When Does a Deck Need a Railing?

One of the most pleasant feelings a homeowner can have in their free time is relaxing in their outdoor living space with their family and friends. But a common question we hear at DecksDirect from new DIY deck builders is, "Does my deck need a railing?"

Learning when does a deck need a deck railing and at what height deck railings are required can help prevent any tickets or warnings from building inspectors as well as protect guests and pets from potentially hazardous falls.

Does a Deck Have to Have a Railing?

On top of keeping guests safe, another important reason to learn when a deck railing is required is to ensure that your outdoor space is up to the code of law. When constructing your deck, have a local building office send someone to inspect your space to check whether a building permit is needed or not.

Does your outdoor space need a railing system installed like this beautiful metal railing line on a second story deck

When is a Deck Railing Required?

If your deck is lower than 30 inches from the ground, a railing is not required for your space.

It's still important to keep in mind as a homeowner and DIY deck builder, however, that a deck railing system can still be beneficial even if not necessary by law.

If you're learning how to build a deck and start designing a deck space, remember that porches and decks built even 12 inches off the ground, can still be enough for injuries and accidents. Considering children and pets, the risk of a fall from that low a height could be even more serious.

Deck Railing Height Codes

The IRC (International Residential Code) notes that deck railing systems must be at least 36 inches in height from the decking surface to the top of the top rail on homes. Outdoor living spaces connected to larger buildings such as multi-family buildings, apartment buildings, businesses, or restaurants are regulated under a different code. The IBC (International Building Code) requires commerical deck railing systems to be at least 42 inches in height.

In either case, you are allowed to build taller guardrails as long as they conform to all other requirements stated in the code.

Deck Railing Test Requirements

Deck railing systems must be tested to meet IRC and IBC weightload minimums and shear strength tests such as:

  • Infill Load Test: The strength of the deck balusters or deck railing infill are tested so that a one-square foot area must resist at least 125 lbs of force.
  • Uniform Load Test: The top rail of the railing system must be able to sustain 125 lbs of force applied either horizontally or vertically to the railing section.
  • Concentrated Load Test: The top deck rail must be capable of holding a weightload of 200 lbs of force applied at the mid-point of a post-to-post railing section, against the side of a deck post, and at the top of a deck post.

Learn more about the basics of deck framing and building in the Deck Framing Guide and learn the specific deck part names in the Glossary of Deck Terms and Lingo.

Browse more deck design and railing style notes to upgrade your backyard space and deck in the DecksDirect Railing Style Guide. The quickest way to learn if your home is more suited for a classic aluminum deck railing or a strong, composite railing line.

The more you know, the better your deck and backyard projects will be! Whether you're looking at a brand new start or a summertime deck renovation; give our deck designers a call at 1-888-824-5316 or send us an email at hello@decksdirect.com. Our deck experts will help you get the information, products, and tools you need for a gorgeous deck that you created and designed!