The deck railing style you chose for your new deck is the piece de resistance of the project. Safety is the practical consideration behind the installation of railings, and you should also keep maintenance in mind. But there is an aesthetic component: choosing wisely from among the various styles is critical to the project from a design perspective.
"Deck railings" here refers to the whole unit placed at the edge of your decking to prevent the unwary from falling off: posts, panels (i.e., "balusters," "rungs") and handrails.
I recently conducted an email interview on this topic with an expert in the field, Lawrence Winterburn. The results of the interview are contained in the following Q&A:
Q: What choices do I have for materials when installing deck railings?
A: Here are some of the choices:
1. Typical Builder Deck Railings:
These are the beveled 2x2 wood pickets fastened to a 2x6 on edge at the top and fastened to the rim joist of the deck (outer band of wood in the deck frame).
2. Custom Wood Deck Railings:
Any shape and size you can imagine can be done from wood. It takes a pro, and sometimes an engineer's stamp of approval, but there are unlimited options for custom styles, an example of which is shown in this deck railing picture.
3. Pre-Fabricated Vinyl Extrusions With Metal Sleeve Inserts (for Strength):
Aluminum inserts in wood deck railings are getting more popular as a sort of DIY metal deck railing without needing to weld. Simply drill your holes in two 2x4's on the vertical and press them together. Add a cap handrail and it's done.
Aluminum pre-fab deck railings are available at most lumberyards. These screw- together extrusions often utilize Plexiglas (which yellows, but you can cut to size) or tempered glass inserts which either have to be used as is or made custom for the project in advance. The glass inserts offer safety without sacrificing the view, as shown in this deck railing picture. We had one client that wanted them so that they would have a clear view of the pool so that they could see if their handicapped daughter was ok while in the pool.
Metal deck railings can range from the old basic welded metal (painted) deck railings, to architectural aluminum-powder coated finish. You want to watch using metal with red cedar -- the tannins react with the moist iron to produce black stains -- but aluminum works perfectly in contact with red cedar.
4. Composite Deck Railings:
There are a few composite choices, most have metal reinforcement -- nearly all look like wood. Just my opinion -- they shouldn't. They could do so many wonderful and different things with composite -- alas, they don't.
On Page 2 we continue the interview with Lawrence on styles of deck railings....