Deck Railing Guide
Maybe you’re starting from scratch, or perhaps you’re replacing an outdated or unsafe railing system. Whatever your layout, no matter how much knowledge you have of railing components, this guide is meant to provide all the information you need to select the right system for your needs.
You have already discovered this information-packed guide, which is a great place to start learning more about deck railing. If you have any questions along the way, don’t hesitate to give us a call at1-888-824-5316 or send us an e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Railing Basics - Railing Terms
Knowing the lingo will make you confident in discussing and purchasing deck railing. Some images are included below, for a full list, Download our Deck Railing Guide.pdf
Additional support between framing to accept rail post attachments.
The hardware that attaches a rail plate to the newel post. Typically available in adjustable or straight.
The vertical board framing the perimeter of the deck.
Fascia-mount newel posts
Posts that are affixed to the fascia board (on the outside of the decking surface).
Graspable hand rail
A top rail or interior secondary uninterrupted handrail on a staircase. It is designed to provide a safety element that is easy to grip.
Straight line measurement (in feet and inches) of rail to be installed.
The nominal size of a post or board refers to its “named” size rather than its actual measurements. For example, a post called 4x4 actually measures 3-1/2" x 3-1/2".
This refers to measuring from the center of one point to the next, such as 4” on center spacing between two ¾” balusters results in an opening measurement of 3-1/4”.
A decorative cover that slides over a structural interior post (typically a wood post).
A decorative trim piece that surrounds the base of a surface-mount post. Conceals fasteners that connect the post to the deck.
A finishing element that adds a decorative profile above the top rail plate.
Horizontal top and bottom structural boards, typically made of wood, composite, aluminum or steel, that form a connection between newel posts.
Horizontal or vertical elements that fit between upper and lower rail plates, designed for safety, but are often chosen based on aesthetics. See standard balusters, face mount balusters, glass, and cable below.
Railing Infill Cable
Horizontal or vertical stainless steel cables.
Railing Infill – Face Mount Balusters
Pickets or spindles that attach to the front or back side of the rail plates.
Railing Infill – Glass
Tempered or laminated material that provides unobstructed views from the deck. Available in panels or balusters, can also be face mounted in some cases.
Railing Infill – Standard Balusters
Also known as pickets or spindles, these attach between the top and bottom rail plate.
The main weight-bearing support posts that hold up the frame of the deck.
Structural Newel Post
A post that on its own provides the strength required to satisfy code requirements or provide sufficient resistance for the rail system.
Surface Mount Newel Posts
A post that is attached to the deck surface.
A guide designed to make installation of brackets easier in their proper locations.
Things to Consider
Know Your Code!
The first consideration in choosing deck railing is always safety. Before starting any deck project, contact your local building department for any and all applicable code requirements. These vary from state to state and even among municipalities, but typically are as follows:
- Baluster spacing -The opening between balusters should be less than four inches.
- Railing height - Required railing height can also vary from city to city. The most common minimum height requirements are 36 or 42 inches from the deck surface to the top of the railing. Contact your local building department for specifications regarding your project. Many municipalities updated their requirements in 2009 and 2010.
In order to accommodate many budgets, DecksDirect.com offers a wide variety of rail systems. If you have an idea what you’d like to spend per lineal foot of rail, either refer to our railing manufacturers page in this guide or contact one of our railing experts to discuss which material or manufacturer is best for your needs.
DecksDirect is the largest stocking dealer of deck railing. However, when offering a large variety of options, not all railing systems can be stocked at our warehouse. If your project deadline is fast approaching, it is best to choose from items that are in stock and can be shipped quickly to avoid disappointment. Look for shipping details like “Quick Ship” and “Special Order” on the specific product pages.
In our opinion, the railing is THE most important choice you will make when planning your deck. It will be noticed from near and far, for better or worse. The size, color and style of railing can have a dramatic impact on the look and feel of your deck, and can help it to blend with the rest of your home and yard. For the most aesthetic appeal, the railing should complement the other details of your home by being in proportion to them.
The seasoned handyman will be able to tackle any system without difficulty and will not shy away from a system which requires assembly of individual top and bottom rail components, balusters, and connectors. On the other hand, a homeowner new to this type of project might have more success installing prefabricated panels or using a system that has predetermined baluster sizes, angles and locations with pre-installed baluster connectors.
Location (coastal or inland)
Exposure to saltwater and salty air can damage a number of rail systems. If you are within a mile of the coast, contact us to find out which systems are approved for the conditions in your area.
Exposure to sun/elements
Environmental factors can play a role in your railing’s appearance and function. Choosing a black metal rail is not recommended for a deck that will be in full sun in a hot climate. A glass railing within reach of lawn sprinklers might look perpetually spotty, and glass balusters can magnify the sun’s intensity (increasing the temperature on the deck surface) while cutting down on airflow.
Not all rail styles are available in all colors, so keep that in mind if color is your most important feature. For example, if white is the desired color, it is good to start with styles offered in white. Some systems have components that can be mixed and matched to achieve a custom look, and you may consider choosing a color or multiple colors to match or contrast with features on or around the home. Also keep in mind that the darker the color of the railing, the clearer the view through the railing will be.
All about the view - or lack of it.
Railing not only controls your view from the deck, it also determines what your neighbors can see. Wide balusters and railing provide more privacy for a deck with a hot tub, whereas glass panels and cable railing invite views from all perspectives. As stated in the color section, choosing darker infill allows for easier viewing through a rail section to the scenery beyond the deck.
Ideal post mounting application for the project
To maximize the available space on the deck surface, fascia mounting is a great option. Not all systems offer this type of post, so the traditional method of mounting to a horizontal surface might be required.
Additional blocking or structure
To ensure a stable connection between each post and frame, a solid block is needed. If the framing does not already have enough structure, added blocking is necessary to enhance stability.
How much time do you really want to spend maintaining the look of your deck and its railing? Traditional wood rails are quite time- and labor-intensive to maintain, so choosing a different material can free up lots of time to enjoy the deck! Glass panels or balusters may require treatment to minimize spotting, but materials like metal and composite are virtually maintenance free.
Are you planning a railing with a simple, straightforward layout? Or is complex and embellished what you need?
Each system has its own bracketry to accommodate angles and stairs, and some offer add-on enhancements such as cap
rails for creating a unique look for your specific project.
Lightweight and durable, aluminum railing resists rust and corrosion—making it virtually maintenance-free for the life of the product. Aluminum is available in several colors and baluster shapes. DecksDirect offers aluminum railing systems from Westbury, Fortress, Deckorators, Afco, Solutions, and more.
- Pros: clean look, ease of install, can be used between any newel posts
- Cons:modern look doesn’t mesh with all architecture
Constructed of 316 stainless steel, cables are available in 3/16” and 1/4” diameters but are most commonly used in 1/8” diameter. Nineteen thin cables are wound together to produce one durable and attractive cable. DecksDirect carries a variety of horizontal and vertical cable, as well as the opportunity to do a fully-custom system with Feeney DesignRail®.
- Pros: unobstructed views, modern design, easy to install, low maintenance, customizable
- Cons: more expensive than wood, not child-friendly, may not meet code in certain areas
Cap-Stock Composite Railing
A wood-alternative material, that contains plastic, recycled material and wood fibers. Cap-stock is the result of co-extruding composite material with an exterior shell, typically made of PVC. The inner substance provides durability; the outer coating is an attractive finish available in several colors. Find options from Deckorators, TimberTech, Trex, and others.
- Pros: durable finish, can’t rust, can look similar to wood, high color retention, resists stains & fading
- Cons: bulky, can appear heavy, looks similar to wood, moderately strong, labor-intensive install
Allowing clear, unobstructed views, glass railings are tempered for safety. Some manufacturers add etched designs, lighting options and a choice of color tints. For minimal upkeep, glass can be treated to reduce water spotting. DecksDirect offers glass balusters or panels and compatible rails from several outstanding manufacturers.
- Pros: Unobstructed views, modern design
- Cons: may require frequent cleaning, can be costly to ship, can increase temperature on deck surface
Steel railing is a heavy-duty option that is great for replicating the look of wrought iron. DecksDirect offers the complete Fortress FE26 Railing System, which features pre-welded panels that are amazingly strong and durable, without the hassle of separate parts and pieces.
- Pros: strength, ease of install, panelized versions available, adjustable stairs panels
- Cons: possibility of rust, heavy to work with
For low-cost, low-maintenance, no-frills railing, vinyl is an obvious choice. Lightweight and easy to install, its non-porous surface won’t require painting or staining, though from a distance it can resemble painted wood. At this time, DecksDirect offers vinyl systems from Durables and Fairway.
- Pros: price friendly, low maintenance, lightweight
- Cons: limited color options, can appear cheap, can become brittle in cold weather
Traditional wood railings are still a popular choice, and the reasons are obvious: the stately, professional look is classic, elegant and economic. However, the very features that make wood so attractive also lead to time-consuming maintenance. Wood railings tend to damage more easily and require significantly more time to stain or paint on an annual basis. At this time, DecksDirect does not offer wood railings, though there are a number of aluminum and steel options that can be installed between wood newel posts.
- Pros: natural look, inexpensive, can be painted or stained to match decking
- Cons: high maintenance, susceptible to decay, warping and bowing, obstructed views
AFCO Aluminum Railing is available in three high-gloss finishes and four textured finishes in multiple lengths and heights. AFCO provides superior value as well unique design features. The 200 Series has a flat top rail that provides a convenient drink rail and the 125 Series offers a number of decorative mid-rail options.
- Afco 100 Series : $$$$$
- Afco 200 Series : $$$$$
AGS Stainless provides a high-end custom look without the cost of custom fabrication, and eliminates on-site drilling for faster installation. As beautiful and safe indoors as it is on the deck, the ExpressRail system features fully-welded and pre-drilled components. Fittings are marine-grade and cable is electropolished for ultimate corrosion resistance and high shine. The final step is adding your own hardwood top rail for an upscale finished look.
- AGS Stainless ExpressRail: $$$$$
AZEK is known for high-quality building products and DecksDirect is proud to carry some of their latest innovations in composite and aluminum railing from one of the largest manufacturers of building materials. Quality and beauty shine through in AZEK’s classically designed railing, which is customizable through colorful post sleeves, caps, and top rails.
- AZEK Premier Rail: $$$$$
- AZEK/TimberTech Impression Rail: $$$$$
Century Aluminum Products
Century Aluminum Products offers the innovative Scenic Glass Railing system which is comprised of only powder-coated steel posts and large glass panels, making for a spectacular view with little maintenance needed. There is no need for top or bottom rails; grooved channels on the posts allow 10mm glass panels to slide in with ease. (Glass sold separately.)
- Century Aluminum Rail: $$$$$
Deckorators was one of the first companies to produce several styles of balusters and accessories, which are now consistent best-sellers. Deckorators offers several full rail systems with complementary and compatible items that can be combined in countless ways.
- Deckorators ALX Classic: $$$$$
- Deckorators ALX Pro: $$$$$
- Deckorators CXT Classic: $$$$$
- Deckorators CXT Pro: $$$$$
- Deckorators CXT & Glass: $$$$$
- Deckorators Aluminum & Glass: $$$$$
Durables manufactures nine popular styles of sleek and sturdy vinyl railing. With a wide variety of infill styles, three classic colors and some commercially-compatible rail kits, they have the right product for you.
- Durables Waltham: $$$$$
- Durables Manchester: $$$$$
- Durables Harrington: $$$$$
- Durables Dorset: $$$$$
- Durables Brighton: $$$$$
- Durables Kirklees: $$$$$
- Durables Westport: $$$$$
- Durables Ashington: $$$$$
- Durables Bradford: $$$$$
Evolve Aluminum Railing is an excellent complement for wood rails with its low maintenance design. Installation is easy, as all it entails is inserting panelized sections between your wood top and bottom rail. These simple, adjustable, clean and contemporary panels are available for level and stair configurations in three popular colors.
- Evolve Panels: $$$$$
Fairway Vinyl Railing is known for engineering safe, eye-catching, and inventive railings. Fairway provides a large selection of rail infill options including square or turned vinyl, aluminum, or acrylic glass. With this many options, you are sure to find the perfect style for your home.
- Fairway LandMarke: $$$$$
- Fairway Contour: $$$$$–$$$$$
- Fairway Contour GrandView: $$$$$
Feeney is a name you can trust, since they’ve been producing outstanding architectural products for over sixty years. Installation can be as simple as combining pre-packaged kits with standard wood posts or as elaborate as a totally custom DesignRail® system using a wide variety of fittings and powder-coated aluminum rail.
- Feeney CableRail: $$$$$
- Feeney DesignRail® Kits: $$$$$
- Feeney DesignRail®System: $$$$$
Fortress Railing Products brings several outstanding railing systems to the marketplace, each with a unique style and benefits. Sturdy steel pre-welded panels allow for quick installation of the FE26 system, while Pure View glass balusters won’t block your view. Find additional variety with aluminum components and decorative top rail options.
- Fortress FE26 Iron: $$$$
- Fortress AL13 Aluminum: $$$$$
- Fortress Vertical Cable: $$$$$
- Fortress AL13 & Glass: $$$$$
- Fortress FE26 & Glass: $$$$$
- Fortress AL13 Full Panel Glass: $$$$$
InvisiRail offers ultimate convenience with its innovative Glass Railing System. Order the entire rail system all in one place for delivery to your home or jobsite; there’s no need to source glass elsewhere. The system features thin posts and brackets, which are hardly noticeable. For customization, brackets can install into wood posts. Either way, your view will take center stage thanks to InvisiRail.
- InvisiRail Glass: $$$$$
Key-Link cable railing is a unique and innovative railing system that is customizable to your specifications. KeyLink’s system features end posts with pre-installed tensioner fittings, and top rail kits with pre-drilled balusters, for quick and simple installation. The cable infill is razor thin at only 1/8” meaning you’ll always have a great view. Additional tools and hardware are available to complete the job.
- KeyLink Cable: $$$$$
Prestige is a relative newcomer to the market, but has steadily grown in popularity with its modern, low-profile rail system that you can choose to upgrade with drink rail. Swivel brackets make stair rail installation simple, and the four textured finishes are neutral yet distinct enough to complement any decor. Cable infill is also available for a special upgrade.
- Prestige Aluminum: $$$$$
- Prestige Aluminum & Cable: $$$$$
Solutions has a long-standing tradition of providing durable powder-coated aluminum rail systems to homeowners and contractors across the country. Multiple rail heights make the system suitable for residential or commercial applications, and over-the-post and fascia-mount options make it very versatile.
- Solutions Aluminum: $$$$$
TimberTech, an industry leader known for quality, innovation, and performance, has elevated consumer expectations for composite rail systems with outstanding products and coordinating lighting. A variety of products accommodate multiple price points and experience levels.
- TimberTech Evolutions Builder: $$$$$
- TimberTech RadianceRail Express: $$$$$
- TimberTech/AZEK Impression Rail: $$$$$
- TimberTech Evolutions Contemporary: $$$$$
- TimberTech RadianceRail: $$$$$
- TimberTech Evolutions & Cable: $$$$$
- TimberTech RadianceRail & Cable: $$$$$
Trex pioneered the wood-alternative decking industry, and now its product line has expanded to include a plethora of railing options made with the same precision and care. Composite options can coordinate or contrast with Trex’s high-end decking finishes, or the aluminum Signature line can be used to preserve a beautiful view.
- Trex Select: $$$$$
- TrexTranscend: $$$$$
- Trex Signature: $$$$$
Westbury Aluminum Railing combines beauty, strength, and engineering. The outcome is a durable, easy to install railing system that enhances the visual appeal of your deck or porch. Westbury offers a variety of high-quality powder-coated aluminum finishes to provide the perfect finishing touch.
- Westbury Veranda Glass: $$$$$
- Westbury Tuscany Aluminum: $$$$$
- Westbury Riviera Aluminum: $$$$$
- Westbury VertiCable: $$$$$
- Westbury Montego Aluminum: $$$$$
Wild Hog Railing produces high-quality railing panels that are attractive and affordable. Featuring a 6-gauge welded 4”x4” mesh infill or a heavy-duty .375” thick woven mesh, these panels promote safety without obstructing the view. Wild Hog products are made in the USA by professional craftspeople dedicated to excellence.
- Wild Hog Standard: $$$$$
- Wild Hog Tahoe: $$$$$
Example pricing based on total railing cost for a 12ft x 16ft deck
- $$$$$ = $500-$1000
- $$$$$ = $1001-$1500
- $$$$$ = $1501-$2000
- $$$$$ = $2001-$3000
- $$$$$= over $3001
The Difference is in the Details
You’re putting lots of time and money into your rail system, so why not maximize the hours you can see and use it? DecksDirect offers a wide variety of lighting – including many options from the same trusted railing manufacturers. Add lighting under the top rail for a subtle enhancement, or dress up every post with decorative post cap lights.
Structural screws manufactured by GRK are a major step up from traditional lags and carriage bolts. With a variety of lengths and sizes, the self-drilling tips make for easy driving, plus the smaller shaft diameter results in less splitting than traditional structural fasteners.
Post anchors are a simple and sturdy method for securing wood newel posts to the deck surface. Rather than using unsightly brackets or bolting posts from underneath the deck, Titan Wood Post Anchors have a low profile and are easily covered by many post sleeves or post skirts from popular railing lines.
You can use structural post inserts to utilize aluminum post sleeves without the hassle of installing wood posts. Structural post inserts are lightweight yet sturdy, and using them will save you a trip to the lumber yard.
Railing Purchasing Checklist
It's all in the details. When you envision yourself on a new deck, you’re probably thinking about the moments you’ll spend with friends and family, socializing and relaxing. You’re not pondering the individual elements of construction like balusters. And yet, along with the decking itself, balusters provide the details that outline every moment there.
If you’re about to build a new deck, or feel like upgrading the one you have now, then this baluster guide is just for you. From stately wood to clear glass, here’s a quick introduction to the styles and choices in balusters today: and why they matter.
For additional assistance or advice, take advantage of the experts at DecksDirect by calling 1-888-824-5316. We're in the office from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. CST Monday - Thursday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST Friday, and 11:30a.m. to 8 p.m. CST Sunday.
For best results on your project, we recommend reading through the topics in order.
Measure twice, order once! Make sure you have accurate deck measurements from which to create your materials list. Jot these numbers down and make a quick sketch of the space. Don’t worry if it’s not a professional drawing, a simple sketch will help when deciding what materials are needed.
DecksDirect offers a variety of railing choices, read our Things to Consider section in this railing guide for tips on choosing the perfect railing.
Plan your newel post layout according to the rail lengths available in your selected rail system. (Be sure to look at actual lengths of rail sections. Because some systems use “on center” measurements, 6' and 8' doesn’t always mean 72" and 96".) Then, add these posts and rail sections to your sketch.
Are the posts for your selected system structural or sleeves?
If structural, do you have bolts for attaching to the deck surface? Consider GRK Rugged Structural Screws.
If they are sleeves, do you have an attachment method for your wood interior posts? The Titan Wood Post Anchor is a handy, sturdy solution. Or, consider using a Structural Post Inserts instead of wood posts.
Posts for level rail are shorter than the posts that are used on the mid points or bottoms of stair cases. You will have options with most manufacturers for multiple lengths. The posts for the stairs should be 42" or taller for 36" rail.
Choose Post Caps
If you railing system does not include post caps and you are planning a post-to-post style rail, select your post caps. DecksDirect lists post caps according to the size of the opening of the cap. If you have a 4" post, you will need a post cap that is 4-1/16" or larger. Many railing manufacturers have post caps designed specifically for their systems. We also offer a variety of post cap options here.
If you railing system does not include post skirts, select your post skirts/flares to cover the attachment of the post to the deck. Most often you will choose the post skirt that is designed specifically for your railing system.
Choose Level Rail Kits
Try to order your rails sections as close to the length of sections on your deck for cost effectiveness. You
can cut sections and use for two rail sections on your deck,
i.e (1) 8' section can be cut to (2) 4' sections. To do this you will need to order an additional rail hardware kit.
Choose Stair Rail Kits
Rail manufacturers differ in how these are sold, so check which systems are manufactured at a fixed angle and which are adjustable, then determine which of those options work best for you. Some manufacturers offer both options.
Find out if the system you chose meets the graspable handrail requirements. If it does not, or if you have a center post on your stair rail that interrupts the handrail from being continuous, a continuous graspable handrail may need to be installed. View our handrail options.
Order any additional brackets that you may need for angles or split rail sections.
Most railing does not come with fastening hardware. The type of fastener needed will depend on the surface the railing is being fastened to. For example, if you are fastening to a wood or composite deck with blocking you will need a long structural screw. If you are installing a railing on a concrete patio, a concrete structural screw is needed. View all of our hardware options.
Lighting is a great way to add interest and safety. If your deck has stairs, lighting is required by the International Residential Code (IRC). Some railing manufacturers offer a line of lighting that integrates seamlessly. View all of our deck lighting.