I’ve never been one to want to have a party on the roof. I prefer my parties on the ground. But one of my friends, who has a place in the city, wanted to create a socializing space with a view. As his roof was the only place to go, he started considering ways to add a railing to it. Using a sturdy roof deck railing system, he was able to create an exciting space to socialize that was also safe for his guests.
When you add a railing to your roof, there are some things you’ll need to keep in mind that wouldn’t apply to a regular deck. One of those considerations is preserving your roof’s structure. The last thing you want to do is cause damage that makes your roof--or your railing--unsafe. However, with the right railing and mounting system, you can avoid the common issues with roof deck railings and create a unique place to socialize.
Concerns Specific to Roof Deck Railing Systems
Roof deck railings are, for the most part, the same as most other deck railings. Since you’re working more than 30” above grade, you’re going to have to use a railing that’s at least 36” high. Your balusters will also need to be a maximum of 4” apart, just like any other railing. However, because of the elevation and the fact that you’re working on an important part of the building’s structure, you’ll also need to keep the following in mind:
- Increased wind: You’ll want an extremely sturdy, heavy railing for your roof, since the elevated height increases wind flow. If you live in a windy area and use a flimsy railing or cheap mounting hardware, it could bend or even pull loose from the connection. If you’re looking to decrease the wind impact on your rooftop, consider using a sturdy, solid deck railing as a windbreak. Just make sure it’s securely attached to the roof surface or side.
- Safety lighting: Most people don’t have lighting systems already installed on their roof. But if you’re looking to create a safe and welcoming space there, you’ll need to illuminate it. One way to do that is to install lighting on the railing itself. LED railing post lights, especially lights integrated into your railing post caps, work well for this.
- Leak potential: If you’re surface mounting a railing on a flat roof, you risk puncturing the roof’s moisture barrier, which can lead to leaks. If you still want to mount the railing on the surface of the roof, it’s best to take a look at the building’s plans or talk with someone who knows how the building was designed. If this isn’t possible, try a fascia mount railing system which is designed to attach to the side of the roof, not the surface.
With these considerations in mind, it’s now time to choose the right railing system for your home.
Picking a Railing System for a Roof Deck
There are a lot of good railing systems out there, but unfortunately, there are a lot of bad ones too. Specific to dealing with a roof, you need to consider the increased risk if the railing fails. After all, if someone falls off your 6’ deck, they’ll probably be fine. If they fall off your roof deck, serious injury is a guarantee. To get the best railing possible, you’ll want to seek out railings that:
- Offer code-compliant fascia mount options: A side mount system of posts, rails, and balusters is the ideal way to install a railing on the roof. Some systems only offer fascia mounted balusters, but for a rooftop setup, you want to go with all fascia mounted components, including the posts.
- Are compatible with LED lighting accessories: Using lighting components that work with your railing system is a great way to improve safety while also eliminating the need for a lot of additional light fixtures. Also, as the cords are hidden in the posts, you don’t have to worry about guests tripping over them. LED railing lighting uses small, low energy-emitting devices that don’t become overheated and are able to be held in place by your post system. Some, like surface mount lights, can also be recessed into your floor to light up a pathway or to illuminate your railings from below.
- Are designed to resist the elements: Iron and aluminum railings are great options for the roof. As your rooftop takes the full brunt of bad weather, you’ll want your railings to be powder coated as a safeguard against rust and UV damage. Systems that use pre-galvanized steel and a zinc phosphate pre-coat are particularly resistant to the elements, and the heft of steel stands up well to wind, rain, and everything in between.
- Are simple to assemble: For those averse to heights, working on the roof can be a little nerve-wracking. Therefore, you’ll want to minimize any installation Fascia mounts can be a bit of a challenge to set up on a place like a rooftop, as you can’t just stand them up and screw them in. Instead, you’ll actually need someone to hold them in place for you. To make the process easier, I recommend using pre-welded panel systems. This allows you to fascia mount entire panels at once.
There are a lot of options when it comes to installing railings on a rooftop, but the most important thing is to choose a high-quality system made from a strong material. You’ll also want to use a system that complies with International Building Code, and you’ll want to follow the instructions carefully to ensure your rooftop deck is a safe place to congregate. When my friend decided to make his rooftop into an entertainment space, he went for a steel system that met the above criteria and was also easy to install.
Like my friend, you want to err on the side of caution when installing a roof deck railing, so consider using a Fortress Building Products system. Their systems, and their entire line of building products, are designed to work with building codes and provide a long-lasting product that stays safe and beautiful. They’re also carefully engineered to be easy and intuitive to put together. When you’re putting a railing on a roof deck, working with Fortress® is a good way to do it safely.