Before and After: Making the case for cable railing

If you’re a residential construction business owner — as a team of one or many — marketing your business may be low on the list or something you farm out for someone else to do. Word of mouth and repeat business may keep your project pipeline steady. Or your marketing may be high on the list if you lack a robust project schedule. With so many marketing options to consider — updated website, social media posts, Google my business, Google reviews, advertising, blogs, etc. — there’s one basic marketing tactic your customers and prospective customers love to see: project photos. Not just the completed projects photos, but before and after shots that make even the smallest projects look significant in transformation.

Before and after decking and railing projects

Consider a deck or railing transformation that may seem compulsory. Yet today there are so many material options to choose from, including the variety of colors, composite decking, to a variety of infill options for railings.

We’ve compiled several recent case studies that showcase a before and after makeover and rationale for choosing the products.

Ohio log home receives an update

After more than 20 years, Jill Wright’s log home’s deck transformed from a heavy log look with wood posts and wood railings blocking the beautiful view to more balance using different materials. When Jill sat on her porch, all she saw was logs. She installed a combination of posts, keeping the original wood posts in the front of the home, and RailFX black aluminum posts with the 1/8-inch cable infill. The finished project includes a wood top rail. Jill combined a traditional style with a modern approach to her railing project in an area that tends to use more traditional materials — honey oak, aluminum, and vinyl.

Wraparound deck with panoramic views

This wraparound deck and railing with panoramic views of the property needed replacing. Linda Evans’ client chose to replace it using composite decking in a vintage hue and added cable railings. Evans initially tried to talk the Greens out of using cable railing but soon lost the battle, and it proved to be the right call. Evans and her crew replaced the old wood railings on the second-story deck, including adding a stairway for accessibility. RailFX Aluminum Cable Railing System bronze posts, top rail, mounts, and 1/8-inch cable railing was installed.  To finish off the railing project, Evans used a RailFX cable railing custom gate in bronze. The client now enjoys the views of their 28-acres overlooking the valley where they raise their sheep, dogs and practice their green thumbs.

A complete decking project

Take this project from Berg Construction, where the original deck consisted of multi-levels. Shane Berg and his team demolished the whole thing and started over by making it one level. But they didn’t stop there. The composite decking material features contrasting colors — the body of the deck boards is gray with a picture frame board using a golden hue and a composite fascia to complete the project. From the fascia to the lighting and railing, a knowledge of the materials and how they perform helps your customers choose the proper decking material. They finished the deck with a RailFX aluminum cable railing system with bronze posts. 

In addition, Shane and his crew added a retaining wall with new landscaping to match the upgraded deck and railings along with Douglas Fir posts and beams and high-gauge, structurally rated connectors.

Photos are your signature of a job well done and one of the best marketing tactics that are low in cost and easy to execute. You can use your smartphone to take pictures or hire a local photographer specializing in real estate, home building, and architectural photography.

Cable railing is a nice contemporary option for both indoor and outdoor spaces. They’re low maintenance, durable and offer limited visual distraction. They ensure that homeowners can enjoy a clear view from their outdoor living space or make a room feel larger.  Pickets or other visual hindrance options are used for staircases, instead of using rods. 

Like all railings, cable railing systems perform a critical safety function. They must meet rigorous international, national and state building codes. Homeowners can rest assured that they and their visitors are safe when cable railings are installed in accordance with these standards. 

One key factors in properly installing a new cable railing system is spacing. The cables are installed with high tension in order to avoid sagging and stretching. In a cable railing system, contractors are typically referring to:

  • Cable spacing
  • Post spacing

Proper Cable Spacing

cable railings by the ocean

Whether cables are installed vertically or horizontally, the spacing between them is defined by “sphere rules.” Fittings and cable in runs must be spaced and tightened so a four-inch sphere can’t pass between the open area between each cable.

Since properly installed railings may have some deflection, codes and best practices typically recommend runs be installed with 3 ⅛” spaces between them. To simplify, many contractors will estimate the number of cable runs using the following equation:

Number of runs = (Height in inches from floor to the bottom of the top rail ÷ 3) – 1

Subtracting one in this calculation means the railing system will not have a cable run along the floor or deck surface. Using this calculation, the runs will meet the maximum sphere rule requirements.


Cable Railing Diagram

The exception to the four-inch sphere rule is cable railings used for staircases. Here, the lowest cable railing can be six inches from the ninety-degree corner at the back of an individual step. However, the cable still needs to be four inches from the front edge of the step.

After all the cables have been installed, tension the cable to a minimum of 225 lbs with an open-end wrench. Hold the cable with cable grip locking pliers to prevent it from rotating. Make sure you tension all cables in sequence. Begin with the center cables, moving up and down toward the top and bottom.

Proper Post Spacing

Cable railing

The other important component of cable railing installation is the spacing between posts. Wood, steel, aluminum or composite posts can be used in a cable railing system. They must be securely mounted to ensure they won’t bend when the pressure of over 200 lbs is applied by the high-tension of cables.

Every type of post material (wood, aluminum, composite or steel) has its own suggested thickness. This is true for both intermediate and corner posts. The greatest tension will be on end and corner posts.

Unless you are using additional support, the spacing between most posts should not be more than four feet apart. This ensures the cables still meet the 4” sphere rules. However, RailFX’s posts and cables are rated to be five feet apart, letting you use less intermediate posts in your design.

If a design calls for wider post spacing, there are two ways to accommodate this. To account for deflection, for every foot over three to four feet (depending on the manufacturer) between posts, cables must be moved ¼” closer. Using this calculation, posts five feet apart need cable runs with no more than 2 ⅞” of spacing between them.

Alternatively, cable railing posts can be spaced farther apart if they are reinforced with post stiffeners. RailFX cable railings are approved in 35 states to be spaced five feet apart with these stiffeners.

Build the Perfecting Railing

Together, the right combination of cable runs, posts and top rails can create an attractive and safe railing system.  They are a perfect finishing touch on a deck or staircase. Properly installed cable railings keep homeowners safe while letting them enjoy their view to its fullest potential.

For more information on RailFX cable railing systems, visit the RailFX website.

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.

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