Porch railings work double -- and sometimes triple -- duty in your outside living spaces. They offer a very practical purpose of keeping people and animals from falling off a porch. Porch railings also supply an integral part of a home's exterior aesthetic, helping to reinforce a style and sometimes add decorative accent. And, porch railings establish boundaries between the landscape and home.
There are a range of materials and design opportunities to maximize the use of your porch railings. Here's a rundown to help you.
Top Porch Railing Materials
Wood: Both untreated and pressure-treated wood can be used for porch railings. Either can be stained or painted but must be regularly maintained; pressure-treated is more resistant to weather- or insect-related stressors. Wood porch railings can also be adorned with carvings and other details.
Metal: Metal porch railings may be made of wrought iron, aluminum, and steel, including stainless steel cable and galvanized wire mesh. Metal porch railings work with a variety of styles and can be either decorative or unadorned. They may be painted or have a finish that's baked on, but they will require maintenance such as cleaning and re-finishing.
Glass: Glass porch railings are typically large pieces, tempered to prevent shattering. They may need more cleaning than other types of porch railings.
Composite, vinyl, or PVC: These types of porch railing materials are often used to mimic the look of wood without the susceptibility to moisture or insects. These may also be painted to match an exterior facade.
Other porch railing options: Porch railings may also be made of unique materials including sturdy branches or vintage pieces combined in interesting ways. Some homes rely on a distinctive material, such as stucco, to establish their style, and that may find its way into use as porch railings, as well.
Ideas for Porch Railings
The key to deciding on the finish and material of your railings is focusing on function: how high the railings need to be in order to establish safety, how divided or unbroken they should be in order to create a specific boundary. Once those have been decided, the design opportunities for porch railings -- even those made from traditional materials -- are nearly endless. They include:
Height: Many communities have established guidelines for porch railing height. Once those are met, a porch railing can be used as separation -- think solid portion on the bottom, latticed on top -- to disguise a view.
Turned, scrolled, or carved: Often used in more traditional facades and also when wood is the material, these decorative motifs can be as simple as carved columns or as elaborate as leaves, vines, or other nature-inspired elements.
Lattice: Various lattice styles exist; these are typically geometric, sometimes with either a horizontal or vertical orientation.
Material mix: Porch railings can also be a combination of materials -- stainless steel sides with wood rails, for example. Decorative items, including post caps and inserts, may also add either visual or color interest.
Custom design: If appropriate, a porch railing may also be an opportunity for a homeowner to add personality to an outdoor space. Porch railings may be carved or depict a one-of-a-kind scene.