Whether you are planning a deck, a balcony, or have a second-story overlook inside your home; balustrade systems are an essential part of most home designs in one way or another. A balustrade system is a protective type of railing that consist of posts, rails, and balusters. A baluster is a vertical molded shaft, traditionally shaped like opening rosebuds. However, modern baluster systems can take many shapes and forms, including sheets of clear safety glass between the rails.
The purpose of a balustrade system goes beyond the railing, balustrade systems provide both additional sturdiness and safety. Which is why they are so popular in home designs both indoors and outdoors.
Balustrade Safety is Based on the Human Body Ratio
Besides the sturdy design, the safety of your balustrade system is based on it's ratio to the human body. This is easy to understand if you've ever stood next to a safety railing that feels dangerously too low. If a balustrade falls below your hips, then it is possible for someone to fall over it. This is funny in slap-stick comedy, but not nearly so funny when balconies and safety are concerned.
Therefore your balustrade system needs to rise above the level of the hips at minimum to provide reasonable protection from tripping and falling.
Preventing Accidental Falls
Accidental falls over a balustrade system almost always happen when someone loses their balance over the top. Perhaps they lean, perhaps they trip and fall. Sometimes, they reach over toward something. But the height of your balustrade can be planned to ensure that no one can fall by accident and, in fact, they would have to actively climb to get over the edge at all.
To prevent accidental falls, your balustrade system needs to come above the hips of your tallest home resident and, ideally, up to or above the lower back. This ensures that the weight of the upper body cannot tip someone over the top of the balustrade even in a tumbling or leaning accident.
Keeping Children Safe
Balustrades are also designed in order to keep children safe from falling and, sometimes, to keep children away from dangerous outdoor areas like an in-ground swimming pool. One of the benefits of the traditional flower bud shape of the original baluster design is that they are far more difficult to slip or climb through for small children than traditional railing posts. Of course, modern balusters can be narrow, but they can also be sheets of glass, plastic, or metal as well.
If your goal is to keep children safe, you will want your balustrade system to be both too tall to comfortably climb and the spaces to be too narrow to slip through.
Providing a Handrail
Another common use of a balustrade system is to provide a sturdy handrail, often placed along steps and ramps where someone might need a little extra support or stability to keep their footing. For a balustrade to be comfortable as a handrail, it will need to come up to a height between the hip and the elbow. Any lower, and it will be uncomfortable and unsupportive to place one's hand on. Any higher than the elbow, and they are not an effective handrail.
Creating a Convenient Surface
Your last consideration for your balustrade height is whether you'd like your balustrades to be a convenient place to set a drink. Many people building a new deck, for example, may consider a higher-than-usual balustrade system with a level flat top rail that falls between the lowest rib to just above the elbow. This creates a place for guest to set down drinks and small plates of barbecue or party snacks if you like to entertain. Not to mention, a comfortable place to set your elbows and look out at your beautiful yard beyond.
Why are we measuring balustrade height by body ratio? Because every family is different. If your family tends to be taller, then you may want to prioritize a higher balustrade system than a family that tends to be shorter. Of course, most balustrade systems come in a set array of standard heights.