Adding a handrail to a small deck


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Old 04-22-16, 11:44 AM
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Adding a handrail to a small deck

A few years ago, I built a small square 8'x8' deck at my parents' place in a shady spot under the trees, so they could relax outside during the day when the weather is hot (they have a large, unshaded concrete patio next to the house, but it gets too hot in the afternoon). It was built over a slight slope so that its anywhere from about 6" to 18" above ground level...pretty low, and a rail was neither required or desired. Now that my parents have gotten older and my dad has Parkinson's, they are more worried about losing their balance and taking a little tumble over the edge. So, I'm exploring rail options here. I'm leaning towards just having a simple, single 36" high sturdy handrail around the outer edge, without any balusters or bottom rail. I'm a bit resistant to the idea of a full on rail with balusters every 4" as it will make this tiny deck seem too much like a playpen, and will obstruct the nice view into the trees. So, at this point, I'm wondering if this considered an acceptable thing to do? My thinking is that closely spaced balusters are there to keep little kids from getting through the railing, but a railing isn't even required for a deck this low (less than 30" above ground), so a little kid would tumble over the edge on this (and all low decks) anyway. Hopefully, this all makes sense. Thanks in advance for you help!
 
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Old 04-22-16, 11:59 AM
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The only 2 ways I know of securing a railing to a deck is to either have the 4x4 posts continue up to the railing level or have all the balusters secured to the rim joist and the rail. The latter method is never as secure as the first. I suspect the railing should be a little higher than 36" I'm thinking the code might be 42" but don't know for sure .... I'm just a painter, the carpenters should be along later to confirm and/or give better advice.
 
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Old 04-22-16, 01:06 PM
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My initial thought is to have a 4x4 post at each corner and in the middle of each side. Install a handrail bracket on each post. Haven't quite worked out the details of the 4x4 post mounting yet.
 
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Old 04-22-16, 01:11 PM
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IIRC, the 4x4 post is required every six feet so you plan sounds reasonable based on my off-the-top-of-my-head knowledge of the rules.
 
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Old 04-22-16, 03:30 PM
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See Figure 25, 26 in this deck guide. http://www.awc.org/pdf/codes-standar...Guide-1405.pdf

You can put them on either side of the rim joist, depending on the look you are going for. IMO, putting them on the inside of the rim joist looks better, and I Iike to shim them plumb as needed.
 
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Old 04-22-16, 03:54 PM
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One thing you can do is add a step or steps to the higher elevations with a rail system down the corners (so to speak). So you have rails in some spots for assistance up and down stairs, but not a contiguous rail system around the deck. Do you have a current picture of the deck and the elevations off each point of the corners?

http://www.doityourself.com/forum/el...your-post.html

Keep in mind that pictures need to be scaled down for web quality and upload one at a time.
 
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Old 04-22-16, 04:17 PM
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Been browsing the web for ideas, so I sorta keep changing my ideas on what the rail could look like. I like the one in this picture below, and the deck size and shape is very similar to my situation (except the ground slope is MUCH greater in this picture). Mine would likely be 3 sided like this one as well. I like the cables too, but am wondering if I could get by with cables say every 10" to 12" (measured vertically), rather than about every 4". Less "cluttery" and costly that way.

Also, wondering about the feasibility of attaching the posts directly to the deck surface. The deck guide posted by XSleeper (thanks!) doesn't seem to go into that, but I've seen some picture of it being done. Maybe I have to use a metal post with an integral bottom flange to do it that way?


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Old 04-23-16, 02:57 AM
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The problem with attaching post just to the top or side of the deck is making them secure. Having the post mounted at 2 points [versus the one] increases the odds that the railing will be secure [no wobble] The rail system in that pic would worry me.
 
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Old 04-23-16, 05:45 AM
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And the cables can be no more than 4" apart. I am like Mark, the back rail is secure enough, but the two front newel posts, without a return will always be wobbly. If it were mine, I would have brought the newel posts to the end, returned 1' toward the middle and secured another on the face.
 
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Old 04-23-16, 06:34 AM
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I agree about attaching the posts to the sides rather than top, and also making a small return on the open end. I will do it that way. One problem is, though, that the deck joists (including rim) are all 2x6's, and the deck design guide specifies that the posts be attached to 2x8's (minimum). Is there any kind of workaround/trick to securely mounting the posts to a 2x6 joist instead?

Still confused about the applicability of the 4" rule for a low, ground hugging deck that is no more than about 18" above ground. A rail is not even required for this deck in the first place, so am I obligated to still follow this rule? Seems like kind of a contradiction to go through a lot of expense and effort to make a barrier against a child falling over the deck edge, when its fine to have a deck like this with NO rail at all. Or is the 4" rule just to keep a kid's head from getting wedged and stuck?
 
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Old 04-23-16, 07:19 AM
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Here's an article that describes a number of sturdy and code compliant ways to attach posts:

Code-Compliant Guardrail Posts - Professional Deck Builder Magazine

The key is really that just fastening posts to the rim joist is not acceptable because the rim joist attachment to the framing is usually not adequate to resist the leverage from force applied to the top rail.

You're right that the 4" rule is mainly to prevent a child from getting their head stuck. I think you could make a case that having no rails (other than top rail) would be acceptable in this case. It's a gray area that probably isn't addressed in the codes. If you are going to have it inspected then you should discuss with AHJ. If you're not going to have it inspected then you have to use your judgment. IIWM, I'd probably not put in rails. If I were to put in rails, then I'd follow the 4" rule.

Cable rails are kind of an anomaly anyway....they violate the principle that a fence or rail should not be "climbable" so I think that's another argument in favor of no rails.
 
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Old 04-23-16, 07:41 AM
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I believe no rails would be better than cables, for the climbing aspect, as well. With the 1970'ish design of having a seat surrounding the deck, a child could climb on the seat and fall over, so codes were modified to make it a restricted height without climbing obstacles. If clients wanted to modify their decks and keep their seats, we had to build handrails 38" or so above the seat which was ugly with a capital "U".
 
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Old 04-23-16, 09:02 AM
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OK, thanks for all the info. That article from the Deck Builder Magazine is very helpful. I have downloaded it and will keep it for future reference.

I'm going to skip the cable rails, at least for now. I'm not going to bother with an inspection for this project, but will utilize best practices anyway. So, at this point, I will have two 4x4 posts straddling each corner and one post in the middle of each side. Posts will be secured to the 2x6 rim joists (outside surface) with two 1/2" galv bolts. There will be a 2x6 rail mounted on the top of the posts, with a 2x4 face mounted to the posts directly underneath the 2x6. No cables, balusters, etc in between the posts. Total rail height will be 36" from deck surface to top surface of 2x6. Rails will be "returned" about 1' in at the open end of the deck.

I really like the Simpson metal brackets as shown in the Deck Builder article, but am wondering if it would be really necessary. They are costly, both from a materials and time standpoint and seem like they could be overkill. What do you all think about using them? Yay or Nay?
 
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Old 04-23-16, 09:27 AM
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How are the rim joists attached to the other joists? If they're just nailed or deck screwed you have almost no strength there to resist leverage from force on the post. That's where the simpson brackets shine...they transfer the loads from the post to the joists themselves so you are not depended on the rim joist staying put. There are other ways to accomplish this, like putting cross blocking behind the rim and bolting through the post, rim, and blocking. But the anchors are even better. If you were going to put the posts inside the rim so they could also be bolted to a joist, then it would be less of an issue.

BTW, it's best to mount the top rail at a slight angle so water doesn't sit on it...

Good luck with your project.
 
 

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