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Back and front yards can be an escape for homeowners. For example, if the backyard expands the great or family room, then the front yard is surely an extension of the living room. And the front of the house is all about curb appeal — making it inviting for socializing with neighbors, relaxing, and resale value.

Personalizing outdoor spaces is on-trend. Decking for the backyard and the front porch can be the focal point of the overall design. Whether upgrading or building a new deck or porch project, consider adding the proper railings. Often an afterthought, railings not only serve as a safety feature but can also add an aesthetic appeal.  

There are various railings choices, and they are as solid of an investment as the decking or porch material. You want to choose — or recommend — the most suitable material because trends come and go, the railings can last as long as the deck. Seek materials that offer aesthetic flexibility no matter the changes made to the outdoor area year after year.

Consider cable railing for a modern, sleek, upscale look that will last. Cable railings’ minimal design means small decks and porches appear more spacious and, for both large and small spaces. The railings blend in rather than stand out, offering unobstructed views for maximum coverage.  

With proper installation, rest assured, cable railings are a safe option for any deck or porch. We’ve outlined common safety points, to make you feel comfortable choosing cable railing for your next project.

1. Safety

Post spacing and railing height should follow local code and guidelines. For level runs, height standards are 36- or 42-inch railings and posts no more than four to five feet apart for cable railings. If you’re unsure, check the latest 2021 International Residential Code (IRC) or local jurisdiction for the proper guard and handrail requirements.

2. Ladder Effect

Most deck pros and homeowners are concerned with the climbing risks or the “ladder effect.” A three-year study by the International Code Council (ICC) code Technology Committee (CTC) concluded that “the most current and thorough documentation available shows no indication that a problem exists and there had not been sufficient justification established to mandate a high level of climbability restriction on guards.”

Falls from railings — as well as porches, balconies, floor openings, handrails, and banisters — among children aged 18 months to four years are estimated to be less than an eighth of a percent (0.032) according to a joint report by National Ornament and Miscellaneous Metals Association (NOMMA) and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

3. Installation

Correct installation ensures that the cables are properly tensioned, limiting deflection, and never be spaced more than three inches apart, along with the post spacing recommendations mentioned above. With proper installation, cable railings should not allow a 4-inch sphere to pass between the cables.

4. Durability

Cable railings have high tensile strength and withstand at least 200 pounds of force — and with proper installation and tensioning, they will last for years with minimal maintenance. The 316-grade stainless steel makes cable railing corrosion-resistant and can withstand the most challenging climates, including coastal environments.

5. Options

Cable railing is available in 1/8- and 3/16-inch diameter 1×19 type 316 stainless steel. It is most common for residential applications to use 1/8-inch thick stainless steel cable. Lightweight and easy to maintain, the cable railing is code compliant with the proper tensioning.

At RailFX, we offer an aluminum cable railing system that makes ordering and installation easy. We also provide cable kits and FlexFX that incorporate our fittings into any residential application with the same ease.

With any product you choose, follow the manufacturers installation instructions, and call customer service for any help. This ensures a proper installation (to code), less call-backs, and a safe and beautiful result.

May is Deck Safety Month, and each year building professionals — deck builders, contractors, manufacturers, and home inspectors — emphasize the importance of inspecting the residential deck to ensure it is safe and secure for the warm weather season. Most homeowners can perform their own precursory inspections with the steps outlined below.

Deck Safety Month 2022

1. Check deck boards

Whether it’s a composite, PVC, or wood deck boards, check for any damage from the winter. Look for loose, rotting, or warped boards, and replace or add a finishing coat of paint or stain. While checking the boards, look for any rusted or corroded nails or fasteners and replace them with Grip-Rite fasteners.

2. Examine railings and banisters

Check that banisters (posts) are properly fastened and secured (with brackets or per the manufacturers’ recommendation). Ensure railings are accurately spaced and follow the 4-inch sphere rule, and if you notice loose or wobbly connections, repair or replace them as necessary.

3. Inspect stairs

Ensure stair stringers are sturdy and secure to the deck frame from the surface to the landing area. Like deck boards, check stairs for loose, rotting, or warped boards and replace them as necessary. Check the handrail for grasp-abilty, and that it is continuous and smooth.

4. Check underbelly connections

Check for any deck ledger connections that have pulled away from the home (if applicable) and are connected appropriately to the deck joist. Check the posts, beams, and footings are stable and secure.

5. Check for pest damage, mold, and mildew

Pest damage can occur on exterior structures no matter your location. Check for nesting areas and any insect damage; treat appropriately. Mold and mildew grow on everything, from humid to wet and cold regions. Clean off any residual mold and mildew with a deck cleaner.

6. Clean your railings

Most deck surfaces only require washing off the debris collected over the fall and winter months. For railings, especially if you have cable railings, use a mild detergent and soft cloth to clean and protect your cable railings. We offer RailFX EZ-Clean that cleans and protects all season long.

These quick tips are easy for most homeowners to inspect the deck and detect any quick fixes. Keeping up with regular maintenance is essential to ensure your deck lasts for years to come.

If your deck is older than 10-years or you detect some problem areas, it is recommended that you seek a building professional to conduct a thorough inspection for peace of mind.

Codes Cheat Sheet: Residential Railing and Decking

QUICK REFERENCE: The following is a quick reference guide for code specific deck guardrail and handrail minimum standards to meet for installation of a railing for both level and stair runs.

STAIRS – HANDRAIL HEIGHT, WALLPROJECTION, AND CLEARANCES

Stairs rails on decks should be between 34-inches and 38-inches high and are measured vertically from the nose of the tread to the top of the rail. The treads, measuring front to back, must be at least10-inches deep. Handrails should not project more than 4-1/2-inches from the wall. Anything further will crowd the throughway. Minimum hand clearance from the wall should be at least 1-1/2-inches for ease of grasping. The IRC code also states that there must be an 80-inchclearance (6-ft. and 9-in.) measured from the nose of the thread to the obstruction above floor, beam, coffered ceiling, etc.)

RESIDENTIAL STAIRS – HANDRAILS AND GUARDS

Handrails need to be provided on at least one side of each continuous run of treads or flights with four or more risers at a height of 34-inches to 38-inches. Minimum hand clearance from the wall should be at least 1-1/2-inches for ease of grasping.

  • Circular handrails: For ease of grasping, circular handrails shall have no less than a 1-1/4-inch to 2-inchperimeter.
  • Noncircular handrails: For noncircular handrails, they shall have no less than a 4-inch perimeter; anything greater and up to 6-1/4-inches shall have a 2-1/4-inch cross section. Any perimeter greater than 6-1/4-inches shall have a graspable finger recess area on both sides.

DECK GUARDRAIL HEIGHT

The minimum height for a residential structure should be at least36-inches above a residential deck. Commercial height requirement is 42-inches for multifamily, restaurant, and bar applications. Low-rise decks, not more than 30-inches above grade, are not required to have guardrails, although it is recommended.

Guards are required along any open-sided walking surface, including stairs, ramps and landing, that are located more than 30-inchesvertically above grade at any point within 36-inches horizontally to the edge of the open side. A stair that is more than 30-inches above grade, at any point, requires a guard along the full length of the openside. The minimum height of guards is 36-inches above the walking surface or the line connecting the leading-edge treads. The opening limitations should not allow a 4-inch diameter sphere to pass through except:

  • Triangular openings: On the stair, between the tread, riser, and bottom rail of the guard, shall not allow a 6-inch sphere to pass.
  • Other openings: On guards located on stairs shall not allow a4-3/8-inch sphere to pass.

BALUSTERS

Deck balusters are required to be 4-inches apart or less.

FOUR-INCH SPHERE RULE

Using the 4-inch sphere rule, states that no opening be large enough to pass a 4-inch sphere (the head size of a small child) is permitted except:

  • 4-3/8-inch opening for stairs
  • 6-inch opening between the bottom rail and the tread (triangular-area)

LOAD REQUIREMENTS

Guardrails must be able to sustain 200-pounds of force applied at the top and mid-span between posts without excessive deflection.
Balusters and infill railing must be able to withstand a minimum load of 50-pounds in an area equal to one-square-foot.

THE LADDER EFFECT

There is no wording in the current code, nor has there ever been any wording containing the terminology “The Ladder Effect” in the IBC. It was referenced more than 20 years ago in an IRC edition and since been removed. The ICC Code Technology Committee(CTC) was tasked to determine how to make guards less climbable. After a three-year study period, the ICC’s CTC reviewed and weighed testimony and documentation regarding the issues surrounding climbable guards for railings focused on determining if any additional measures are needed to the existing code. The CTC determined the most current and thorough documentation available shows no indication that a problem exists and there is no need to mandate a higher level of climb-ability restrictions on guards that what is currently required in the 2006 ICC codes.

GOVERNING CODE BODIES AND STANDARDS

There are several code bodies and standards to follow for both residential and commercial building design. Below are the most common governing code bodies and standards required when installing decking, balconies, railings, and guardrails.

IRC, IBC AND ICC

Safety first when it comes secure deck railings on any level. Considered prescriptive the International Residential Code (IRC) R312.1.1 throughR312.1.4 and R311.7.8.2 through R311.7.11.2 monitors deck railings for decks attached to single-family homes as well as handrails. The majority of code officials will refer to the International Building Code(IBC). Sections 1014 Handrails and Section 1015 Guards are the relevant IBC to follow. Commercial deck railings attached to multi-family and commercial buildings are regulated by IBC. Both the IRC and the IBCare governed by the International Code Council (ICC).

Regulations vary by location throughout the U.S., and Canada has its own set of regulations, and it is vital that you check the authorities in each state or city that works with building standards and codes.

OSHA

Part of the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA, ensures the safe and healthful working conditions for workers, setting and enforcing standards as well as provides training, outreach, education, and assistance.

The OSHA section 1910.29(b)(1) is most relevant to guard railing and section 1910.29(f) is most relevant to handrails and stair rail systems.

ADAAG

The United States Access Board or ADAAG issues, jointly with the ABA Accessibility Guidelines for federally funded facilities, the current ADA standards based upon the updated ADA Accessibility Guidelines (2004).

  • ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures access to the built environment for people with disabilities. Chapter 5 or 505 describes the standards for handrails.
  • ANSI: American National Standards Institute overseas standards and conformity assessment activities in the U.S. and safeguarding their integrity. ANSI A117.1 is the Accessible and Usable Building standard for making buildings and elements accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.