Once you’ve decided it’s time to add a deck the planning phase can be a whirlwind. Some decisions, like the decking material, are completely up to you while others will hinge on physical factors like the terrain the deck is being built on. However, other decisions will be influenced by building codes and what it takes to get the permit needed to build.
Your deck railing is one of the latter.
Building Regulations for Deck Railing
As you can imagine the building regulations for deck railings in Austin are fairly strict due to safety reasons. Inefficient deck railing is one of the easiest ways to fail an inspection. Even if you are replacing or rebuilding an existing deck the regulations could have been updated since the original build.
Austin has adopted the 2009 edition of the International Building Code for one and two-family homes as the City of Austin’s Building Technical Codes. There are some deletions and amendments, which are located in the section titled Local Amendments to the Residential Code. Those that are making repairs or rebuilding will need to follow the regulations laid out in the 2009 International Existing Building Code.
It’s important to note that the Austin decking regulations you need to focus on are those for a guardrail not handrails. The IBC defines guardrails as:
“A system of building components located near the open sides of elevated walking surfaces for the purpose of minimizing the possibility of an accidental fall from the walking surface to the lower level.”
Height of the railing is particularly important for decks that sit higher off the ground. If the deck is 30” or more above the ground or next level then a guardrail is required on all open sides. Guardrails must be a minimum of 36” high from the surface. If there is adjacent, fixed seating against the edge the guardrails must be at least 36” higher than the seating.
Additionally, you can’t have a gap wider than 4” between the surface of the deck and the bottom of the railing.
Your deck railing will understandably undergo a lot of pressure. According to the building codes, guardrails must have adequate strength to support minimum loads. The requirements laid out in the IBC states that the guardrail must be able to handle a load of 50 lbs. per linear foot.
Anchoring is an important aspect of the safety of the railing. Guardrails will be deemed unsafe if they aren’t properly anchored or if the components used to anchor the railing can’t support the nominal load limits. In addition, the railing should be anchored within 36” of the edge of the open sides.
There are a wide variety of materials that have been found to be structurally sound enough for deck railings. Common materials include:
· Wood Composite
Insect screens are not approved as a guard. Additional railing that meets all building code requirements would have to be in place along with the insect screen.
It’s important to ensure that you fully understand the building codes for your area before you lay down the first plank. If you are unsure or want assistance during the development stage, you can hire a contractor as a consultant to give you guidance for your particular deck project.