Cable Railings vs. Glass Railings Considerations: Which Is Right for Your Modern Deck?

Nick P. Cellucci
Written by Nick P. Cellucci
Updated March 14, 2022
balcony with glass railings with a view
Photo: Iriana Shiyan / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Both styles are well-suited for modern deck designs.

  • Cable railings are more affordable and easier to maintain.

  • Glass railings are safer and offer completely unobstructed views.

  • Cost per linear foot is $150–250 for cable and $200–$450 for glass.

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Outdoor spaces like decks and balconies are a great way to enjoy the outdoors while relaxing at home. If you’re designing or renovating a deck and want to preserve your view, you can update your railings with styles designed to prioritize beautiful views. Compare popular cable and glass deck railings to decide which of these modern looks will best meet your needs.

Cable Railing Pros & Cons

cable railings on balcony
Photo: Javani LLC / Adobe Stock

Cable deck railing comprises a series of posts with stainless steel cables threaded through horizontally. The other standard cable railing construction has a top and bottom rail and vertical cables.

Pros

  • Durable stainless steel cables resist corrosion and grime buildup

  • Minimalist, open-style blends into the background for an unobstructed view

  • Easy maintenance requires occasional tightening with a wrench

  • Cables cover long distances and are more affordable than glass panels

  • Available in a variety of finishes ranging from shiny to dark metals

  • Nature-friendly design doesn’t harm flying birds

  • Adds value to your home with versatility and durability

Cons

  • Open space between cables and the ladder-like design may be a safety risk

  • Might not meet local building codes in some cities or areas

  • More expensive upfront than wood railings

Glass Railing Pros & Cons​

patio with glass railings
Photo: Image Supply Co / Adobe Stock

Glass panels also offer a sleek, modern appearance for deck railings. These framed or frameless panels are frequently clamped between posts with glass clips and offer a practically invisible appearance.

Pros

  • Made from highly durable material stands up to harsh weather

  • Transparent glass allows unobstructed outdoor views, even from low vantage points like lounge chairs

  • More coverage accounts for small children and pet safety considerations

  • Quarter-inch thick tempered glass provides good security

  • Available in a range of decorative options and color tints

Cons

  • Requires thorough and frequent cleaning

  • Subject to grime and mineral stains if not properly maintained

  • Transparent panels can be a hazard to flying birds

  • Tend to be more expensive than most other deck rail materials

Cable Railings vs. Glass Railings

Both railing options open up outdoor spaces and provide better views. Despite these similarities, some obvious differences may sway you one way or the other when making a selection. We’ll compare these two contemporary railing materials below across various categories.

Cable and glass railing comparison, with cable being the more affordable option

Appearance​

Both cable and glass railings create a modern or contemporary design that may not work for more traditional decks. They tend to look best with stainless steel frames or a mixture of wood and metal or composite materials for a clean, functional appearance.

Both railing types offer some versatility—like glass color tints or different cable orientations— and can be used to create a more open, spacious feel. Otherwise, their similarities mean that appearance comes down to your personal preference.

Most aesthetically pleasing: Tie

Durability​

These modern railing materials are both designed with durability in mind. Cable railings have stainless steel cables and posts and can withstand harsh sunlight and marine environments for many years.

Glass railings, meanwhile, are made using quarter-inch thick panels of tempered glass that is also virtually indestructible in harsh weather. However, glass is still susceptible to chipping or scratches, and some cleaners can cause damage that’s expensive to remove.

Most durable: Cable railings

Price​

Cable deck railings are expensive compared to the cost of other deck railing materials but tend to be more affordable than glass. The average cost for labor and materials to professionally install an exterior deck railing ranges from $200 to $450 per linear foot for glass railings and $150 to $250 per linear foot for cable railings.

The cost of cable railings will increase and become similar to glass if you opt for all stainless steel cable railings. You can save on cable railings by choosing wood posts and framing.

Most affordable: Cable railings

Maintenance​

Cable rails require almost no maintenance. The materials used to build them are resistant to corrosion and damage from harsh weather, even near the ocean, where salty air is typically an issue. Because the cables need tension to stay firm and create a safe barrier, you will occasionally need to tighten them with a wrench when they get loose.

Glass panels require much more extensive maintenance. They can be difficult to keep clean, especially if your deck is elevated. A common problem is the buildup of unsightly grime, and you’ll need to use glass-safe cleaners and regularly clean to avoid lasting damage.

Easiest maintenance: Cable railings

View

Newly installed glass railings offer completely unobstructed views thanks to their transparent design. However, without proper cleaning, they are prone to water stains, smudges, dirt, and grime that can distort your view and be hard to remove, especially if you have an elevated deck.

Cable railing may not be as transparent, but it is designed to be thin enough so that your eyesight can focus beyond the railing. Your only true obstruction is the posts and top railing.

Best view: Tie

Safety

Properly installed and maintained cable railings are rigid and spaced about four inches apart. This creates a barrier that should effectively block large objects from falling through. However, openings are still present, and horizontal cables can also create a ladder-like appearance.

Glass rails, on the other hand, are slick surfaces with little to no space in between. If safety for small children or pets is a top priority for your home, glass may be a better fit.

Safest: Glass railings

Eco-Friendly

These sturdy modern materials both last for years and won’t need to be replaced often, so they don’t end up in landfills as often as some of their less-durable counterparts. However, glass railings do pose one environmental issue. Because they’re transparent, flying birds won’t always see them in time to avoid a collision. The spaces between cable railings are much more bird-friendly.

Best for the environment: Cable railings

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