Deck Railing Systems

I am building a deck, so when do I need to or when should I consider a deck railing system. What’s the best deck railing system for me?  

First, we need to determine what type of deck you have; is it a wood or composite deck or is it a stone deck?  Is the deck permanently attached to the house and how high off the ground is the deck? Next – and most importantly – check with your municipality or local building authority for the regulations that would apply to your project.

Most building codes in Canada call for some sort of a deck railing system when the deck is over 24” in elevation and the structure is attached to the house.  In past years, a stone deck constructed by traditional interlock building techniques and not attached physically to the house would not require a railing system. But times are changing, and for several municipalities, the threshold seems to be leaning more towards the elevation of the structure itself as opposed to the construction of it.

When considering a deck railing system, the possibilities are endless – as are the costs associated with it. You can find basic kits at Lowes or Home Depot made from pressure-treated wood with minimal cost, to total custom fabricated glass or iron railings that could cost as much as your deck itself.  The deck railing system you choose will also determine the method of installation, or should I say the approved and recommended method of installation.

When looking at constructing a basic wood railing system with wood posts and spindles, you will find there are widely accepted construction and attachment guild lines and parameters within local building codes.  These will speak to the distance between, the size and attachment of posts, spindle construction, and spacing. When a custom deck railing system is being manufactured, the system will need to have an engineer sign off on the project, including the construction and attachment method of this railing system.  Most larger railing companies that manufacture their own products typically have an engineer on contract to do this, but in some cases, this responsibility and cost will fall to the homeowner.

Besides these factors, deciding which deck railing system is right for you is pretty much a combination of personal choice and the overall design of the project.  Keep in mind the type of deck railing system you install will also determine what, if any, routine maintenance is required.  Wood railings would require the most maintenance with routine applications of sealers or stains to maintain their look. Iron railings may need to be refinished from time to time due to corrosion, while aluminum or glass railings would simply need to be cleaned.

As mentioned, stores such as Lowes or Home Depot have a wide variety of deck railing systems. Choices range from wood to composite to aluminum, to glass, designed to be assembled in prescribed sections.  These systems also ensure the railing system works within various building codes in Canada, and all have engineered specifications for installation. Companies such as Titan Building Products have designed deck railing system kits making the creation and installation of a wood railings quick and easy, while reducing maintenance to a certain degree by incorporating aluminum powder coated spindles.  Railing companies or contractors usually supply and work with most types of railings available on the market and can pretty much create the deck railing system you desire.

For a stone deck, any railing system will work, the only difference will be the method of attachment. When it comes to a traditional stone interlocked deck you will need some type of anchoring system into the stone.  Depending on the size and thickness of the stone, some type of under-mount foundation may also be required. For stone decks created by some of the more innovative products out there, such as Silca System, Tiledeck or Paverdeck, the method of installation would be similar to a wood or composite deck. The main difference is the use of longer mounting hardware to take into account the thickness of the stone. As you can see, when choosing which deck railing system will be right for you will depend on the design, materials used, your budget and whether you plan on hiring a company or doing the work yourself.