The outdoor deck is no doubt an essential for the modern home–a place to recline, relax, and entertain friends under sunny and starry skies alike.
Much like a frame for a classic painting or family photograph, the perfect railing encompasses your deck and ensures that you and your guests are in good hands.
Safety should be your first priority, but now is the time to really enjoy selecting a railing that reflects your home’s aesthetic, as well as your personal taste. While traditional New England white keeps your deck on the classier side of cool, Chinese Chippendale creates the look and feel of a true pastoral retreat.
Repurposed wood and stainless cabling are sure to catch a few admiring glances, while privacy railing and metal spindles create a more mature feel for your deck. These top 70 best deck railing ideas are proving themselves worthy of a nod from the most discerning of guests.
Take a look at the following categories to see how the right railing can really improve your deck’s appeal.
1. Cable Railing Ideas
In recent years, the cable railing trend has really taken off. In modern spaces or on modern decks, they look great and are actually very secure. These railings systems should be purchased as kits. They use turnbuckles, brackets, and other threaded hardware to create a strong system that provides an excellent line of sight while also adding a contemporary touch to a deck.
If you need some inspiration for how to make a cable railing work for your home, look through the following images.
If you’ve got a modern or contemporary style home, a cable railing may be the perfect addition for you. Most of the kits come in stainless steel so they look great around a matching barbecue grill or smoker.
The industrial look and feel of cable railings should also be considered while you’re planning your railing. If you like the cable railing look, but don’t really want to incorporate stainless steel fittings, you may be able to speak to your building department about using rope instead.
2. Wood Railing Ideas
If you’re a traditional type of guy, a wood railing on your deck probably appeals to you. These are the most common and typical railings. They’re seen on million-dollar deck and porches as well as basic builder-grade homes.
Wood railings are relatively inexpensive to build, depending on the species chosen, and are plenty strong to keep everyone top-side. They can be basic, built with dimensional 2×4 lumber for the top and bottom plates, and 2×2 wood spindles that you can purchase by the dozen. They can also be very intricate and formal, with top-tier wood species and hidden fasteners.
While the basic framework of your deck should be built with inexpensive pressure-treated pine, you have some choices for wood railings. There are a wide variety of wood species suitable for outdoor use, the most popular being pressure treated, redwood, cedar, and ipe. These railings can be painted or stained and then sealed.
If you looked through the following pictures, you saw railings that consist of only wood, a combination of wood and other materials, and even branches repurposed as railings. Keep in mind there are no hard and fast rules on this, so choose a few ideas that you like and figure out what will look best for your deck.
3. Glass Railing Ideas
When you’re lucky enough to have a great view, you don’t want to go covering it up or distracting from its splendor with an obtrusive railing. Fortunately for those with an amazing backdrop, glass panels can be used in place of railings to create an open feel while still providing security and meeting local codes.
There are some really cool ways to install these glass panel systems. While you can go the traditional route and install 4×4 posts every several feet, there are other options that create a nearly seamless finished product. Small, barely noticeable brackets can secure panels side by side, while the included hardware can be used to secure the panels to the deck. There’s enough rigidity in these panels that they can be installed without posts. The end result is an amazing, unobstructed view behind a strong, secure railing.
The first time anyone sees a glass railing, they’re concerned with the safety and strength they provide. This is understandable, glass is kind of a scary material. If you’d like to see just how far you can push these glass panels, check out this video to see what they can withstand:
4. Metal Railing Ideas
One of the more traditional choices for railings on our list, a metal railing can make an awesome addition to the topside of a well-designed deck. These railings can be painted an array of colors, and they’re incredibly strong so you never have to worry about the safety of your family or guests.
Check out these metal railings and combinations below to get a good idea of what it takes to pull off this design.
We won’t deny that the initial cost may be a little higher than you would pay for a standard wood railing. There are reasons for that, and they’ll make sense once we explain. Metal is a more expensive material than most wood, so you’ve got the material cost alone working against you. Factor in the skills required to fabricate the railing and make it safe, and you’ll realize the rest of the cost lies there. Experienced welders don’t come cheap.
It’s unfair to say that metal railings are only expensive due to material and labor. They’re also a “buy once, cry once” investment. They will last a lifetime with very minimal maintenance. A quick painting every 10 years will keep a metal railing looking as good as it did when it was new, saving you money in the long run.
5. Composite Railing Ideas
If you’re looking for low-maintenance but you just don’t like the look of a metal railing, composite railings can be an excellent option that meets in the middle. While it’s difficult to find the materials to construct a 100 percent composite railing, the lion’s share of the railing can be made of composite materials.
There are a lot of companies out there now developing their own composite decking product lines. They create these products by combining wood and plastic through a complex process that ends up producing a very strong, light, and durable wood-like product.
Composite systems can be expensive, but they’re incredibly easy to install. They come in kits with complete with brackets and spindle-holes already drilled in them. With a few basic tools and some gumption, you could be installing a composite deck railing system that will last for a very long time.
There are a lot of designs to choose from, and if you don’t want to purchase a full kit, you can piece a system together using wood, metal, or other materials in conjunction with the composite handrails or posts.
6. Vinyl or PVC Railing Ideas
Even more man-made than a composite railing, vinyl or PVC railings are other low-maintenance options that look great and can last a long time. These railings also come in kits with all the necessary hardware and fittings to get your railing project going.
There are some downsides to using a PVC or vinyl railing. They simply do not feel as solid as other options on our list. Even the composite decking consists of a fair amount of wood, which lends it a more natural and solid feel. You should also be careful attempting to install a railing during a cold-spell as vinyl can crack very easily when cold. Temperatures around 50 degrees should be safe.
The benefit of using a PVC or vinyl railing is that they’re generally less expensive than a composite railing system. Also, because vinyl expands and contracts quite a bit with temperature, many of the systems attempt to hide the joints. This means the actual installation is a little easier than a precise metal or wood railing job.
7. Rustic Railing Ideas
Something would be amiss if you decided to use an ultra-modern railing design on your cabin or country style home’s deck. While there are some decks that can pull off the modern look, a rustic railing is usually a better fit for these scenarios.
Take a look at these rustic rails to get a good idea of how this works. There may be very little fit-and-finish, but the end products look really cool and may actually save you a little money.
What makes a railing rustic, you ask? Well, there are a number of ways to achieve a rustic-looking railing, but we’ll point you in the right direction to get you started. The backbone of a rustic railing is almost always wood. It can be made from pine, redwood, or ipe, but cedar reigns supreme for this use. Large, cedar posts and handrails are the starting players here.
What makes rustic railings so great is the fact that you can use so many different materials to make up the field, or spindle area, of your railing. Metal fencing panels, tree branches, or live edge slabs all make great choices for use in a rustic railing.
8. Modern Railing Ideas
The style of your home can play a part in determining the design you choose for deck railing. Farmhouses and colonial homes will look best with a traditional style, while a contemporary home requires a more modern approach.
Modern railing designs are hard to define, but they’re usually constructed of metals like aluminum or stainless steel, and may include pre-fabricated panels with designs or patterns. You’re less likely to find composite or vinyl touches, but the industrial feel often incorporates wood features like posts and handrails
If a modern or industrial look is your idea of the perfect style, you should look at these next few images and take a few design cues. There are so many different styles and materials available that will work in this realm that finding the right design may take you some time and research. With enough effort, you’ll come up with an idea that works for you.
9. Privacy Railing Ideas
You may have great neighbors, but that doesn’t mean you want to interact with them every time you step out onto your deck to grab some sunshine. You have the option of planting large privacy shrubs, but you’ll either get short shrubs that take years to grow or pay a premium for a landscaper to dig large holes and plant expensive, mature shrubs.
The other option for lounging on your deck without being invited to game night next Thursday is to install a privacy railing. They’re great for keeping to yourself while providing a safe alternative to standard railings.
There are a few things to consider when designing your privacy railing. Building a solid wall creates more of a sail effect than you’ll probably want. No one wants a strong wind to make the deck sway, and you don’t want your privacy railing to break away from the structure and cause damage or hurt someone. Also, a full-size wall may seem ideal for privacy purposes, but if you consider that most of your outdoor lounging is done sitting down, a half-wall railing will usually do the trick.
For an idea of how to create some solitude on your back deck, check out the ideas above. Notice how most of the railings are designed with at least a little space to allow air to move through the railing. You can also see how a half-wall 8-feet in the air can shield you from prying eyes on the ground level.
Deck Railing FAQs
What is the best material for deck railings?
This depends on your budget and style, but you won’t go wrong with a cedar deck. Cedar is middle-of-the-road when it comes to cost and maintenance, but it is weather and insect resistant. This means that you’ll have less damage from sun, rain, snow, and ice, while also enjoying a deck that won’t fall victim to wood-gnawing bugs.
How far can a cable railing span?
The final answer on this will come from your local code enforcement department. That being said, manufacturers of several cable railing systems suggest that you don’t run a cable over a distance of more than 7 feet. Within that 7-foot span, you’ll also require a support post every 3 to 4 feet.