Differences between Railing and Fence


What are the differences between railing and fence?

Knowledge of the design criteria of fencing and railing can help us determine which application is correct for which project. This is very important if you are sharing in a decision to buy a fence or guard railing for your project. For us to best understand where the two products are not compatible requires a brief review of the purpose for each.

Safety and building codes have been established to control the use and application of products within the buildings we occupy. These codes have greatly improved the quality, comfort and safety of our homes, offices, commercial and public buildings.

An entry door, for example, is engineered to resist unwanted access by intruders. It must also keep the elements of rain, wind, heat and cold from easily entering. Would you expect the same criteria for the doors that close off interior closets and other rooms? Typically, no! Herein lies the point between the proper use and specification of railing or fencing. Never would you consent to fencing on your balcony and it would be unnecessary to invest in guardrail to close in your yard or playground.

When is fencing used and when is railing used?

We typically use fencing, regardless of style or the material it is made from, to restrict access to an area, such as a pool. It can be used as a barrier or simply for privacy-or both. Railing, on the other hand, is required to meet additional engineering and design criteria.

The strength of a product at ground level where access, not strength, is the main requirement is considerably different than where falling would be extremely detrimental to your well-being and possibly your life.

Throughout most of the country, a simultaneous vertical loading of 200 pounds per linear foot and horizontal uniform loading of 100 pounds per linear foot has been established as a minimum requirement for a product to be used as railing. Fencing, however, does not need to meet any of these values. Consideration needs to be given also to the rails’ ability to maintain those code requirements over time as the effects of the elements begin to work on it, to say nothing of the cosmetic appearance of the product.

When designing a Railing System, these points and more are considered: 

  • Meeting mandated engineering/design criteria of local, state and national building codes such as:
    • Spacing maximums between independent members
    • The handrail “grasp ability” for ADA compliance
    • The connection and mounting pull out values
  • Will the acidity of a salt laden atmosphere negate the load values of the original system?
  • Deflection
  • Water infiltration
  • Reduction in strength due to rust, oxidation or other corrosion, electrolysis
  • Degradation caused by ultra violet sunlight

Fencing does not have such restrictions when being designed. Fencing only needs to meet  your appearance requirements. So when seriously evaluating your needs, consider closely whether a fence product or a true railing system is appropriate.

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