7 Things to Think About When Installing Deck Railings

All Decked Out

No matter what kind of deck railing you choose, if you follow this guide in installing deck railings, you’ll create a safe and welcoming space for your family and friends.

There seems to be a bit of a mystery around what it takes to design and build a great deck.

We’ve all heard the horror stories: the tales of weather-stripped surfaces, rickety railings, and slippery deck surfaces. What is supposed to be a place of relaxation and calm on a hot summer’s day can turn into a nightmare if you don’t plan your deck construction carefully.

So what will make it easy for you to create the deck of your dreams? In this article, we’ll talk about the most challenging of all deck decisions: the railings. Railings seem to spook the most hardy of DIYers because there is not only precision involved, but safety concerns to think about. It’s important that you have the wherewithal to ensure that people can, literally, lean on your design choices.

Here are seven things you might want to think about before you make the final decisions on designing your deck.

A Step By Step Guide to Installing Deck Railings

One: choose the right material

We all know about wanting to choose a deck and deck railing systems that match your house design, but there is a lot more to think about than looks alone. If you’re aiming for safety as well as coordinated colors, you might want to consider the durability and slip factor of the material you choose.

For example, polymer-capped aluminum railings have industry-leading scratch and stain resistance, which means that they have been designed to withstand the harshest elements. Wood-plastic composites or resins are almost as strong, but they may be easier to match to a wood-framed house.

Glass railings offer sturdy, low maintenance vinyl construction that combine the durability and strength of aluminum with the reliability of meeting nationwide building codes. At the same time, most people perceive that glass may not be as strong as polymer or resin, and that’s just not true. With no rusting, fading, rotting, or peeling, glass railings are an excellent long-term solution with no maintenance.

You may have noticed that I haven’t put wood on this list. A cedar wood railing is a great option, especially if it matches your home. It’s rot-resistant and beautiful. It does, however, benefit from regular refinishing and care. If you’re not willing to do the maintenance work, then cedar may become a less safe option over time.


RailSimple brand cedar deck railings, featuring a curved black baluster.

Two: Get your kit out

A safe railing means a well-installed railing. If you’re not getting a professional to help you, you can ensure that you’re making your job easier and the result more sturdy by using specialized kits to help ease the process.

Try top and bottom rail kits, a baluster kit, or a post sleeve kit available to complement your existing deck that include all of the elements you need to make your railing simple to install. You’ll be relieved when you don’t have to search for just that exact right set of screws in your local hardware store.

Three: Measure twice (or thrice)

It’s not enough to eyeball it. A safe railing is one that is level. You need to make sure that, when you install your railing posts, you have equidistant gap between each post so that the railing will align properly and there will be a level surface at the top of the posts. You don’t want to end up with a number of shorter railing segments because you haven’t measured correctly in the first place.

Spend some time drawing out the deck on a piece of paper, and map out the right number of posts for your space. Then measure the distance between each post, as well as the height of the posts as you install them to ensure that you will have a level railing. Remember, every deck will have some uneven surfaces, so you’ll need to compensate a little when you’re installing each post.

Installing Deck Railings

RailSimple cedar deck railing kit, with straight baluster style from BuildDirect.

Four: Be patient

Take the time you need to make your deck railing safe and sound. This is true whether you’re doing it yourself or having a professional install the railing. It takes more than a few minutes to get into a groove when you’re trying to install your first railing segment, so remember that you have a learning curve to get through.

At the same time, when you’re using railing kits, you’ll find the instructions easy to follow, which makes the process faster than you’d think. Although putting in the first one is always a bit of a challenge, once you learn the drill the rest of the work will go quickly and easily.

Five: Don’t go it alone

Installing deck railings doesn’t require professional assistance, but it is a lot easier and safer to make sure that you have a second set of eyes (or hands) involved in the process. I’ve found that even having someone help out on the first day of installation can make it a lot simpler to get it right. Have a handy father-in-law or a best friend willing to step in for a few hours to check your measurements and trade tips? This is the time to call in those favors.

Installing Deck Railings

For deck posts, manufactured stone post covers can be an elegant finishing touch. MRock post solutions from BuildDirect).

Six: Make those posts stick

When it comes to safe railings, the most important tip I can give you is not to skimp on the time you take to safely secure the posts to your deck. The top and bottom railings are only there for decorative purposes. The posts are what make your deck railing leanable and strong. Every post you install will be screwed into the frame of your deck with bolts.

If you overdrill the holes in the deck itself after you’ve measured your space, you’ll need to carefully refill those holes with a strong wood filler or similar putty with a high tensile capacity. If you have posts that you have to drill yourself so that you can add the bolts, and you overdrill those holes, you’ll need to start over with a new post. Don’t be afraid to order a few extra posts so that you can get it right. It happens to all of us, especially on our first deck!

Seven: Relax into it

There’s a certain Zen in creating a safe railing system for your deck. Once you’ve measured and practiced with a few extra posts, just take it slow and breathe. Railing kits are made for folks like you, and it does become easy once you get the first hour of prep under your toolbelt. The more that you can go with the flow, the higher likelihood that you’ll be careful about each step along the way.

Railings are often a focal point of a deck, because they need to be both lovely to look at and safe to use. No matter what deck railing you choose, if you follow these steps to installing deck railings, you’ll create a safe and welcoming space for your family and friends. In order to design and build a great deck, you need to plan ahead and give yourself time to get the process down.

Then relax, chill out, and enjoy your summer. It’ll all be worth it.


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