How to choose your deck railing design

Pinterest-worth deck railings may be pretty to look at, but they are not always the best choice according to our columnist Chris Emard. Not Released KRBLOKHIN / GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

If your backyard deck is to be 24 inches or more above grade (grass level) the building code says that you’re going to need a railing.

Actually, with persons capable of leaping down 24 inches basically limited to teenagers, trained athletes, or members of the local dance troupe; essentially comprising about 8 per cent of the population.

I find the building code in this circumstance, a little lax. Having experienced surgery on both knees, I would probably request somebody kick me in the groin before leaping down 24 inches, just to distract my mind from the jarring knee joint pain to come.

So, with those very young persons, middle-agers, seniors, and those with joint pain, forming the balance of the 92 percentile, I think it would be kind to consider some form of railing system for any platform higher than one step.

As with all construction or home renovation projects, decks and railings require permits. Failure to get a permit may have you dismantling your project since the odds of you following everything to code without some guidance can be safely estimated at zero.

“What if I build my deck over the weekend? Or work only on Sundays?” you may ask. And, you would presume that nobody would notice, or bring your project to the attention of the authorities because that wouldn’t be neighbourly.

Again, the odds of your project going unnoticed, and the odds of you not being ratted upon, can be safely estimated at zero. So, best to follow the rules.

When it comes to deck railings, there are three areas of concern for the homeowner. These priorities are the railing height, railing style, and engineering specifications.

Because building codes can vary from district to district, it’s important for homeowners to check with their local building department regarding the building codes in their area. Generally, decks that are between two feet and six feet off the ground will require a railing system of 36 inches in height. Decks or platforms higher than 6 feet will require a 42 inch high railing system.

Next, your railing system will have to conform to local regulations, which will allow for most spindle type balusters or glass panel type railing systems. Although horizontal stainless cable systems are quite stylish, they’re unfortunately quite climbable, which can be a safety hazard for young children. So, beware of copying a unique type of railing system as seen on the Pinterest site, where safety is sometimes compromised for style or decor.

Finally, your chosen railing components will have to have engineered drawings showing their manner of installation, and that they’re compliant to the stress loads demanded by the Canadian Standards Assoc. (CSA). This engineering paperwork can be provided by the retail lumber yard selling you the product.

Don’t attempt to install a railing system that is not CSA approved, or that doesn’t have the engineered drawings, it will simply not pass and have to be replaced.

What if a person were to greet their building inspector with an XL triple-triple coffee and a box of Timbits, might that help them soften up on the regulations? Actually, they would be insulted.

Building inspectors are rock solid and are immune to compromise. They drink their coffee black, right out of the crock, and snack on a bag of nails as they drive from site to site. So, don’t even think of trying to sway their integrity with common folk food.

Finally, don’t skimp on the installation process by lightly tying your newel posts into the decking. Once your railing is installed, the post’s integrity will be tested by a shove or a shake from the inspector’s hip or hand, and some of these inspectors pump iron every morning. So, if you’ve used screws instead of bolts to secure the newel posts, in a quick-fix attempt to finish things up before sundown, your strategy is going to have you staring at a “FAILED INSPECTION” stamp. Next week, more on railing systems.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

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