Balustrades are a combination of balusters, newel posts, and top caps that form protective railings or define specific areas. A variety of materials and styles combine to create many different types of balcony balustrades. The styles range from carved marble for upscale homes to the rustic look of natural branches for cabins. Architectural balustrades are decorative and only provide visual interest, while functional balustrades are safety devices to prevent balcony falls. Balustrades used on a balcony are usually subject to building requirements that determine the spacing between the balusters.
Wooden balcony balustrades are common. Wood is an inexpensive material that is easy to fabricate into an assortment of styles. The balustrade can be as simple as plain spindles capped by a flat board or as fancy as carved balusters topped with a highly polished handrail. Many wood balustrade styles are simple enough for a home owner to fabricate and install without help. A disadvantage of wood balustrades is their lack of permanence; they are vulnerable to weather and water damage and may need periodic maintenance or replacing.
Many balustrades are made of metal. Wrought iron balustrades typically use a pattern of curved or angled pieces of steel, making very strong and sturdy railings. Aluminum is a good alternative for wrought iron, as it can duplicate many of the same shapes but does not have the disadvantage of rusting. Lace balustrades are a type of decorative railing incorporating panels of intricate designs set between solid newel posts. The panels are made of cast aluminum, wrought iron, or cast iron.
Stone balustrades include those made from marble, quarry stone, or limestone. Experienced craftspeople carve or machine the raw stone to create various shapes; assembly of the components takes place on-site. The balusters are wider and heavier than those made of other materials. This type requires substantial balcony support. Although stone balcony balustrades are very labor intensive and tend to be expensive, they are extremely long lasting and virtually maintenance free.
A type of imitation cast stone uses a mixture of plastic, ground stone, and binding agents. It approximates the look of authentic stone but at a fraction of the cost and weight. Tempered glass is a modern type of material and creates balcony balustrades with open views. Molded plastic, made from urethane or polyurethane, is a cost-effective option for balustrades. Plastic balusters frequently contain steel rods that provide extra strength.