Have you ever noticed in movies how the girl always walks down a set of stairs to meet her prom date at the bottom? Or how the good guy looks up at the villain as he slowly and menacingly walks downstairs towards him? Stairs make all the difference in scenes like those because they allow the characters to make a grand entrance. Your prom days may be behind you, and you probably aren't a superhero, but you still want your stairs to make a statement, especially the stairs to your deck or porch. These are the ones everyone sees, even if they don’t come inside the house.
Stair railings are designed to keep you safe traveling from level to level, but they also function as a design feature for your deck. Whether your style is traditional or modern, or you're more concerned about safety and durability, there's a stair railing that can complement your home and yard. We break down what you want to look for in a stair railing, depending on your needs and style.
If You’re Looking for Durability
While you want your entire deck railing to be sturdy enough to withstand weather and all types of forces, it’s especially important for your stair railing. Since stairs connect levels of your outdoor living space, they get a lot of traffic, and people--especially older folks--depend on them to keep them safe and on their feet. That’s why durability is so important. Aside from being made from a strong material, they need to be durable enough to handle the wear and tear of everyday contact handling, as well as moisture from dew and rain. Here’s what you’ll want to look for if you’re concerned about durability in your railing:
- Powder coating: Powder paint coating and regular paint aren't the same thing, as powder paint doesn’t require maintenance, and is much better than paint at protecting metal long-term. Powder paint coatings are applied with a special process that basically bakes them onto the metal, making the coating extremely tough and hard to damage. Powder paint isn’t perfect (it is slightly porous to moisture), but it’s very resistant to UV rays, which is important to keep your railing in good condition year in and year out.
- E-coating: This type of coating is commonly used on the underside of automobiles to prevent corrosion, but at least one manufacturer is now using it underneath powder coatings to add a tough layer of protection from moisture that will prevent your railing from rusting. And if there’s one place you want to be rust resistant, it’s the place that your hands are in constant contact with.
If You’re Looking for Easy Installation
Installing a railing for your deck or patio is a big job, but the one easy aspect of it is you are working on a flat surface. A stair railing is where things can get tricky for some folks because they require you to install each baluster and post perfectly vertical while keeping the rails at the correct angle, and parallel with each other. This can be difficult even for experienced builders. That’s why when you are looking for an easily installable stair railing for your deck, you should keep an eye out for systems with:
- Adjustable railing panels: This is a cool feature for stair railings that not all manufacturers carry. But if you can find a supplier that has hinged railings for stairs, this will make your installation job ten times easier. With a system like this, the balusters are attached to the rails with an internal pin hinge that allow you to adjust the entire stair railing as one piece to fit the angle of your stairs. This means you don’t have to install each stair baluster individually, and you know that your rails are parallel and your balusters straight.
- Slide-in glass panels: Working with glass railings can be tricky, especially if you’re working on an incline. I fancy myself pretty handy, but when it comes to geometry, I need all the help I can get. That’s why finding a stair railing system that comes with a slide-in glass panel or slide-in glass balusters will make the job a lot easier. With systems like this, there’s no pre-cutting or measuring, you just have to install the posts and rails, then slide in the panels or balusters.
- Easy to use, hidden baluster mounts: Another great feature to look for is a baluster mounting system that allows you to simply slide the balusters over a peg-type mount that has an angled base. All this requires are pre-cut balusters and some screws for installing the mounts, which are hidden once you slide the balusters over them.
If You’re Looking for Minimalism and a Clear View
I’m really partial to the minimalist aesthetic when it comes outdoor design. Architecturally, it gives you a lot of leeway when it comes to making changes in the style of the house or deck, because lines tend to be clean and colors tend to be neutral. That’s why, when it comes to stairs, I prefer a clean, simple look that is functional but also complements the overall style of an outdoor space. There are a couple ways I know of to get this look:
- Glass panel stair railing: A lot of people enjoy the unobstructed views of a glass railing, and of course you would want your stair railing to match it. But even if you have some other type of railing around your deck, a glass stair railing is still a good choice if you are looking for a minimalist look that doesn’t attract the eye to the stairs, and that goes with everything.
- Cable stair railing: Cable railings are also great for a minimalist or modernist look with their simple lines. They’re a good way to create an understated look, especially if you don’t want to make the stairs a focal point of the deck or patio. And since they’re thinner than traditional wood or composite balusters, cables also allow for less obstructed views.
If You’re Looking for Extra Features and Character
If you want to make a grand statement in your outdoor space, there is no better place to do it than on the stairs. Stairs tend to be a focal point because of their height and geometrical aspects. Some of my favorite ways to give a stair railing a standout look are:
- Curved metal balusters: You can find a plethora of curved metal balusters out there, in styles that are subtle or bolder and more ornate. I love the look of a curved baluster on a stair, because it’s a classy way to add a bit of style to an otherwise utilitarian feature. A good railing manufacturer will make curved metal baluster designs that come in a number of different colors and finish styles to meet any preference.
- LED lighting: Not only is lighting a nice decorative feature of a stair railing, but I think it’s a necessary safety feature, too. Quality railing manufacturers will offer stair railing systems that make it easy to install LED lighting in the post caps or along the rails. Not only will this help light your way safely down your stairs, but LED lighting is more energy efficient, so it will last longer and cost you less.
- Railing Post Caps: Post caps add a polished look to your stair railing by making your plain, flat-topped wood or composite railing posts look finished and elegant. They are also a stylish way to disguise LED wiring and lighting systems, so all you see is the warm glow lighting your stairs.
The movies know how to make a set of stairs look either romantic or menacing, but in either case, your eye is drawn to the stairs. That’s why you want railings that suit your own, and your home’s, style. Even if your deck only has a few stairs, you can still make sure your railing has the look and features that you want.
There are a lot of manufacturers out there, but Fortress Building Products ticks all the boxes for me, as they have lots of different styles, colors, and finishes, along with unique features like rust resistant e-coatings and hinged stair railing systems. Their products seem to last well and stay looking nice, and they’re designed to be easy to use and install. They also offer well-made fences, decking, and ornamental hardware, if you're in the market for any of those things. But in the meantime, you can have a stair railing that’s ready for its closeup, whether the person coming down it is a prom queen, super villain, or just a friend or neighbor.