Deck Rail FAQ

Are there any rules or regulations I need to know about?

deck raildeck railYes, there are two sources you should use for guidance when building a deck or handrail system: Product manufacturers and National and local building codes. Before you begin designing a deck or a handrail system you need to check your local building codes. Usually you can Google your town, county or jurisdiction and find out who to contact. The general rules for railings are: 36" rail height for single family residential applications and 42" height for commercial and multi-family uses. As for baluster spacing and the rail frame, you should not be able to pass a 4" ball through the rail at any point. This includes the spacing between the bottom of the rail and the deck floor. There are also specifics for stair railings, so check with your local building code officials. Contractors in your area should be familiar with the regulations too. Also, if you are using manufactured products, the product manufacturer will have specific installation and use guidelines. Always follow manufacturer's guidelines.

How far apart should I space my rail posts?

deck railMost rail kits are available in 6' and 8' lengths, but you should verify the length of the railing you are using before you install your posts. Even if you are using wood, it is rarely acceptable to span more than 8' between Handrail posts.

Can I cut manufactured rail kits and use them for several small areas that need rails?

Yes, generally you can. Keep in mind that if you are using metal rails with a powder-coat protective finish that the "touch-up" paint kits will not protect the underlying metal like the powder-coat finish does. Aluminum will not rust even without the powder-coat finish. Galvanized steel is pretty durable, but regular steel will rust fairly quickly without a good protective finish. All composite, vinyl, and co-extruded composite rail kits can be cut without creating any issues. Remember though, that if you need to cut a rail kit and use both halves to be sure to order an extra set of mounting brackets. These are sometimes called "cut kits".

What baluster spacing should I use?

The maximum baluster spacing is usually determined by building codes and safety considerations. To prevent a child from getting stuck between balusters, the open space between balusters should be less than 4". This means that you should not be able to pass a 4" ball through the rail at any point.

What should I consider when choosing rail styles and colors?

deck railWhile rail style is mostly about choosing a railing that looks attractive to you, there are a few other things to consider. A common complaint about railings is the amount of visual obstruction. If this is an issue for you, choose rail frame and balusters that are easier to see through or see past. Consider how the railing will look from inside and outside your house. Choose a color that matches or compliments the finishes on your house or the finishes on the deck itself. If you are unable to choose a complimentary color, then use a neutral color such as Black or White. Don't be afraid to mix colors too. Many times mixing rail frame and baluster colors can look very attractive. What is the difference between composite handrails and co-extruded handrails? Both types of railing have a composite core that is made with wood and plastic. The co-extruded rail has a plastic or PVC shell. This plastic shell creates a high-performance product, since the wood fiber is never exposed. A wood plastic composite rail without the plastic shell will need to be cleaned more frequently and will be more susceptible to stains. Generally co-extruded rails hold their color better too.

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