Any deck overlooking the ocean, or even an elevated balcony anywhere along the coast is a great place to relax and enjoy the breeze. With that said, you’re going to need a railing that can withstand all that water damage, not obstruct your view if that matters to you, and fit your budget.
It is also very important that you are sure your deck is up to code. If a deck is above 30 inches, it must have a railing in order to prevent injury.
In this blog, I’ll break down a few common deck railing types typically found at the coast to help you make this decision.
What to consider before installing deck railings and balusters
One of the biggest concerns for some people is that railing will obstruct your view, but you do have some low-profile options to select.
When discussing railing for decks, typically this involves a top guard rail, as well as balusters, posts, or horizontal cables to create the structure.
Deck railing codes
As mentioned earlier, whenever you plan to install deck railing, you need to select a contractor who can advise you on deck railing regulations. There are guidelines for handrails, baluster spacing, support posts, and even bottom rail regulations.
The International Code Council (ICC) sets the rules for constructing decks, which many states have adopted.
While most regions have adopted ICC regulations, any general contractor will be able to advise you on what the codes are in your area. If you’re building a new deck with railings, you’ll need to be in compliance to be granted a permit as you can read about here on decks.com
Most railings look good on any deck, but may not be the best fit for every deck. Especially when talking about coastal decks, water resistance is a must, especially when using cable and metal components!
You obviously want to make sure to choose a railing that is fit for your location.
According to this post on Home Advisor, the material cost per linear foot for a wood deck can expect to cost you anywhere from $40-$0 per linear foot, with cable costing a bit more generally.
Any contractor will be able to give you a general quote (oftentimes over the phone if you perform the measurements)
Whenever installing deck railing, keep in mind that you not only have cables or wood handrails to consider but the following materials that can really eat up your budget:
- Glass or frosted panels
- Wrought iron or metal balusters,
- Supporting posts
- Post caps
- Labor costs
Durability and maintenance
How often do you want to have to replace your railing? How much upkeep are you willing to manage? These are critical long-term concerns when it comes to choosing a railing.
Wood will require refinishing or replacing periodically, whereas a composite material will not. For coastal installation, you’ll want to avoid bare metal to avoid corrosion and rusting.
Color / style
You’ll also want to make sure your railing complements the rest of the deck. Whether it’s contrasting the floor’s color or matching your furniture’s color, your railing should match the scene.
Assuming your preferred option is able to pass inspection and is compliant with any HOA rules, it’s simply a matter of personal preference.
1. Cable deck railings
Depending on the material it’s made of, aluminum or steel, cable railing is a luxurious choice when browsing options.
Aluminum is a cheaper alternative to steel, being lighter and less dense. By using cable, you’re taking advantage of its durability, a trait that not all railings have.
Keep in mind that cables can be dangerous for children and pets who may cut their hands on the wire, but they shouldn’t pose a safety threat assuming they are installed correctly.
Are cable deck railings legal?
According to the ICC, cable deck railings in fact are legal assuming they pass the ‘4-inch- sphere’ rule, meaning a 4-inch sphere is unable to pass between the horizontal railings. Keep in mind there are also other regulations like handrail and guardrail specifications, in addition to load requirements to abide by.
While the ICC outlines federal regulation, you want to make sure that your state allows cable-based railings of this nature before installing them.
Tip: It’s best practice to have a qualified installer who understands both state and federal regulations perform the installation or advise you on the legality of these before proceeding.
Advantages of cable railings
Not only do they last longer than alternative railings, but the only maintenance required is to wipe every once in a while (maintenance that you should be familiar with by now in life). While all of that sounds nice, if you don’t manage to keep up with maintenance, your railing may rust!
Stainless steel is a good choice for coastal residents looking to install railing, while traditional metal railings may require more maintenance and upkeep.
Depending on your budget, some cable railings on the market are extremely resistant to the elements as described by Rail FX, and require little or no maintenance over time.
Withstanding corrosion and harsh weather and being easy to install, cable is a pretty popular option among decks at the coast these days.
Durable and long-lasting
Some materials can rust
Can abrade skin if not careful
Easier to install
Average Cost: $60+ per linear foot
Maintenance: Cable adjustments every few years and wiping
2. Wood deck railings
A wood railing can help deliver the classic, rustic touch you may be looking for, but the material is not an excellent fit for a rail along the coast. To keep your wood’s color from fading and to prevent water damage, you will need to polish, repaint, and clean it often.
Pressure-treated wood is a must when being at the coast, and you do have options to stain and seal it from the coastal elements as I explain in this blog post on wood dock preservation products.
Alternatively, you may decide to go with vinyl, which does cost even more, but looks like wood and lasts much longer. If you don’t want to worry about your deck railing drying out due to the coastal elements, synthetic material is a more expensive alternative that will last longer.
Can obstruct view
Sturdy and solid
Tend to crack and weather in coastal environment
Color can be customized
Average Cost: $30+ per linear foot
Maintenance: Spray and scrub every few months
3. Rope deck railings
For rope railings, you have the options of manila, polyester, or cotton fibers. Using rope as your railing can be an interesting style to add to your raised deck, but you’ll want to run this option past an inspector or installer.
With that being said, some non-elevated structures may not be subject to regulations, so it all depends on where you plan to use these. Rope is obviously a more nautical option for coastal homes and can add a certain aesthetic to your deck that you may be looking for. Keep in mind that rope will need to be installed much like cable, and without slack in order to meet code.
You will also want to use a water-resistant rope to ensure the rope maintains its integrity in the long run.
Here are a few pros and cons if you are considering rope railings:
Can fray over time
Can be decorative if woven
May not pass inspection depending on where you live
Easy to install without help
Average Cost: $1+ per linear foot
Maintenance: Cleaning and replacement
After looking at each of these three types of rails, you should better understand the differences between them, what makes them a good option, and what will work best.
- Rope railings can be great if you’re on a budget or looking for a style that blends well with hammocks and other nautical accessories.
- Wooden railings are also a good option, but only if you’re willing to maintain them properly to prolong their viability.
- Cable railings may not be the best choice if it doesn’t fit the style of your deck, but if you can afford them, cable generally lasts the longest, and requires the least maintenance.
Remember to consider location, budget, maintenance, and style when choosing your new railing. Hopefully, you now have a good idea of which option is best for you when it comes to building your perfect deck!
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is purely informational and intended to provide general guidance for homeowners. Always consult with and seek counsel from qualified contractors before proceeding. Waterfront Central is not responsible and is absolved from all liability resulting from improper deck railing installation.