Building a deck is a balance between form and function. Homeowners want a deck that increases their living space and blurs the lines between indoors and outdoors. However, without structural elements like walls, decks require railings to both define the space and, most importantly, keep users safe.

While a deck can be almost any shape, size and height, every deck railing needs to meet standardized building codes. Codes keep people and animals safe, particularly when it comes to elevated decks.

A cable railing system is a code-compliant railing that offers an aesthetic advantage with limited visual disruption compared to other railing options. All our cables are less than an inch in diameter and meet building codes following specific guidelines.

Code Considerations for Cable Railing. Which Code?

Municipalities, the state, and countries all issue building codes. When in doubt, choose the most conservative option. In many cases, the municipal code supersedes codes issued at higher levels.

For more information about handrail and guardrail codes, click here to view the International Residential Code.

A Note About Handrails and Guardrails

Building codes frequently have separate provisions and requirements for handrails versus guardrails. 

A guardrail must be present on every cable railing system. Guardrails, as defined by the International Residential Code (IRC), are a “building component or system of building components located near the open sides of elevated walking surfaces that minimize the possibility of a fall from the walking surface to the lower level.” Guardrails are required for all elevated decks and are the primary way of keeping users safe.

Handrails are defined by the IRC as “a horizontal or sloping rail intended for grasping by hand for guidance and support.” Handrails are required for at least one side of runs with four or more steps. 

In essence, guardrails prevent people from falling off a deck, while handrails help people move up and down stairs safely.

cable railing codes
railing graspability

What Is Graspability?

A handrail must be high enough to stop someone from falling over and sturdy enough to support someone’s weight. It also needs sufficient graspability. Graspability refers to the specific shape requirement for someone to hold onto the handrail. 

Many cable railing systems come with materials to build code-compliant handrails and guardrails. Some companies, such as RailFX, offer several rail designs that accommodate graspability requirements while providing a stylish look.

However, if you’re using your own materials, check the IRC and any local codes to ensure your guard and handrails are sufficiently graspable. 

Sphere Rules

Sphere rules are fairly straightforward and apply to all railing systems. IRC sphere rules state that the spacing between railing components cannot allow a 4” sphere to pass through it. Stairs are an exception. They have a 6” sphere rule between the step treads and the bottom rail.

Cable railing doesn’t have the same rigidity of wood or steel balusters. Therefore, you can’t simply measure the space between cables. Install cables close enough together so even if they stretch, a 4” sphere still can’t pass through. Contractors often install cables with 3-3½” spacing.

Tensioning is another requirement for cable railing. Applied tension to the cable helps resist a 4″ sphere from passing through. It is a critical specification to ensure the safety of a cable railing system.

Sphere railing rules

Other Safety Considerations


Tension is the critical component to meeting sphere rule requirements. It impacts the cable’s load-bearing capability if someone or something runs into it. Tension keeps the cable taut enough to comply with the sphere rules and is an important factor in the safety of the system.

Different materials have different stretch properties, and high tension cables can lose tension over time, which can negatively impact their code compliance. Stainless steel typically stretches less than aluminum, and the recommended cable configuration is a 1X19 cable—that is, 19 wires woven into one stronger cable structure—to maintain strength and flexibility.

Posts should be strong enough not bow under high tension. Choose the Invisiware Receiver® hardware by RailFX. It’s  easy to create the correct amount of tension by using a simple Allen wrench to adjust tension as needed.

The Inivisiware Receiver, our mounting hardware, is strong enough to withstand all forces.  A Professional Engineering Firm with stamps in 38 states officially reviewed The RailFX system and concluded our system meets all applicable code requirements.


Railing safety considerations


Often there is a loss of tension over time due to stress on the wires, relaxation and applied loads, such as kids trying to use it as a ladder. However, tension is easily adjusted with an Allen wrench using hardware such as our Invisiware receivers.

While horizontal cable infill is a perfectly acceptable and safe option, some still have apprehension using this system. In this case, vertical cable infill is a good alternative as it eliminates the ability for climbing on the infill. This option is inherently more expensive and slightly more visually disruptive due to the number of cables needed.

Which Cable Railing System Should You Choose?

RailFX offers a number of code-compliant railings, including RailFX cable railings. Engineered with stainless steel hardware, system railings are long-lasting without interrupting a homeowner’s view and many kits are easily re-tensioned using only an Allen wrench. For more information, visit our website.

If you’re building your dream home near the ocean, of course, you want to be able to enjoy the view.  A deck is a great way to extend your living space to enjoy after a full day of boating or to entertain guests on.

A great deck balances function, aesthetics and safety. You want something that looks great, but local building codes will also have railing requirements to keep yourself and your visitors safe.

Unfortunately, a traditional wooden picket railing isn’t a great option when it comes to enjoying your view. What’s the point in facing the ocean if you can’t see past your railing?

Cable Railings Balance Safety and Aesthetics

For a long time, glass panels were the only option to protect people from injury and not interrupt the view. This transparent option is great at first, but over time, glass will stain and weather in the salt air.  Additionally, what was once crystal clear becomes hazy, even with regular maintenance.

Cable railings balance a homeowner’s quest between safety and aesthetics. Stainless steel cables suspended between aluminum, wood or composite sleeved posts provide little visual disruption. They also meet building code requirements and provide a long-lasting solution for homeowners striving for a timeless look.

Choosing the Right Cable Railing System

If you’re near the ocean, you want to choose a cable railing system that will  stand up to the elements. There are many systems to choose from. With CableFX, you can be confident our system won’t corrode in the salty air and will withstand rough weather.

The cables in a cable rail system are most often stainless steel. Stainless steel gets its name from the small amounts of chromium that are added to traditional steel. This makes the product corrosion-resistant. There are several grades of salt-resistant stainless steel. You’ll want to make sure your contractor selects one that will last in a challenging climate.

Also, look into the configuration of cable being used. The cable in a cable railing system needs to be under a lot of tension.  You should ensure the cable is durable and unlikely to stretch. A 1X19 cable (that is, 1 cable made-up of 19 strands combined together) will be less prone to stretching than others.

Aluminum or Steel?

The cables in a cable railing system are generally stainless steel. In contrast, railing posts are made with a variety of materials. In other environments, wood gives a classic rustic feel, but this natural material is not well-suited for coastal environments. For rails contending with high-salt air, homeowners should choose metal posts: either stainless steel or aluminum.

When it comes to deciding between stainless steel or aluminum posts, consider the following factors:

  • Weight
  • Cost
  • Corrosion-resistance
  • Maintenance

Aluminum is usually the lighter and more economical option of the two. It is much less dense than steel. A typical aluminum post will weigh 7-8 pounds, compared to an 18-20 pound stainless steel post. To withstand the tension of the cable assembly, you may need a thicker aluminum post. It will still be lighter, and ultimately, less expensive than a stainless steel one.

Corrosion Control

For years, stainless steel has been better in regards to corrosion resistance. Although untreated aluminum won’t rust the way non-stainless steel does, it can still corrode and pit in salt air. While it can detract from the aesthetic, the white chalky aluminum oxide that forms on raw aluminum can be a good protectant from further rusting. However, modern aluminum cable railing posts are manufactured with aesthetics in tough environments with oceanside homes in mind.

Products like RailFX aluminum posts are pre-treated in a 5-step process to prevent aluminum corrosion.  It improves paint adhesion in the most vulnerable areas, such as where the aluminum has exposed cut edges. RailFX uses an AAMA 2605 paint that is applied with strict guidelines and offers a 10-year warranty. RailFX cable rails use stainless steel hardware which is designed to last.

If you want extra protection, consider coating your railing system with Boeshield T-9®. It’s a wax-based formula containing no silicone or Teflon that dries to a waxy finish without leaving a sticky residue. It’s a great way to prevent rust and corrosion; plus, it’s easy to apply.

Maintaining Cable Railings

With modern, high-quality materials, homeowners shouldn’t have to do significant maintenance.  Keeping their cable railings looking nice and functioning correctly, even close to the ocean, is easy. Because stainless steel can rust, most manufacturers recommend periodic cleaning with water and possibly a mild detergent. Afterwards, do a thorough rinsing.

However, with more coastal areas facing extreme weather, like tropical storms and hurricanes, homeowners need to check on their railings after these events.

Cable railings are high-tension systems, and their lower overall surface areas should protect them during extreme winds. But, after a hurricane or tropical storm, carefully inspect the entire railing system, not just damaged areas. The tension of the cables may pull on other deck components and can create issues down the road. If any posts appear to be loose or twisted, reach out to your contractor.

Cable Railings Cleaning Guidelines

If you choose a RailFX cable railing system, the cleaning guidelines are easy:

  • Use clean water and a soft cloth for coated surfaces.
  • Use mild dishwashing soap with water and a soft cloth for stronger cleaning needs.
  • Remove minor scuff marks or scratches from aluminum posts and rails using a product like Soft Scrub™ (Note: bleach-based products should not be used on stainless steel.)
  • Do not use strong chemicals, household cleaners, harsh abrasives, etc. This is especially true for bleach or products containing bleach. Bleach will stain and discolor stainless steel quickly and easily.
  • Remove sap, tree seeds, bugs, etc. as soon as possible as additional sun and heat exposure can make them stick to the coated surface making them more difficult to remove (but not impossible).
  • Clean glass infills with regular glass cleaner or (made for glass) soap and water.
  • Always test cleaning products on a small, inconspicuous area before applying any product.

And if you have a question about maintaining your railing system, the RailFX team is happy to help. You can email us at or call us at (206) 453-1123.

Ready to Start?

If you’re looking to update your deck, or build a new one, a RailFX cable railing system is a great contemporary accent. The system balances aesthetics, safety, and durability, even in corrosive climates.

For more information and inspiration on cable railings, visit the RailFX website.

Homeowner, Mark Cockrell built his original wooden deck in the early 90s. After more than two decades of exposure to the elements, his outdoor escape needed some attention.

Home Deck Materials for Long-Term Design Solutions

Mark kept up with regular maintenance on his cedar deck over the years. His deck’s original posts, beams and joists were still in good shape, with just the handrails and decking requiring replacement.

Mark sought out high-quality, high-performing materials for his home’s new deck system. His priority was finding a solution that wouldn’t need much upkeep. “In order to minimize future maintenance — I’m 62 years old — I researched many decking and handrail alternatives,” explains Mark.

For the deck’s new handrails, Mark wanted a system to complement the new wood decking and provide a view of his home’s surrounding landscape. “We wanted an aluminum post and rail system with stainless steel cables to help minimize view obstructions,” he said.

Mark also needed a system that wasn’t impossible to install, since he’d be tackling the project himself.

Low maintenenace deck solutions
RailFX cable railing system

Smooth Installation and Less Deck Maintenance

Mark Cockrell spent considerable time researching available railing systems and decided on the RailFX cable railing system solution.

He completed the installation entirely by himself. “The assembly instructions were very helpful and intuitive,” says Mark. And the installation kit also included cable sections with an additional 3 feet in length. “That takes care of a lot of measurement errors.”

The RailFX cable rail system’s successful engineering also offered Mark plenty of solutions. These include durable and long-lasting aluminum posts and stainless steel hardware, and an easy-to-install mounting system.

Mark used the Professional 224 series cable kit, with the Invisiware® receiver and Pull-Lock®, two types of hardware that conceal the fittings inside the posts. This allowed for a beautiful, clean final look.

DIY deck project

Anyone who’s ever taken on a DIY project knows how unexpected issues can cause  delays. But working with a dependable brand that’s dedicated to solutions for customers made this DIY project easy. When Mark lost a few parts and damaged one of the cables in his kit, RailFX had solutions readily available.

“There were real people answering the phone, who could direct you to actual installers that know the product,” said Mark, “And tech support sent me new parts the next day!”

Compared to his original deck rail system, he found the RailFX cable railing system superior, and it helped provide his home with an exterior design he describes as “elegant and impressive.”

Solutions for Your Future Deck System

Mark completed his deck installation and is now enjoying the results of his handiwork.

“On the whole,” said Mark, “I am very pleased with the final product and would highly recommend it to others without reservation.”

Planning your next DIY home deck project? Check out RailFX’s host of hardware solutions, or you can contact us with any questions about your project.

Before and after DIY deck project