The other day, a young man came to me in the hardware store looking for a little help with a DIY project he’d been planning for a few months. His parents’ old deck railing was decades old and starting to show its age, wobbling when leaned on and creaking and groaning under pressure. They were out of town for the week celebrating their anniversary, and he wanted to surprise them with brand-new railings when they returned as a gift, but the only time he’d ever worked with railings was in shop class.
Luckily, thanks to modern design and materials, railing installation doesn’t have to be complicated. As I explained to the young man, when you want a quick and simple installation, your best bet is generally to purchase a railing kit. Having grown increasingly popular with manufacturers and consumers alike over the years, railing kits come with components either pre-assembled or loose, and a set of straightforward, easy-to-follow instructions on how to install them.
As for the railing material, your best options are either vinyl, which is well-known for being easy to work with; composite, which is very similar to vinyl in terms of both installation and care; or metal, which tends to come in a wider variety of styles. But, regardless of the material you choose, these easy to install deck railings are DIY friendly—and some are literally a snap to work with.
Vinyl and Composite Railing Kits for Decks
Vinyl and composite railings have a lot to offer homeowners, not the least being their ease of installation, many kits snapping together. Vinyl commonly comes in white and is a great option for low maintenance railing. Made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, they’re not painted or coated as the base material is colored.
Composite, on the other hand, is especially appealing if you want the look of wood without the hassle. Essentially an umbrella term for any product comprised of different materials, composite railing systems can vary widely between manufacturers, but are commonly coated in PVC. Besides the base material, the rest of the attributes of vinyl and composite are very similar.
The Advantages of Vinyl and Composite Railing Systems
- Low maintenance: Vinyl and composite don’t need to be maintained at all—only cleaned as needed.
- Durable: High-quality vinyl and composite products don’t fade, chip, chalk, or discolor easily. PVC products also don’t rust or corrode like metal does. Low-quality PVC, on the hand, is something to look out for as it will fail much quicker, defeating the purpose of trying to save money.
- Composite can resemble wood: Some composites are made to look like wood. Even if the product uses real wood, the PVC coating will protect it, allowing it to last longer without the need for the muss and fuss typically required for maintaining real wood products.
The Disadvantages of Vinyl and Composite Railing Kits
- Limited style options (vinyl only): Vinyl is not coated, so color options are restricted to the colors the base material can be made of. Vinyl is also not typically painted.
- PVC is prone to mildew: Both vinyl and composite are prone to having mildew grow on them. The mildew usually grows from whatever is on the product itself, like dirt. If you keep your railings very clean, the mildew may not be a concern. While mildew is not damaging, it may need to be cleaned with a bleach solution to kill the spores.
- UV rays are tough on PVC: Even high-quality PVC products can fade when exposed to large amounts of direct sunlight. This is a particularly important consideration if you live in the Southwest United States.
How to Install Vinyl and Composite Deck Railing Kits
Vinyl and composite railings are considered among the fastest and easiest to install, even more so than the metal options we’ll talk about below. Generally speaking, vinyl and composites install very similarly; the process usually looks something like this (with a few variations, of course, based on your chosen product’s specific instructions):
- Lag screw a wood or metal post to the deck rim joists.
- Slide over the exterior sleeve and skirting.
- Cut the railings to length, no touch-up paint required.
- Attach the lower rail brackets to the posts.
- There may be a small support piece installed between the bottom rail and the deck; if so, be sure to install that before the bottom rail.
- Connect the bottom rail.
- Pop the balusters into place.
- Screw the top rail brackets in.
- Snap in the top rail to the balusters.
- Connect the top rail to the post brackets.
- Enjoy a job well done!
Metal Railing Systems for Stairs and Decks
Under the right circumstances, metal railings can be a dream come true—designed well, they can be as simple as post, panel, done. Even better, the addition of a high-quality, long-lasting powder coating means no maintenance required leaving you with that much more free time for all those other DIY projects you may have been putting off (like maybe some lighting to go along with your shiny new railing).
Typically, kitted metal railings are made from steel or aluminum and are powder-coated. Similar to a layer of paint, a powder coating serves as a barrier between the railing and the environment to protect it from weather and other outdoor damage. Some manufacturers also apply an additional corrosion-inhibiting finish on top of the powder coating to extend the life of the product even further.
The Advantages of Metal Railing Systems for Stairs
- A variety of styles and options: The powder coating gives metal railings a lot of versatility. Powder coating is available in several colors and finishes, like Black Sand and Antique Bronze. Using a black coating, for instance, will give the metal a look similar to wrought iron, a popular and timeless choice. (can link to Wrought Iron Alternatives piece when live)
- Powder coating ensures longevity: Powder coating is much more durable than paint. It won’t be damaged easily and it protects the metal from corrosion, the elements, and UV rays.
- It’s low maintenance: Because the powder coating on a metal railing doesn’t need to be maintained, touched up, or reapplied over time, once the installation is over, your work is done. At most, you may want to use a mild detergent now and then to clean it whenever it gets particularly dirty.
The Downsides to Powder Coated Metal Railings
- It’s difficult to touch up: In the unlikely event that your powder coating does sustain noticeable damage, touching it up will mean either taking the piece to a powder coating shop or replacing it altogether. While you can buy a touch-up kit and try the repair yourself, the quality simply doesn’t match that of a professional coating job.
- Steel rusts: If coating is damaged to the extent that the base steel is exposed, the steel will begin to rust. The rust may then spread under the rest of the coating—so be sure to remove the rust as soon as possible and touch up exposed surfaces immediately.
How to Install Outdoor Metal Stair Railing Kits
Kitted metal railings are a breeze to install, although vinyl and composite options that quite literally snap together may be a better option for the newbie DIYer. While your product should come with its own set of more specific instructions, here’s what a typical installation usually entails:
- Attach the post to the deck frame joists by drilling holes into the deck and securing the post with lag bolts and nuts.
- If needed, cut the rails down to length.
- Touch up the cut ends and remove burrs and metal shavings. This is especially critical when installing steel or iron railings because the paint protects the railing from rust.
- Assemble railing panels if they were shipped loose.
- Screw the railing brackets to the posts.
- Some models may require you to install a short support piece between bottom the rail and the deck. If your model does, make sure to do this before securing the panel to the posts.
- Attach the railing panels to the posts.
- Give yourself a pat on the back. You’re done!
A few weeks after our first meeting, the young man who came looking for railing advice invited me to his parents’ anniversary party to show his gratitude (and to show off his handiwork, of course). He gave me a quick tour, explaining that in the end he’d decided to use a Fortress aluminum kitted railing system. With a grin, he described how surprised he’d been at how easy to install the deck railings were, and how impressed he was with the design.
As for his parents, they loved the classic look of the black powder coating he’d chosen, remarking on how well it accented their wood deck—and they loved the lack of maintenance it required even more. I told them all how big a fan I am of Fortress Railing Products, that if they ever needed help with a DIY project again to call them at (844)-909-2999 or get in touch through their online contact form. They’re happy to answer any questions, and consider customer satisfaction a top priority.
I also made sure to mention that Fortress Building Products even offers decking, fencing, and a variety of strong decorative lumber fasteners, all at the same level of quality as their fancy new railing. From the excited look on his face, I have little doubt I’ll be seeing that young man at the store again soon, with another DIY project under his belt.