Few homeowners realize that when you’re planning the design and construction of a deck and patio, the deck railings are just as important as the deck itself. The railings provide the finishing touch and overarching style of the basic decking platform. Most homeowners and builders will use the same material for the railings as they do for the base decking material but it’s not impossible to opt for a different material in the railings. When making the choice, you not only have to consider aesthetics but also the maintenance in the long term.
There are a variety of materials that you can use when installing deck railings (and keep in mind this refers to the entire unit that is placed as a buffer at the edge of your deck to prevent your friends and family from taking a nose dive off the end – including the posts, panels and handrails along the deck):
Typical Deck Railings
The most typical kind of railing can be seen in homes around the U.S. in every state and every county. They are made up of beveled 2×2 wood pickets that have been fastened to a 2×6 on edge (at the top) and to the rim joist of the deck (which is the outer band of wood in your deck frame). This is a cheap and simple option that most deck and patio builders will do if no other custom option is requested.
Custom Deck Railings
Thanks to the skill and creativity of deck and patio builders, you can get just about any size and shape out of the wood used for building your deck railings. It may sometimes require the keen design eye of a professional creative buff (as well as the chin-rub and approving nod of an engineer) but creativity is the limit when it comes to custom deck railings for your outdoor living space.
Prefab Vinyl Deck Railings
These railings – often with aluminum inserts for strength – are becoming more popular with the DIY crowds as the metal deck comes together without any need for welding. Holes can be drilled into the 2×4’s on the vertical and pressed together. Once a cap handrail is put into place the project is done. These prefab deck railings are available in most lumberyards. The benefit to these systems is that you can get either glass or Plexiglas inserts for your screw-together deck and patio railings. If your deck overlooks a pool area this can be a great way to maintain the view of your pool.
Composite Deck Railings
There are various choices for composite deck railing material, and most have some kind of metal reinforcements in more recent designs. Nearly all composite decking material is created to resemble wood so homeowners can get that polished, beautiful wooden shine at a fraction of the cost. Most of the designs you’ll find will be modern or colonial in style without engaging the creative arts too much – mainly because most homeowners go for simple when building on a budget.
If you’re looking for a unique deck and patio design, opt for using real wood in your deck railings. This will give you the most range and versatility in a custom deck design with your builder. Likewise the wood will provide long-lasting durability that’s hard to get from cheaper composite materials.