Central Pennsylvania company 732-deck specializes in rails and re-decks.
Credit: 732-deck Central Pennsylvania company 732-deck specializes in rails and re-decks.
Credit: 732-deck

Every now and then Jim Craig, owner of Craig Sundecks and Porches, in Stephens City, Va., gets a call to re-rail a deck. It doesn't happen that often, he explains, because rails, being vertical, wear out at a slower rate than deck surfaces.

If homeowners want rails replaced, generally it's not so much because the rail system is failing but because they want a maintenance-free rail system, such as vinyl, composite, glass, or aluminum.

When Ron Spillers, co-owner of West Coast Deck, in Seattle, gets a re-railing inquiry, it's usually for that reason. Another reason is for the views. Clunky wood railing systems obscure woods, sea, and sky. Or, people looking to sell their home realize that the current rails don't meet code. Or they might now have grandchildren coming over, Spillers says, and rail systems are a safety concern.

Homeowners with the money prefer slender aluminum balusters ? overwhelmingly their most popular choice, Spillers says ? or glass panels. "The narrower profiles make the deck feel bigger," he adds. And aluminum rail systems ? a midrange price point between composites and wood ? make it easier to install tempered-glass panels.

So Many Rails, So Little Time

Railings and rail systems are a comparatively small piece of the deck and rail market, but companies that specialize in decks and porches, whether new or replaced, now have lots of products to choose from.

Since deck rails are both decorative and functional, Craig says that the key to deciding what to specify lies in matching the new rail to trim colors on the house. If shutters and other trim are white, you're home free. If not, be prepared to scratch your head and do a little figuring. "If you have amber, cream, or wheat-colored trim, it's not easy to match," he points out. Craig's frequent recommendation is for wood posts, appropriately painted or stained, with aluminum balusters, giving the deck a more open look. "Color alignment gives it a very custom feel," he says, "so that it looks as if it were intended to be part of the original house."

Railing Backlog

Ben Timko, owner of 732-deck, a Central Pennsylvania home improvement company specializing in decks, gets a fair number of re-rail jobs, though they tend to be on front porches or on non-residential structures such as churches that might, for instance, need a railing system installed alongside a walkway or handicapped ramp.

He finds that homeowners generally know that vinyl railing exists and is maintenance-free and easy to clean, but he still has "a hard time selling it" because of color choices limited to white, tan, gray, or clay. Timko says that he backlogs railing jobs because they can usually be done in a day and a half between deck or fencing jobs that might take a week or more. He is preparing to shoot video of deck and rail installations and post them on YouTube.