Deck Railings: Ideas, Designs and Materials

Railings are an important feature for any deck. Over the last decade, the deck industry has introduced a variety of different aesthetically pleasing systems that can be installed in both home and commercial environments. Below are deck railing ideas to consider during your research.   All of the commercially available systems will be rated for safety and will meet all the coding regulations in your municipality.  This means that decking designs incorporating a unique and attractive railing layout can make all the difference in the appearance of your finished space.

With so many different types and styles on the market, choosing the right railings for your home can become a daunting task. Some basic points to consider are:  your budget, the materials used, the overall appearance, and the practicality of a railing system before you make the investment. When you are comparing deck railing designs and materials, it is important to choose a system that will compliment your home.  Combined this with any deck cover plans that you may have and you’re well on your way to a dream outdoor space that you can safely enjoy for years to come.

Wood Deck Railings

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Excuse the dust - this is a common looking wood railing with 4" spacing. This one needed to have a few boards replaced as well.

You might think that since most decks are made of wood, that wood railings are the only choice.  While it is true that wood is still the preferred and most financially affordable material to build a deck with, it is not the only choice as you’ll soon read more about.

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This is one way to utilize a wood railing and incorporate the addition of a built-in bench. Also, notice the horizontal railing pattern.

In fact, another great option is to use a combination of metal or even glass with the wooden deck.  Railings in many front porch designs are classically white and have the appearance of the vertically positioned rails above.  Wood is still the more popular material for a front yard.

As more composite decking materials are utilized, there will be more designs that include or incorporate these features as well.

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However, there are also ways that you can build with wood that are just not possible with metal or glass materials.  One example is to have a built in bench for seating or storage, depending on the style you choose.  In addition to the ideas mentioned, there are also certain accessories for your deck and patio spaces that are more easily adapted to wooden construction.  One example of this is deck lights that go on the end caps of the posts of your railing system.  These can be fitted onto metal or composite pieces but make easy installation with wooden decking materials.

Glass Railing Systems

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This is an example of a glass railing system using panels rather than individual pieces or 'slats' of glass.

Every type of deck railing system has its advantages and its setbacks. Glass railings for decks have become increasingly popular within the last five years. Railings made of glass allow you to enjoy an unobstructed view without compromising the safety of those on the deck.  In addition to the aesthetic and safety benefits, railings made of glass are also great wind deterrents. If you live in a windy area, a glass railing system will act as a shield against the wind.

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With the benefits come the setbacks. Glass systems are beautiful but they will require constant cleaning to maintain their appearance. If you have children, this is not the greatest choice as you’ll constantly have smudges and finger prints all over them.

The materials for the system are affordable; however, installation may cost a pretty penny. The cost for the materials will average about $40 per lineal foot. Installations costs may vary between contractors. For many homeowners the cost of a glass railing is well worth the investment. After all, views are expensive so why would you block it.

Cable Railing

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This upper deck and design is more modern. The use of the cable railing gives it an even more open look and feel.

Cable systems are most often seen in industrial or commercial environments. With new innovative designs, these systems have become more popular for residential decks. Most cable railings are made of powder coated aluminum, which is durable and easy to maintain. If you are looking for a more affordable alternative to glass railings and you want to avoid obstructing your view consider the benefits of installing a cable railing system.

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Another option to aluminum is steel.  Steel cable railing is a common way to achieve a more slim and modern look.  Deck ideas that are meant to incorporate these more modern looking features or minimalist appearances rely on materials like concrete, glass and steel.  Cable applications are very modern looking and they will compliment almost any home. The cable deck railing approach provides protection while still allowing for a wonderful view.

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This is an innovative way to save a tree limb and build a cable railing system around it. In this case, because of the views, glass was contemplated, but would have led to a need to cut that limb.

Just as with the tubular railing styles, powder coated metals will resist corrosion and require very little maintenance over the course of their long life.  Cable railing systems are far easier to install than glass systems. If you are handy, you can cut the cost of installation all together and take the installation on as a weekend project – depending on the size of your project.

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The hardware will range in price between $30 per lineal foot and $70 depending on whom you buy it from. Keep in mind that there are strength requirements and load features that you should make sure you are properly installing to avoid any potentially life-threatening situations.  After all, railings are for safety at their most basic function.

Metal or Iron Railings

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This is a modern (small) metal railing. The horizontal appearance gives it an even more modern appeal.

Metal railings will add an interesting decor to these necessary safety elements of any deck. These railings are made out of either wrought iron or cast iron materials and have a timeless quality. Either painted or powder coated – the preferred application – they will last you many years with little maintenance. New technologies in the manufacturing industry make these ornamental systems more affordable than in times past.

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You can choose from several different styles depending on your home’s exterior decor. These strong railing systems will stand the test of time. Panels and posts are priced between $50 and $100 depending on the length of the panel.  For further great ideas and looks in metal, check out

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This is a drawing of a section of railing that could be created using more custom scroll work or hand-forged features.

Not all modern homeowners wish to use a trendy looking metal railing.  There are also older, wrought iron styles that include scroll work, patterns and other designs.  Some of these more custom railing designs can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars depending on the size and complexity of the work.

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Choosing the right railings will add style and safety to your deck and home. Once your railings are installed, you will have the peace of mind you need to enjoy your deck during spring and summer seasons – or longer if you live in a more temperate climate where outdoor living is possible up to 3 and even 4 seasons in some cases. With the pros and cons of these deck railing ideas discussed above, you should be in a better position to decide what makes for the best investment for your particular needs. Best of luck!

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