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Deck Railing Design Ideas

Ideas for Your Home -- From an Expert

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My interview with Lawrence Winterburn, decking expert, is continued here from Page 1. On this page, I ask Lawrence for further deck railing design ideas, including how to match the designs with the style of your home.

Q: For each of the materials for deck railings you just listed, can you give us an idea of the different deck railing designs available?

A: Most of the pre-fab deck railings are colonial or modern in style (Minimalist -- stripped down and void of real style). Some resemble Arts and Crafts loosely, but for the most part they don't stray from the norm for fear of damaging profits.

Metal deck railings are often similarly simple and standard looking -- again to keep prices tight and not to limit the market.

Custom metal and wood deck railings are unlimited in scope and style. When you have a singular home, this is your likely track to getting something to work with your home. This is the realm of the exterior designer.

Q: Can you give examples of how, for this or that particular house style, certain deck railing designs might provide a better complement than others?

A: Metal deck railings often blend well with masonry homes. When you don't want to impose on the view, metal or glass deck railings will be less obstructive. Obviously a natural cedar or wood-trimmed house should have semi-transparent finished wood deck railings. A vinyl-clad house should have solid-color stained deck railings or solid-color vinyl deck railings. There are as many different styles of deck railings as there are homes.

Q: Likewise, for this or that particular landscape design style, can you give examples of how certain deck railing designs might be more complementary than others?

A: Normally when you design woodwork in a yard it resembles the architecture of the home closely, since it is structure. Bastardization should be avoided unless it is a theme garden.

Q: As someone with his finger on the pulse of the decking industry, what materials and/or deck railing designs seem to be gaining most in popularity? Composite wood, for instance?

A: Pre-finished wood / exotic wood deck railings, particularly those with curves, are the pinnacle. Apparently there is a new composite material for deck railings that is ½ the weight and 4x as strong -- it is not available yet, but expect to see it in the next couple of years. Styles and looks are always changing, but in the end it is quality that shows after a few years of wear. What things look like after 5 years in the market have a lot to do with whether it sells well or not in the future.

Composites have made headway -- class action suits have been settled. And some products have improved. But on the whole, the bar is set to a mediocre level when it comes to composites. Read the warranty and go see the product after it's been installed 3 years -- wiggle it, prod it, poke it and type in the product name + class action suit in Google to check their history.

Q: What materials and/or deck railing designs hold up best to the elements with little or no maintenance?

A: The composite companies promise the world -- but sometimes they don't quite live up to expectations. Did you know that when they test the composites for color durability that it is the equivalent of 6 months in real life? Some are good, some are bad; but I wouldn't dare mention one being either, specifically, for fear of being sued.

Similarly, a powder-coated aluminum deck railing's paint finish will discolor over time and should be expected to last a few years before a re-coat is necessary. However, if it is powder-coated white metal, it may break when you install it and drilled parts may rot within a couple of years. Many of these deck railings look just like aluminum.

Wood deck railings? If they are made of poplar, they may last 9 months. Pine deck railings, 5 or 10 years. Heart red cedar (old growth) or old growth redwood, or Ipe or mahogany deck railings may last between 20 and 40 years without stain.

It pays to do a bit of research on what type of materials for deck railings work best -- and check references. Part of the function of a contractor is advising the homeowner of what materials will work best. Inexperienced carpenters can make errors that could cost you thousands.

On Page 3 we continue the interview with Lawrence on deck railing designs, turning to the issue of building codes....

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