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There’s more to putting Deck railings on your deck than you think. Not only do railings need to reflect the style of the home, but there are codes and safety features that need to be adhered to. Railings are one of the most important parts on your deck to get right.

Let’s start by talking about code for a minute. I don’t know that this code is true everywhere but it is true across Canada. When the deck surface is under two rises off the ground no railing is required though if I wasn’t installing a railing I would make sure there are steps completely around the deck. If the deck surface is more than two rises (16” max.) but less than 8 feet off the ground the top of the railing needs to be 36” above the deck surface. If the deck is above 8 feet off the ground the railings are to be a minimum of 42” above the deck surface. Though you may be tempted to cheat on these requirements I would not recommend you do that. You need to know this information as it will determine the height of posts etc. in the later information.

Here are some tips for deciding what type of deck railing design best suits your situation.

Deck RailingsPosts:
– Let’s start here. They are the bones of the railing and need to be fastened correctly both for security and safety. The height of the posts needs to be calculated by code (above) and by style.
– Posts (most often 4×4’s) can be mounted on the exterior of the rim joist or inside the rim joist with either nails or galvanized bolts. The rim joist is the main lumber member around the perimeter of the deck often a 2×6 or 2×8.
– Posts can be higher than the top rail at each section to draw your eye toward them or be stopped just under the top rail allowing for a smooth top line around the deck. I recommend you install them a few inches higher then they need to be and the re-cut them to the proper height after they are all installed as this usually makes for a more uniform height..
– You can add detail to your posts by wrapping the posts with 1×6 which make them bigger and smother then the 4×4 would be. If your posts protrude above the top rail (often about 3”) adding a cap really sets them off.

Post Caps:
– Post caps provide a professional look to posts that protrude about the top rail. They are available in many styles, from simple to ornamental. You can also make them with some 2” material two inches bigger them the size of your post, then routing the edges a little for added style.
– You can also buy lighted post caps which provide added safety and decoration at night.

Deck RailingsTop Rails:
– Wood top rails (usually 2×4 or 2×6 lumber), can be installed flat or on edge. Flat is stronger but a wide top rail can hold water and deteriorate quicker.
– Top rails installed over top of the vertical posts can sometimes result in a stronger railing; though the other style can be just as solid if nailed correctly.
– Your railing really defines the perimeter of a deck and gives it its style.

– Balusters (also called pickets or spindles) are the vertical members between the top and bottom rails.
– Often these are made from 2×2’s or turned spindles but they are sometimes made from 1×4 or 1×6 boards.
– Wide balusters create a more confined space ideal for obscuring a view or for reflecting the heavier structure of the home itself.
– Thin balusters create openness and accentuate a view. Alternating narrow and wide balusters create an interesting visual contrast.
– Aluminum, steel or wrought iron balusters are less obtrusive. The inherent strength of the material means they can be thinner and provide a more open view. These alternatives are not often used on a wood deck though some people like the contrast of steel and wood.
– Baluster spacing should not exceed 4” from inside edge to inside edge, but check with local building codes to be sure. In addition, some building codes prohibit horizontal balusters because they facilitate climbing.

– These can be bought to be installed between the posts. They are not cheap but they save you buying the balusters and railings.
– Glass panels are one of the most popular and capitalize on views.
– Semi-transparent panels provide privacy while allowing for maximum light.
– Louvered panels between posts give a very contemporary look.

Deck RailingsMaterials:
– Up until now we have been assuming wood railings but today there are other choices both for the deck itself and the railings.
– Composite materials are becoming more popular for both decks and railings and can be used (depending on the material) in much the same way as wood. It is more expensive but lasts longer and needs little to no maintenance.
– Vinyl is also a popular alternative to wood when it comes to decks and railings. It is more expensive than wood and a little more then even the composite materials but requires no maintenance other than washing. It is different then wood to work with but not difficult to work with and is often reinforced with steel inside for strength.
– Some people love to make the deck out of wood and then use vinyl or composite for the railing for the no maintenance factor.

Whatever you choose for material and style, work safe and build safe so there are no accidents to spoil the summer fun.

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3 Responses to “Deck Railings – Making the right choice”

[…] « Deck Railings – Making the right choice […]

I have often found it hard to know what the right choice would be for a deck railing. Your article helped me work through that. Thanks

Although vinyl is more expensive than a wood it is durable and at the same time it is easy to maintain and safe. I can share to you a website that sells vinyl railings and decks at low price. To visit the website just click my name on this comment.