Although aluminum railings have become more and more popular in recent years, many people still prefer the look of a wooden railing for their outdoor deck. If you are planning to build a wood railing for your deck or have a contractor build a wood railing for you, here are some tips and suggestions to help you build a better, longer lasting railing.
Many deck builders will use 2×2 lumber pickets for constructing their wood railings. They look great when first installed, but unfortunately 2×2 pickets tend to warp and twist out of control over the years. Depending on the environmental conditions of the area you live in, 2×2 pickets can look terrible in as little as one season! One of the tricks to building a long lasting, good looking wood railing is to use 2×4 lumber for pickets.
Another great advantage to choosing 2×4 for pickets is the cost difference. Most of the home building centers offer pre-cut ballusters for deck railings at a higher price than the equivalent length of 2×4 lumber. You’ll need to cut your own lengths from longer pieces, but it’s well worth the cost savings and durability gains.
Furthermore, if you choose 2×4 lumber for pickets, you actually don’t need to use any 4×4 posts to achieve the railing strength required by code in most places. Double check with your local building codes before proceeding this way.
Simply start with a 2×4 picket bolted to the deck frame in each spot where you would normally locate a 4×4 post (usually spaced at 6 feet maximum). These will replace the main 4×4 posts of the railing, so you should use through-bolts to secure these to the rim joist of the deck, and reinforce the rim joists against twisting. Make sure these starting pickets are perfectly plumb before proceeding.
Next, attach a horizontal rail along the top of the main pickets, and attach a top cap (the surface of the railing). All that remains is to fill in the spans between the main pickets with more 2×4’s spaced evenly. The rest of the pickets can be screwed rather than bolted. The result is a much stronger railing that will last longer without warping and twisting.
Remember not to exceed the maximum allowed space between pickets, as per the local building codes (usually 4 inches maximum). Also remember to observe the minimum railing height required in the local building code. The railing height required will change depending how high off the ground your deck is.