Stair Railing Design for the Outdoor Deck

The stair railing design for your outdoor deck needs to serve 3 purposes. It must complement your home, and the material of which your deck floor and stairway is made. Your stair railing must be strong enough to support the pressure of people leaning on it repeatedly. Finally, your stair railing must be safe and meet or exceed building codes for your area. Given these tough criteria, here below are several ideas for stair rails that suit them all.

Enhance Your Outdoor Decor

On a wood deck, add a wood stair railing made of the same wood, with a similar finish. If your home has dark shutters and trim, paint or stain the stair railing and deck railing to match, providing contrast to your deck floor and stairway treads. Use decorative wood balusters instead of plain 2 by 2 wood rails. These are available in a variety of shapes and styles. If your home has white siding or clapboard, go with a clean, simple white vinyl-coated aluminum railing with narrow spindle balusters. For a contemporary home, consider aluminum stair rails with transparent fiberglass panels between the posts instead of balusters. These will allow clear views of the scenery from your deck and stairs, instead of obscuring it. If you will frequently host social events at night on your deck, add lighting to the top and bottom posts of the stair railing. You can also light the stair risers to make them both more beautiful and more visible.

Add Strength and Security

Attach your deck stair railing at the bottom by drilling a piece of rebar vertically 18 inches down into the concrete bottom landing, and affixing the bottom stairway post to it. Paint the rebar with a rust-resistant paint before securing it into the concrete. This additional stabilizer will help your stairway rail stay in place for many years of regular use. At the top of the stairway, cut your top post 18 inches longer than the height which will be above the deck. Put the post through the deck and attach it to the outside of the stair stringer with galvanized steel bolts and nuts. Choose a 3-inch wide handrail for support while ascending the stairs. Consider low-maintenance materials, such as coated aluminum, galvanized steel or synthetic composites. These have the strength and beauty of wood with far greater durability.

Meet Building Codes

Most municipal building codes specify that a stairway railing must withstand 200 pounds of pressure applied in any direction. Be sure to reinforce your stair railing at the top and bottom, at each landing and every few stair treads. To do this, add railing crush blocks that fit snugly between the bottom of the stairway railing and the stair tread. Make them yourself from leftover materials such as 2 by 2 composite, pressure-treated wood or aluminum posts. Use crush blocks every 2 feet on a stairway railing, or about every 3 stair treads. Around your deck itself, add them to the railing every 4 feet. Municipal code also specifies the maximum distance between your stairway railing balusters, usually 3 inches.