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Deck Railings: The Ultimate Guide

Learn important terms for a safe and stylish deck railing: posts, post caps, rails, rail caps, balusters, and more.

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-A deck's railings are where fashion meets function. Hi, I'm Lacey Howard, and first things first. Railings, they're about safety. Most building codes require them, but they can also be part of the charm. Learn just a few terms and you'll be able to talk about railings like a pro. Posts are thick, vertical elements that connect with the deck floor. Depending on your deck style, and local building code, plan to have a post every 4 to 8 feet. Posts need to be strong, so choose wood or metal. But even though they're hardworking, posts are a great place for carved details. You can even incorporate decorative lights. A post cap usually tops off each post. Pre-made rail systems often include lots of post cap options. Post caps are decorative, so let yourself go. Choose contrasting metals or a cool shape. The horizontal parts of a railing system are called rails. Rails can be made from a variety of materials including plastic, vinyl, composite, wood, or metal. The top rail, also known as the rail cap, gets more wear than any other element. So choose a durable material and finish. Plan to paint or stain the top rail every season. The best top rails are 6 to 8 inches wide and flat. That way, you can set a glass, a plate, or a planter box here. The vertical slabs that connect the top and bottom rails are called balusters. You could choose wood balusters of course, but why not flex your design muscles here? Metal makes a bold statement, whether it's sleek steel, handsome bronze, or ornate wrought iron. Plastics and resins are lightweight and come in dozens of pre-formed shapes. And glass panels and steel wire offer uninterrupted views. You've got the technical terms. You've got some great ideas. Now, just combine the two to create the perfect railing for your deck. Who knew safety could be so stylish!