One of the most critical elements of a deck is its railing. There are dozens of choices and sources of inspiration. The railing can be wood or composite, traditional or pre-maid. When planning always consider the style and materials used in your home. If you have a deck that sits more than 30 inches above grade, you are required to build a railing.
Composite. Manmade decking made from recycled wood fiber and plastic polymers. Railing-system units coordinate with decking and usually include balusters, posts, post collars, and decorative post caps. The integral-colored products require less maintenance than wood.
Vinyl. Sturdy material comes in gray, tan, white, and black, which mimics wrought iron. It won't rot or rust and needs no painting or sealing, but does require extra structural support: Manufacturers recommend that the vinyl post sleeves slip over metal posts.
Prefabricated. Available in several styles and typically purchased with top railings, usually in cedar, mahogany, or a double-primed finish. Standard 36-in.-tall panels are available in 6- and 8-ft. lengths. They fit between posts and are cut to size on-site. Preassembled post sleeves add heftier appearance.
Traditional. Replacement balusters made of powder-coated aluminum come in three styles: Architectural, resembling a curvilinear hand-forged iron bar; Classic, a cylindrical, pipe-shaped baluster (available in seven colors); and Colonial, resembling turned wood (in three colors).
Glass. Tempered-glass preserves views and can function as a windbreak. Building codes may call for slender openings around panels to reduce wind pressure. Sections can be frosted or etched for privacy or to screen unattractive vistas. Panels range from 1/4 to 1/2 in. thick and require a rigid framework.
Aluminum/Steel. Tensioned stainless steel cable (usually 1/8 in. thick, but can be 3/16 or 1/16 in. in custom systems) runs through predrilled holes in wood or steel posts and may be drawn tight with turnbuckles or other threaded tensioning devices. Steel posts and frames come in a variety of shapes and styles.