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The 3 Steps to Creating Safe Deck Railings

Aug 22, 2007
Railings are the most visible element of any deck. They make an instant design statement for all to see and admire from a distance and close up. Deck railings do more than add a safety feature to a deck. They establish the style and limits of the deck space itself. Local building code standards won't affect the nearly endless number of deck design choices and construction choices to be used. Railings are not necessary on all decks but when they are, usually because of the deck's height above ground level, it is important to make a wise choice as to their design and structure.

Step #1 - Deck Height:

Railings are generally required for decks over 36 inches high above ground level and for any set of stairs. However, 24 inches might be a better minimum because in today's society people are more likely to sue a homeowner in the event of a fall. All it takes is one too many drinks and no railing for an accident to occur. In many cases the injured parties who launch these lawsuits are relatives or friends who just happen to be the individuals most likely to be on your deck. It's better to be safe than sorry!

Step #2 - Railing Height:

Railings are generally 36 to 42 inches above a deck's surface. They can be as low as 30 inches or as high as 48 inches depending upon the height of the deck above ground level. The rule of thumb is: The higher the deck; the higher the railing. This is all done for safety considerations. Deck railings can have wood, vinyl or aluminum balusters as well as louvers. They can be built with solid facings that can include plywood siding, plastic panels or tempered glass. However, they need to be a safe height above the level of the deck.

Step #3 - Railing Construction:

Railings are made up of vertical posts capped and joined by a cross member laid flat. The cross member may be the same width or wider than the posts. The spacing distance between the posts depends upon the cap's size and the horizontal rail's length. For example, 4x4 posts can be spaced up to 4 feet apart under a 2x4 cap while 4x4 posts can be spaced up to 6 feet apart under a 2x6 cap.

The strongest and simplest railings are those with horizontal parts secured by bolts or screws to the outside faces of the posts. For a cleaner, more streamlined railing, the horizontals would be placed between the posts. Building codes specify the maximum space between balusters, often 4 inches. Screws and bolts are always a better choice for the construction of railings.

Railings should coordinate with the architectural style of the home in some way. This can be done in terms of materials used, detailing and connections. It is important to check with local building code bylaws to clearly determine the requirements in terms of railing height, material types, lumber sizes, distances between support posts and distances between balusters.

The important things to do in the building of deck railings are to create a railing that complements your overall deck design, to comply with local building codes and to take the time to do the job as well as possible. In no time you'll have a railing system in place on your deck that will be the envy of the neighborhood.
About the Author
Richard Vande Sompel is a professional deck builder of 35 years and over 850
decks built and is the author of "How to Plan, Design and Build a Deck from
Start to Finish". To Discover More About
Deck Railings and Claim your 2
FREE Deck Plans, Insider Report, MP3 Audio and discover everything to know about
building a deck visit:
http://www.DeckBuildingRevealed.com
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