Deck railings

If the view off your back deck has a beautiful view then adding a railing becomes a challenge for design, functionality, and beauty. A three-headed monster of time consumption and thought now has to go into a needed functionality that is code-driven and expensive. Nobody ever really thinks about a railing until you need one. Railings for me are like drywall. You only really notice drywall when it is bad and the same goes for a railing on your deck.

For me, the railing is all you see on the deck so it should be a good one and serve a purpose as well. When you’re sitting on the furniture and looking out into the yard or onto the lake you’re going to be looking through the railing. This is why the spindles on your railing need to be as invisible as possible but still functional for safety. Let us take a look at the basic code requirements for the average deck. Railings are required on decks that are 30 inches or more above the ground (grade), railings must be at least 36 inches high, and balusters must be no more than 4 inches apart. Now that you know that this is a good place to look at some options.

Composite or Vinyl

This is my least favorite railing system because it looks like plastic. But, it has useful functionality for some families especially if your home has vinyl siding. These railing systems can come in a variety of colors but that really should not be an option because if you don’t choose white or black then every other color seems like a bad choice. I’ve seen a Hunter Green color on a composite railing system and it gets a pass from me because the home was in the north woods and it fit the deck and style of the home perfectly. These systems can be purchased just about anywhere and they usually cost about $30.00 per linear foot.


Now, this is an interesting choice because you get 100% visibility when sitting or standing as well as from inside the home. Glass panels are tempered and shatterproof and pricey. Some of the price comes from the aluminum railing and other hardware needed to secure the panels to the posts and floor. Glass panels work great on flat decks with one level and the glass spans the entire length of the deck. If you start adding levels glass is going to get a little complicated, but if you got the money this is a great option and one of my favorite. The downside to glass is that you’re constantly cleaning the panels because rain, snow, wind and every other element you can think of leaves a mark. But, it is a small price to pay for beauty.


A metal railing is not an all-around good look for me but metal does have a useful purpose for some homes. Most metal railing systems are powder coated to prevent rust but only aluminum railing systems will never rust. Metal railings seem flimsy to me because they’re so thin but metal systems work very well on stairs and multiple heights of steps and landings where glass would never be used. Would I use a metal railing on a deck? Probably not. I would use a metal railing going down a winding staircase and then into the yard, though. That’s a beautiful look.


This is the standard look and although it’s timeless you have to have the right home and this look is going to need some upkeep. Wood, even treated wood, is going to need some upkeep. Have you ever tried to paint treated lumber? It needs to be primed and then painted and its a lot of work. Wood railing systems are useful and a good look but you pay a price for this style and the price is upkeep. The upside to wood railings is that you can probably do it yourself if you’re handy and like this kind of work. If not then let the pro’s build you a beautiful wood railing. Wood has a heavy look because the spindles are thick but you can add copper tops to the posts and you can add two different colors from the posts to the top rail and spindles. You have plenty of creative options with wood. But I know one thing for certain that if you live long enough you will be replacing a wood railing at some point.


This is one of my favorite looks for a railing but it needs a specific house for this look to work. If you live on a lake it’s a perfect look for your home but if your home is older and in a residential neighborhood then your house has to be contemporary for this look to work. The wire is coated and the hardware is stainless steel so you’re good there and the posts can either be square or round. I like that option. But, you can also add cable spindles to a wood railing and this is a stunning look. The combination of the two distinct looks adds a wow factor you could not obtain with any other system. But for the most part, cable railings give your home a black and white appeal which is why I say your home should be contemporary. The posts are usually black and with the clear stainless steel wire, I tend to think that the windows on the home go all the way to the floor and the entire back of the home is glass. That’s why cable railings go very well with this kind of home. You would not put a cable railing on an old brownstone home. It would stick out like a sore thumb. Instead, you would want to put a wrought iron railing on that style of home.