Railings are used on stairs, balconies, galleries, decks, ramps, walkways and so on, as they are means of providing separation, support and safety. 

Railings can be made from a very wide range of materials:

  • Wrought or cast iron;
  • Stainless steel;
  • Plastic;
  • Plastic-Wood Composite;
  • Wood;
  • Glass;
  • Aluminium;
  • Vinyl;
  • Metal.

The most common residential deck railing design is built on-site using pressure treated lumber, with the vertical balusters regularly spaced to meet building code. Wood railing could be in different styles such as Victorian, Chippendale and others. A popular alternative to wood railing is composite lumber and PVC railing.

Glass balusters and glass panels are often used at contemporary architectural projects where unobstructed view is important. All-glass railing without a top rail can be used to maximize the effect. There are, however, cleaning, security, and wildlife protection issues. Other options include wrought iron and sheet steel, into which custom designs can be cut.

Deck Railing and Building Code

Building Code varies on the national, state, county and municipa level. Most areas in the world that use a variation of the International Building Code require a guard rail if there is a difference of 30″ or more between platforms. Other common requirements are that no space on the railing be greater than that through which a 4″ sphere could pass and that the railing assembly be able to withstand a load of 50 pounds per square foot.

Deck Railing Construction

The typical deck railing is generally built from pressure treated wood. Posts on a deck are also typically pressure treated wood and standard sizes are 4×4, 6×6, and 8×8. These posts give structural support to the railing assembly and are the most critical part for the safety of the guard rail assembly. In between the posts, two 2x4s are attached to the posts with screws for the best connection. The lower board is placed 3.5″ from the top of the finish deck to the bottom of the board. The top board is placed with the top at 35″ from the deck. Then the vertical 2×2 pressure treated wood balusters are installed spaced regularly every 3.5″. Then a 2×6 is installed horizontally across the top of the posts and to 2×4. The 2×6 should be fastened with screws to the posts and 2×4 boards for the most rigidity.

Mountain laurel handrail, glass baluster systems, metal baluster systems, and composite railing systems all install in a similar manner. The difference is in the type of baluster installed. All four of these deck railings can be built using pressure treated wood, another wood like cedar, or composite wood to provide the structure.

Wrought iron and other metal railing systems that do not come in ready-to-install kits will usually require a skilled blacksmith as much welding will be required. These sections are typically built off-site in a workshop under controlled conditions, so that installation on the job site can be as speedy as possible.