The first and easy answer is yes, you certainly can add LED lighting to balustrades. Plenty of systems are available that include allowances for lighting, and the Defender channel system allows for the easy addition of LED lighting. However, below are a few things to consider when designing LED lighting into your balustrade.
Plan it in
Most systems require lighting to be thought through and included at the design stage. To retrofit LEDs into a frameless channel, the whole balustrade often has to be deglazed. This involves removing all the glass from the channel to install lighting at the bottom. Some channel designs aren’t suitable for lighting, such as a wet glaze system, as the grout would completely cover any light. It is also worth noting that only dry glaze systems can be deglazed, and removing the glass from the channel can result in breaking panels in the process.
Adding white light underneath clear glass doesn’t achieve much, as the glass is clear. In most of the stunning photos of lit-up balustrades with soft white light seen on Pinterest, the LED lighting is actually set into the decking rather than in the balustrade. The overall effect is usually better than the lighting directly inside the balustrading.
Whilst LED lighting in base channels can create a stunning effect, it is essential to note that LED lighting will highlight any natural inclusions and “within tolerance” imperfections within or on the glass. These inclusions and blemishes are usually invisible when viewed in natural sunlight but become visible with artificial light. This is allowed for in the GGF document setting out the standards the glass industry works within – the exact section is 8.4.2. The critical wording is ‘natural daylight’, with most issues only arising once the panel is up-lit. An analogy sometimes used is your house looks clean, but if you shine a UV light through your home, it will look dirty, as the UV shows up things that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
Any inclusions within the glass are more evident with laminated glass, as there are two panes of glass rather than just one. The lamination process can also create slight marks within the glass panel that aren’t visible in natural sunlight.
Coloured LED lighting
If shining coloured LED lights through glass, different colours may pick up other imperfections. Different frequencies of light/colour will show different things in the glass. Somebody sent in the below photo – these imperfections in the glass were invisible in daylight and not noticeable in any colour other than the green. These inclusions in the glass are entirely within manufacture tolerance.
Anecdotally, we have found that green light is particularly bad at highlighting any tiny imperfection in the glass, as these photos demonstrate. All these marks are invisible when viewed in natural daylight.
What are the acceptable tolerances within the glass?
The glazing industry works to a universal standard for the quality of the glass. There are tolerances allowed for, acknowledging that each panel may not be 100% flawless due to the manufacturing process. The GGF document sets out the levels of acceptable tolerances; click here to read the full document. The GGF’s standards state that flat transparent glass, including laminated, toughened or coated glass is acceptable if the following are neither obtrusive nor bunched:
- Bubbles or blisters
- Fine scratches not more than 25mm long
- Minute particles
When inspecting the glass, stand a minimum of 3m away, facing the glass. This is because, in everyday situations, looking through the glass is usually done at a distance, not with your nose a few inches from the surface.
Look through the glass and not at it. This is expected as normal as the glass is there to enable a view beyond the balustrade and not there to be inspected.
Ensure the glass is clean and dry, inside and out. It is impossible to check glass has rain, dust or condensation on it.
The generally accepted practice is that glass is designed to be looked through in natural sunlight rather than artificial light.
How can I fix this?
There is no obvious fix for any panels affected, as it is an unavoidable consequence of adding LED lighting to a balustrade. You could purchase replacement panels for those affected, but the replacements will not be guaranteed to improve. Alternatively, you could play around with different colours and lights – you may find that only a couple of colours show up imperfections, in which case, avoid those colours.
Due to the modern processes of making float class, we have exceptionally flat and clear glass. Because of these processes, glass can be tempered and used structurally in a way that previously would have been impossible. But the very flatness of the glass causes the inclusions to show up when shining a light through it. Modern manufacturing is continually improving, and in time, we may be able to manufacture glass that doesn’t have inclusions and imperfections in it. Unfortunately we aren’t there yet, so please be aware of what LED lighting could do to your balustrade.
To answer the original questions, yes, you can add LED lighting to balustrades. However, it will highlight any inclusions in the glass, and replacing any affected panels won’t necessarily eliminate the problem. For this reason, we do not recommend using LED Lighting within balustrade channels unless all parties involved fully understand and appreciate these implications.