When it comes time to construct or replace a railing around your deck, your first thought is probably wood. Wood is certainly the hands-down favorite for railings, but there are lots of other options out there that are worth exploring.
Composite materials: The growth in popularity of decking materials such as Trex and other composites has brought about an increase in the number of railing components and accessories in the same material. You can now find posts, pickets, rails and other parts that can be used alone or in conjunction with wood to create beautiful, low-maintenance railings to match any type of deck.
Metal: Aluminum, steel and other metal components can be used to make very sturdy, weather-resistant, and attractive railings. Some options include vertical rods of copper or anodized aluminum combined with horizontal wood rails, welded wrought iron in any number of designs, and even brass or copper. Aluminum railing systems offer another great alternative and are available in several baked-on enamel paint colors. Do-it-yourself kits are available through many lumberyards and home centers and the railings can be used with wood pickets or glass panels for lots of design flexibility.
Glass: If you’re looking for a railing that is beautiful and offers unobstructed views, tempered glass panels are well worth considering. A glass railing is constructed using glass panels that are set between posts of wood, metal or other materials, tied together with a supporting top rail. To provide proper support and wind resistance, the glass needs to be the proper thickness for a given square footage of area, exposed edges must be ground smooth, and the glass must be tempered. Glass railings require careful design to be strong and safe, so consult with a licensed architect or engineer for advice.
Steel cable: For another railing option that is strong, low-maintenance and blocks less of your view, consider using steel cable. Cable systems such as Cable Rail offer all the components you need to custom make a cable railing, including stainless steel cable and all the necessary fittings.
Canvas: Canvas is an option for a strong and colorful deck railing. You can find canvas in a variety of colors and patterns and most upholstery shops can cut it into panels for you. Have them seam the edges and set in metal grommets and you can then string the canvas using rope stretched between metal eyebolts which are set in a wood or metal framework.
Wire and wire mesh: For certain applications you can create a railing using wire mesh, which is sold by the roll. The mesh is woven or welded into a grid, and is available both galvanized and vinyl coated in different heights, lengths, wire sizes and grid patterns. The mesh can be attached to a wood or metal framework, using hooks, staples, rope or wire lashing or other methods, and the attachments can be hidden using wood molding strips.
Lattice: Lattice panels set into a wood or aluminum framework can create a railing that offers additional privacy and wind blocking. You can use the lattice alone or combine it with wood, metal, cable or other materials in alternating panels to vary the overall look of the finished railing. Wood lattice is available in a couple of different thicknesses and grid sizes, and can be painted or stained as desired. There are also several vinyl lattices on the market in various colors, which look great and are virtually maintenance free.
Siding: Wood siding, either matching or contrasting with what’s on your house, offers yet another alternative, especially if you’re looking for maximum privacy or wind-blocking characteristics. You can use the siding alone or combine it with a top or middle section of lattice, metal rods, cables or other materials.
The building codes require a deck railing be used for any deck over 30 inches above grade and that the deck be designed and constructed to meet specific requirements for strength. Most codes also require that gaps in the railing — between vertical pickets, for example, or between the bottom rail of the railing and the top of the deck — be designed so that a 4-inch sphere cannot pass through the gap. Before designing or constructing any deck railing, check with your local building departments for specific requirements.
Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.