Monday, June 19, 2017
A guy I knew when I lived in Texas wanted to build a deck for his hunting cabin, but he had a problem. His cabin was a modified mobile home. With no foundation, it didn’t have the structural integrity needed to support the deck. But what he didn’t have in structure integrity he made up for with land. He had a good two acres to work with, so we decided to build a freestanding deck. Initially, he didn’t think that it needed a railing, but after looking at the completed platform deck, we both realized that a railing was the best way to finish the project.
A freestanding deck railing is almost always a good idea, even when your deck is low enough to the ground that it’s not required. Generally, a deck under 30 inches high doesn’t have a railing requirement, but as my friend learned, sometimes a railing is necessary to make a deck look and feel like a finished, defined space. My friend also learned that although putting a railing on a freestanding deck is mostly the same as putting one on a deck attached to a house, there are some differences you may want to keep in mind.
Why Adding a Railing Improves Your Freestanding Deck
Initially, my friend didn’t want to add a railing because technically it wasn’t required. Once we finished building though, he realized that the deck looked unfinished. He opted to add a railing and it wound up really tying the whole project together. There are more than a few benefits to a freestanding deck railing, including:
While I almost always recommend adding a railing, it’s a good idea to remember that there will be additional costs and concerns when you add one onto a freestanding deck. While most of the requirements remain the same, you’ll need to keep in mind that there's no home connection to anchor your freestanding deck.
Concerns Specific to a Freestanding Deck Railing
There are a lot of reasons that homeowners might choose a freestanding deck. Houses with irregular exterior walls can be difficult to fit with a ledger board. Materials like stone or stucco can also be a challenge to attach a deck to. Older homes or ones without a true foundation might not be able to provide the structural support needed, as was the case with my friend. In these instances, it might be better to opt for a freestanding deck. However, freestanding decks have their own safety concerns, which will also impact the kind of railing you decide to install. Keep in mind that:
While the railing requirements for a freestanding deck don’t change significantly from an attached one, the important thing to remember is that you’re not going to have the additional stabilizing presence of the house. All the more reason why a good, sturdy railing system is key.
My friend opted to use a surface-mounted aluminum railing set with a finish that complemented his deck’s design. By buying it as a system, with pre-welded panels, he was able to install it all in one weekend. He also used post cap lighting as a finishing touch.
He was able to get everything he needed from Fortress Building Products (which I, of course, recommended to him). He selected their Aluminum railing in black sand for its strength, durability, and minimal required maintenance. By using a few of their 8 foot panels, along with their aluminum posts, he was easily able to install the railing as a one-man job. Of course, he had already built the deck itself (out of pressure-treated lumber), but I told him that when that wood starts to decay and splinter, he should try one of Fortress Building Products’ other products: long-lasting, bamboo-based composite decking.