The railing of stairs, decks and porches is not only an aesthetic part of the build, it’s also an important safety feature that plays into the structural integrity of a project. If you’re about to start building a structure that needs a railing this quick guide will explain what to consider when selecting materials for indoor or outdoor use.
Local Building Codes for Railings
When it comes to safety features inspectors take building codes very seriously and so should you. Most building codes will address:
- Under what circumstances a railing is required – for example how far a deck is from the ground
- Height of the railing – typically needs to be at least 36” high
- Minimum space between slats – typically can be no more than 4” apart
- Minimum load the railing should be able to handle
- Minimum space allowed for gaps between the decking and the bottom portion of the railing
Check with your local permits office to learn what railing requirements are mandatory in your area.
Railing Construction Materials
Each type of railing has its benefits and drawbacks. Below are some of the most widely used construction materials as well as what to consider before selecting a railing.
Nothing is more important than the durability of your railing. For one, it needs to have the structural integrity to support loads. Secondly, because it’s such an important safety feature you’ll need to regularly maintain it. The more durable the railing is the less upkeep it will need. Iron and metal railings offer very durable construction, however all of the options above will work for decades with proper maintenance.
Longevity and durability are very closely related and depend on the type of material used. Longevity refers to the typical lifecycle of a product.
The color and texture of the final product is a top consideration for most homeowners since it affects the look of the railing. Another thing to keep in mind is the maintenance that will be needed including cleaning and sealing.
How External Factors Come Into Play
This is a factor for exterior railings that will be out in the elements. The sun and moisture can lead to a number of issues including rust, decay, warping, splitting and cracking. When choosing wood also look for options that resist rotting and insects. Another factor worth considering is how hot to the touch the railing will become when it’s out in the sun. Composites and metals are more likely to become hot to the touch and possibly cause discomfort during the summer months.
Animals and Children
When you have small children or animals around this can influence the construction of your railing. To err on the side of caution you may want to select railing that has smaller gaps between the slats. Building codes should outline adequate spacing, but there’s no harm in going smaller. If you use cable railing you can place them closer together without obstructing your view. You may also choose to use a solid glass railing or one with a patterned design rather than the standard horizontal rails.