Handrails at home need not be boring.
You’re probably used to seeing handrails that look like just solid blocks of wood and other materials and their designs are made up of just straight lines.
Some homes that are bigger and spacious may also use glass or transparent materials for a clean and minimalist look.
If you want eye-catching designs in your home, chances are your railings were of least priority. You were probably more focused on the furniture, the lights, the walls, the staircase, the windows, etc. but not your railings.
But why should you go for wrought iron railings?
If you want something aesthetically pleasing, yet gets the job done, wrought iron railings are for you.
Wrought iron railings have been used for centuries as fences that have aesthetic purposes as well. In fact, this was the choice of Sir Christopher Wren when he found out that there was a plan to build a fence around St Paul’s Cathedral in London. He never wanted a fence to surround his masterpiece; as a compromise, he agreed but only if wrought iron will be used.
This type of railing became popular in Europe, especially during the Victorian era, but they actually started production as early as the 15th century. These fences and railings were used primarily as boundary markers and for security purposes. It was not until sometime later that people began adding design elements to wrought iron railings and incorporate them to their homes as a status symbol.
They eventually made their way to America when wrought iron was first crafted in Massachusetts by Saugus Ironworks in 1644. Due to finally having wrought iron domestically produced, people began using them for their fences and railings. There was a great demand for them that some would even import wrought iron from Europe just to keep up with the orders.
It was a popular choice for so many homeowners for several centuries, until cast iron was introduced in the middle of the 18th century. The emergence of cast iron, which was a cheaper material than wrought iron, made people switch. In the United States, however, they regained their popularity in the 20th century and the craftsmen in those times came up with even more intricate designs.
What is Wrought Iron?
It is quite easy for anyone to confuse wrought iron for cast iron and steel at first glance. To the untrained eye, they all look the same, although wrought iron in its natural form has a lighter shade of gray color. This is why metal railings can be made up of any of those three.
Telling them by touch, however, is another story. This is because compared to the two, wrought iron is less smooth because they are usually forged by hand using an anvil or water pressure. The forging process gives it its signature grainy texture, which is reminiscent of wood. This type of iron can be worked with while it is both hot or cold.
Which is softer, wrought iron, cast iron, or steel? If your answer is all of them are equally hard, you’re incorrect. Among these three, wrought iron is the softest and is the best material to use in fences and railings with designs. They have less carbon content and also contain slag, which makes them much more pliable. They can be easily formed into any shape, unlike cast iron that is much more brittle.
Its Advantages and Disadvantages
Now that you know that there are other materials that you can use for metal railings, you might wonder why you should still go for wrought iron.
One of the main advantages of using wrought iron is that it is much more malleable. This allows you to make various designs with it, even complicated ones that are not possible when using cast iron, without affecting its durability. This is why wrought iron is the material of choice of those who focus on design when creating railings and fences.
Because of its grainy finish, wrought iron can be used to complement the look of both modern and vintage structures. Its versatility allows you to install it virtually anywhere and it would still look good and add character to any structure.
Although it is known for its flexibility, this does not mean wrought iron is soft and unreliable. Wrought iron is sturdy enough to support weight, even when they are forged thinly. This is why wrought iron railings often have dainty designs.
The sturdiness of wrought iron is also noteworthy. They can withstand even the harshest weather conditions. In fact, it is common to see wrought iron fences that are over centuries old that look like they were just installed days or weeks ago!
Do you live in an area that is earthquake prone, or do you live with kids who love to rattle and shake anything that they can get their hands on, even your railings at home? If so, you should use wrought iron for your railings and fences. This type of iron is actually strong enough to withstand strong shocks, despite its fragile appearance.
Rust is the most common enemy of iron and unfortunately, this also affects wrought iron primarily because of the slag content in it. Its grainy texture can also contribute to the formation of rust because the pits can hold water and this will eventually cause corrosion and if left untreated, it can destroy important joints and be a safety hazard. Fortunately, this is preventable by applying paint over wrought iron.
The processes involved in creating wrought iron, as well as the material itself, makes it quite an expensive material compared to cast iron, aluminum, and steel. However, the saying that “you get what you pay for” holds true here as well. Despite its price tag, wrought iron will last longer than its cheaper counterparts.
You should also know that pure wrought iron is hardly produced nowadays because of the cost to make them. This also contributes to its high price. And if you manage to find some and they may need repairs later on, it’s not easy to find replacements for them.
If privacy is an issue, wrought iron, especially when used for railings and fences, is not for you. Wrought iron does not come in sheets and they are usually just an inch wide, leaving large open spaces in between them.
The Importance of Stair, Deck, and Porch Railings Inside and Outside
For practicality purposes, you might think that installing railings, especially when your stairs only have few steps, is not a necessity. Why install railings for your front porch or deck if there are just around 5 steps on the stairs? Why ruin your open-plan layout inside and outside your home with railings? If your stairs are connected to your wall and they are already sturdy and look great, why bother adding railings to it?
Make sure to also read our article on porch flooring options.
There is one answer to all of those: for safety.
Plenty of accidents occur at home, with some of them being fatal, and a large percentage of these accidents could have been preventable if people were protected by railings. If you ever experienced a strong earthquake, you know that it’s hard to balance yourself when you feel it while standing up.
Now, imagine this happening while you are climbing up or down the stairs or are just standing outside on your porch or deck and you have nothing to hold on to. What do you think can happen to you?
This is why you should never take railings for granted. It can actually save your life or the life of others.
Having railings also helps those with balancing issues. They need something to hold on to while moving around and these let them move independently, especially when they are dealing with narrow spaces that only one person at a time can pass through.
For those with vertigo or have phobias related to heights and open spaces, having railings installed at home can give them a sense of safety that will enable them to move comfortably on their own, even around staircases and the edges of their decks and porches.
Have you ever tried carrying your groceries or other heavy objects up a flight of stairs? Or have you ever walked around your porch or deck carrying something big that obstructs your view and you had to rely on your memory to find your way? Without any railings, it would be far easier for you to break your neck with just a single misstep than carry your heavy load.
If you live in an area where winters dump loads of snow and ice all over, or rain lashes like there’s no tomorrow, you probably already have an idea of how hard and slippery it is to move around. Doubly so if you don’t have anything to hold on to. This is where railings come in, especially if your flooring gets slippery when wet.
Railings can also protect you from strong winds. They can act as barriers to help prevent flying objects from hitting your home and causing damage to it, as well as prevent your stuff from flying around.
You may have the most beautiful home in your neighborhood but if your house has a lot of safety issues, such as not having railings, chances are you, yourself, will eventually find it uncomfortable to live there. If aesthetics is your concern why you are hesitant to install them, there are so many workarounds for that, and using wrought iron railings come to mind. Don’t compromise you and everyone else’s safety just for beauty.
If you want to have railings installed at home, choose professionals to do it for you. This will guarantee that your railings will be installed correctly and will not have safety issues in the future. They will also know the proper railings that should be installed for your home and make sure that these railings will comply to the safety and building codes.
Ask any contractor and they will tell you that the most difficult type of railings they install are those made up of wrought iron. This is mostly due to their weight, the actual process of installing them, and the need for them to be anchored properly.
Installing them is never a one man’s job, that’s why you should leave it to the professionals. Improper installation can even pose safety risks over time and they therefore won’t serve the purpose that they were originally intended for. Here’s how they generally do it:
- Before your contractor and his or her workers begin installing, they must first check out the building code in your area for compliance. They would also have to inquire with your local association for any fees or requirements needed before work can start. Whether you live in Texas, New Jersey or another state, it’s important to make sure that the work is carried out by licensed contractors, and since states have varying contractor license requirements, it might be an idea to look into your state’s requirements first.
- Your contractor will also talk to you regarding the dimensions of your railings, as well as the materials you want to use. He or she may also be the one to fabricate your railings and you can discuss design as well. You need to discuss your budget with him or her in order to make the necessary adjustments beforehand.
- After coming up with an agreement, materials and tools needed for the installation will need to be organized by your contractor. If possible, provide ample space where these can all be stored on your property.
- If installing indoors, you can cover your floorings, décor, work areas, and furniture, with sheets or other protective material to prevent them from being covered in sawdust or be possibly damaged during construction.
- Holes will be drilled on your floor if you are installing them on a finished surface (for wood and concrete surfaces). This will mark the ends of your railings and where the posts will be installed. If there are posts in between, your contractor will also drill holes for them.
- Concrete or wood debris must be vacuumed out of those holes before your contractor tests how well the posts will fit on the holes.
- If the posts fit the drilled holes well, your contractor will secure them using epoxy or anchor bolts. Anchor bolts will be used if the posts have mounting holes available. If not, epoxy will be applied around the area surrounding the post. If using epoxy, your contractor has to check that the railing will dry at an even and straight level. To do that, a wooden brace may be installed to hold them in place.
- After installing the anchor bolts or when the epoxy is completely dry, your contractor will push and pull on your railings several times to see if it has been correctly installed and make necessary adjustments.
It is inevitable that at some point, you will have to make repairs all over your home, no matter what kind of materials were used in its construction. Even if you use the most expensive ones but if you do not do regular maintenance on them, problems will arise and you will need to do some repairs later.
Wrought iron is no exception to that. Fortunately, the issues common to it are minor and can be easily resolved.
Over time, bolts and screws of your wrought iron railings may loosen up. When this happens, they only need to be manually tightened using a wrench or screwdriver, whichever is more appropriate.
But if the masonry connections are the ones that are quite loose, you need to remove the fasteners and even the anchors and either use slightly larger fasteners or add epoxy to the holes if they have become larger and can no longer hold the anchors in place.
For screws or bolts that are stuck due to rust, they can be loosened up using penetrating oil. Apply it directly to the rusted screw or bolt and allow it to soak the rusted area for several minutes. This will allow the oil to loosen up the connection.
If rust is present, you need to remove it as soon as they appear. They can be removed using anything abrasive, such as a wire brush or even household materials such as vinegar, lemon, or baking soda. There are also rust removers sold in hardware stores but anyone who will use them should wear protective gear.
But if your wrought iron railing is badly in need of repair because some sections are already broken due to rust, reconnecting them may be possible using epoxy weld. But if the damage is too severe, your contractor may break off that particular section and replace it. Just hope that your contractor can find one.
How it is Painted
If your wrought iron railings are already in need of a fresh coat of paint, there are steps that should be followed so that the paint will completely adhere to it and last for a long time:
- Completely remove all the rust present, as well as the old coat of paint still remaining.
- Use sandpaper or any other sanding tool to smoothen the surface of the wrought iron, especially the section where rust and old paint were removed.
- A primer, which should be a rust inhibiting type, should be added prior to applying the first coat of paint. Only a single thin coat is needed for the primer to set.
- The primer should be completely dry before doing another round of sanding, which ensures that the surface is completely smooth. After sanding, use a cloth or rag to remove any dust or flakes still on the wrought iron.
- Apply the paint to the iron. This paint should be an enamel type that has an exterior grade but it would be even better if it is a “direct-to-metal” or DTM type, since it already contains rust inhibiting agents. One coat is usually enough but succeeding coats may also be added if needed.
Steel as an Alternative
Wrought iron railings undeniably look good. But if regular maintenance is an issue, it may be best for you to look at other options.
Among all the possible materials, steel is the best. Even manufacturers know this, owing to the fact that many of the supposed wrought iron products nowadays, like gates and guard rails, are actually crafted using mild galvanized steel and not wrought iron.
Steel is stronger and harder and this makes it much more reliable to use compared to wrought iron. Their iron and carbon content allow them to withstand even much more damage than that of wrought iron.
But because it is harder to mold and less flexible, they are not as customizable. Your choices are limited when it comes to adding decorative elements. However, many manufacturers nowadays craft them in such a way that they mimic the grainy texture of wrought iron. They can also customize your orders, although usually not as intricate as wrought iron.
If you think wrought iron is expensive, steel is even more so. However, the fact that steel does not really corrode or rust and any kind of maintenance is hardly needed evens out the price. In fact, steel can last a lifetime, even longer than wrought iron.
Other Railing Materials
If wrought iron and steel are too expensive for you, you can look at other options if you want railings for your home that look as good as them.
One alternative is using aluminum, which is another tough material. This is a cheaper alternative and is also easier to install than wrought iron railings. It doesn’t even require you to do some maintenance on it over time. However, you cannot really customize it. They usually come in just solid lines.
Another material you can use is cast iron. You might recall us mentioning that cast iron overtook wrought iron as the material of choice for crafting decorative railings for some time in the past. This is because cast iron is cheaper than wrought iron and can also be customized. However, cast iron is only recommended for use indoors, since it is much more brittle than wrought iron.
Getting Free Quotes from Competing Contractors
Have you finally decided to get wrought iron railings for your home?
Your next step is to get the best wrought iron railing contractor to do the job for you. Unless there is only one contractor available in your area, you need to take time and compare the contractors you can possibly hire.
They may all be equally skilled and competent but what will set them apart from each other is their respective rates for the project.
It is common practice for contractors to give you a ballpark range of how much a project can cost. Make sure to ask about it when you talk to one.
But the most important thing you should remember is that you need to hint that you are also talking to other similar contractors. Once they find out, chances are this will trigger them to match the quotations of other contractors, lower their rates, and add some more services to entice you to choose them.
It’s all a matter of letting them get competitive with each other. When this happens, they will be the ones who will reach out to you with their respective quotations for the project, instead of the other way around. The easiest way to make sure you get competitive bids for your project is by filling out the form on our website.