is how easy it is to do on your own. If this is your first time designing your own railing, then this guide will walk you through the decisions you’ll need to make to get it right the first time.
The Value of Pipe and Fittings
Pipe railing is easy to design and install. No special permits or permissions are required to install a pipe railing made with fittings. No welding is required.
Fittings are available fully galvanized or aluminum. Studies have shown that pipe railing built with fittings lasts up to seven times longer than fabricated pipe railing.
Pipe can be cut to fit on site and Our wide variety of fittings can be used to design pipe railing for any scenario.
Using pipe and fittings allows you to control both the time it takes to design and the design itself. You don’t have to rely on others to finish the job you needed done yesterday.
The Various Types of Railings to Design
The First Metal Railing Design Choices to Make
What type of metal should you use?
There are several choices that need to be made to help guide which fittings and pipe you use for your railing. The first choice is the type of metal that you will use. Here at Simplified Building, you can choose between galvanized steel and anodized aluminum railing.
However, here is a bird’s eye view:
- Galvanized steel is stronger than aluminum. Aluminum is still a safe metal to use, however, you can get away with longer post spans with steel because of this strength.
- Aluminum is lighter than steel. This makes it easier to handle during installation or if you need to remove it for any reason.
- Corrosion is going to depend on your environment. More often, aluminum is going to be more corrosive resistant. However, we’ve worked with customers where galvanized steel was the better option. So, check with your local conditions before making this choice.
What size pipe should you use?
The size of the pipe that you use will depend on your application. We suggest that you use a 1-1/4” (size 7) pipe for handrails. It provides a better gripping surface for support rails.
If you are building a guardrail, then we suggest a 1-1/2” (size 8) pipe. The extra strength and rigidity are better suited for impact and allow for more grace with post spacing.
Something else to consider while choosing the size of your pipe is the type of fittings that are available in that size. Most standard fittings are available in both sizes. If you run into a unique application, then you may need to choose one or the other based on what fittings best solve your problem.
Designing Your Metal Railing Posts
Most railings will have different posts throughout the system. Different posts will be needed for the ends and throughout the system. The posts through the system may also need to be different depending on slope changes, direction changes, or any other obstacle the environment requires you to work around.
Here is what you need to know when you’re designing the various posts in your metal railing.
Number of Rails Needed
When picking the fittings that you want to use, the first thing that you need to consider is how many rails you need. OSHA guardrail typically has 2 rails unless you have a parapet or wall that is 21” or taller. In that case, you’ll only need one.
The fittings that you use for the top rail will be different than the fittings for the mid rail. Fittings for the top rail act as the cap for the post to help close it off from outside influences, like weather and insects.
The Posts Layout
Once you’ve determined the rail count, then you should determine where all your posts will be laid out. For the guardrail, we advise you to not exceed 8’ on center using size 8 pipe. For the handrail, we suggest using a 6’ on center post spacing. These are not hard and fast rules, but you should speak with an expert if you want to change from this.
When you have laid out your posts, this should give you a good idea of the types of posts that you need. Most often, guardrails end up on flat walking and working surfaces (1/12 slope or less). These are straightforward posts and use standard fittings for railing construction.
However, you may need to turn a corner or change your slope for a ramp or stair. In this case, you will want to make sure that the fittings you choose allow you to have a plumb post with a sloped railing. The angle of the required slope will determine which fitting works best.
Corners, Handrails, and Ends
Corners can be addressed in multiple ways. You can have a post right on the corner or you can have the post offset from the corner and use elbow fittings to make the turn.
Handrails can be added to guardrails to provide appropriate support and ADA compliance. Here is a list of fittings that we use to work with ADA compliance.
You will also need to determine how you'd like to terminate your railing. You can end the railing at a final post or extend past that post and wrap it back on itself like a D. Or, you can have the railing mount into an existing structure, like a wall or an existing railing.
Mounting the Railing
The last thing you need to think about is how you will mount the railing. The most common application is mounting to the walking surface. The flange that you use for this will change depending on the slope of the surface and whether you need toeboard.
Toeboard is needed to prevent tools or debris from rolling off the edge onto persons below or dangerous equipment.
Other times, you will want to mount to the wall adjacent to the surface. If the mounting connection is below the walking surface, then we advise that you use two flanges per post. Don’t forget to check if the post needs to clear the lip of the surface, like with stone capping on a parapet wall.
Examples of Post Assemblies
Other Applications to Consider
Pipe railing can be coated with a durable finish. This baked on finish improves the aesthetics of the railing and makes the pipe railing even more corrosion resistant. Both the pipe and the fittings can be powder coated
Some local codes require that you include infill panels when certain people are accessing the area. This can be a vertical picket, a 4” x 4” wire grid, or other custom design.