Guide to Deck Railing Systems

Guide to Deck Railing Systems

Deck railings are so much more than just a protective barrier. Over the last decade alone, a wide variety of attractive applications and amazing materials have circulated among industry professionals. With so many styles, sizes, materials and colors available, it can be difficult to choose from just one. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with the materials and designs so as best to suit your decks colors and design when they both come together.

Not only do deck railings come in a wide variety of colors, sizes and shapes but they also come in a wide variety of prices. From the basic $15 per linear foot to the very opulent manufactured glass rails at over $150 a linear square foot, deck railing prices can fluctuate wildly between materials, so it’s a wise idea to explore all deck railing systems before you choose one for your deck.

Wood Railing

The most basic and cheapest of all deck railing materials, wood is by far the most common as well. Pressure treated materials/installation range in price from $10-$20 a linear foot. It is made from southern yellow pine and treated with preservatives.

Cedar and redwood railing can run three times as much or more in some locations where redwood is unavailable. Bare logs make for an interesting rustic design to any deck. They tend to run around the same cost as milled cedars and redwoods, but can be found in some areas at a much cheaper price, comparable even to conventional pressure treated woods. It’s always a good idea to check around local lumber mills for bare log deals.

Exotic hardwoods can cost up to five times as much as conventional deck railing installation—and that’s just for the materials alone. Add in expensive wood preservatives, hidden fastening systems and continual upkeep and maintenance and you’ve got a very elegant and pricey deck railing system.

While wood railing systems can be costly, most wood railing is relatively low priced. But there is a tradeoff for cheap materials. Wood must be maintained biannually to prevent decay, dry rot, insect infestation and a host of other situations that must always be kept in check using paints, stains and sealants.

Composite Railing

These man made materials offer low maintenance, a wide variety of colors, shapes, sizes and designs as well as various material combinations with alternate pricing options. More often than not, the decking planks are designed by the same manufacturer to match the railing system. And because many manufacturers use railing kit systems, it makes for a quick and easy installation process, lowering the cost of labor.

Some kits require the use of 4×4 pressure treated posts, covered by composite sleeves. These are great when it comes to refurbishing an old deck. Even though composites cost twice as much as wood, they require significantly less maintenance making them much cheaper in the long run.

Metal Railing

This durable and strong railing material can be used in conjunction with wood, composites, glass or cables. Its strength and durability make a suitable, but costly candidate for deck railing systems. All metal railing is a common material, especially in commercial decking applications. Metal attaches easily to wood, aluminum and composite decking with ease, allowing one to mix and match materials for the perfect deck design.

Powder coated metal is great for maintenance free metal railing. Steel and aluminum can both be powder coated using an oxidized pigment and an electric charge that attracts and bonds the pigment to the metal. No blistering paint, no peeling flakes and no repainting needed make this a low maintenance and long lasting rail system.

Privacy Railing

When privacy is a must for your deck, privacy railing can be installed anywhere you need it. Tighter bannisters, thicker balusters and lattice type screening are all used to create the ultimate private deck, even in the city. Privacy railing can be just a six foot tall panel near a window or an entire ten foot tall wall of lattice work around your deck.

Steel, aluminum, wood and composites can all be used to create privacy railing. But no matter what materials you use for privacy railing, it must comply with local railing codes and specs.

Cable Railings

When view and a cool breeze are what you’re looking for in a deck railing, then metal cable railing is for you. The ultimate choice in high-tech fashion and style, cable railings are a series of metal cables run between posts to create an open and airy patio or deck. Topped with an attractive metal, wood or glass rail, cable systems can add the perfect touch of class to any deck.

Metal cable railings are held under strict IBC, IRC and ICC restrictions and must be tightened to certain specifications by a professional cable railing installer. Cable railings are one of the most expensive deck railing systems to install because of this.

Glass Railing

For the ultimate in elegance and perfect for uninhibited views, glass railings are made from tempered shatter resistant glass. In some cases, tinted glass may be used to cut down on sunlight infiltration. Colored glass can also be used to create a variety of lighting effects as the sunlight changes throughout the day and at night using backlighting. Frosted and etched designs are also a common glass railing design element.

Glass railing is certainly the most expensive of deck railing systems and can bring the price of any deck system through the roof. It might also carry some stiff restrictions from local building officials. Height, placement and length are all affected by local codes throughout every region, so it’s always a good idea to check with your local building department before proceeding with any glass railing project.

Codes and Regulations

While codes change from region to region, typical handrail codes are pretty basic. Height requirements are usually 36″ from deck top to handrail top but can vary from 34-36″ with some codes. Spindles can be laid out in a wide variety of styles and designs but spacing must never be more than 4″ between any space on the railing. Stair treads and handrail height must be between 36-38″ in most cases, but variations of this rule change from area to area so always check local building regulations before you hire any decking contractor to ensure you’re both on the same page when it comes to handrail height and spindle location.

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