Everything You Need To Know About Deck Railings And Handrails

by Grace Motley

Many people are spending more and more time in their own backyards and social distancing. The upheaval that the pandemic has caused to work and travel plans has changed the focus of many homeowners. In fact, NPR reports that home improvement projects are at an "all-time high" and backyard projects are high on that list.

If your pandemic goal is to build or improve something in your backyard, such as a deck, it helps to know what the key components are first. They include:

  • Baluster. The balusters are the vertical members of the railing. They are not structural, but rather assist in the overall aesthetics of your deck's design.
  • Post. Posts are the thicker, vertical members of the railing. They are typically 6" x 6" posts, depending on the building code in your area, and are the structural support members of the entire system. 
  • Newel post. A newel post is the last post at the bottom of a staircase. While still structural, it is often more ornate than the other posts.
  • Railing (or railing cap). The railing is the area where you typically place your hand to steady yourself when walking up or down the stairs. When it is located directly above the balusters, it is called a railing cap and, when located on the wall opposite the balusters, it is referred to as a handrail. 
  • Bottom rail (or base rail). Depending on your design, you may or may not have a base rail. Some designs call for the balusters to be secured directly to the floor, while others have them secured to a horizontal member called the bottom or base rail. This rail could be attached to the floor or floating a few inches above it. 

There are many other terms used for railing and staircase components. Many are regional terms or terms only used in specific, period designs. 

There are also many design styles to choose from for your new deck, both custom and those available at your local, home improvement store. While wood and iron railing components are common, you can choose from many other options, including:

  • Glass. Glass panels suspended between metal posts is a contemporary look that appeals to many homeowners. It does, however, necessitate frequent cleaning. 
  • Cable. The most on-trend deck design is one with wire cables that run horizontally between the posts. It lends itself to both farmhouse and modern design aesthetics. 
  • Rope. While rope railings run horizontally in lieu of balusters may pique your interest, be aware that it may not be legal in your area. Many local building codes may prevent rope railings for safety issues.

Whatever your design preferences, you can find deck railings that appeal to your own, personal sense of style. Contact a deck railing service for more information.