Installing an Aluminum Railing
This prefab metal railing is a snap to install...and to maintain.
For ease of maintenance, safety, and a relatively unobstructed view of the landscape, prefab aluminum railings are a great choice no matter what type of decking you choose. Home centers stock basic types, specialty deck centers offer even more, or, if you want something out of the ordinary, you can special-order kits. While wood railings offer many affordable possibilities, prefabs simplify and speed installation considerably. And, if you’ve ever refinished wood balusters, you’ll appreciate the long life of the powder-coated aluminum finish on aluminum railing.
One additional advantage is that code-compliant specs are built into the kits. Off-the-shelf railings are available in 6-ft. and 8-ft. lengths with 36-in. and 42-in. heights in keeping with code. Balusters are spaced 3-3/4 in. to more than meet the code requirement of 4-in. maximum spacing. Kits come with metal posts as shown here or in sections that can be placed between wood or sleeved posts.
Another bonus is the ease with which post lighting can be added. Because the posts are hollow, it is relatively easy to run low-voltage cable through them without having to use a router to cut channels as you do with wood posts. In fact, given the relatively low cost of post lights and the ease of installation, it would be a shame not to install lighting as you install a railing.
1. Mark the post location. Use a Speed Square to position a post 2 in. in from the edge of the deck. Mark around the base with a pencil.
2. Bore access for the lighting cable. If you will have post lights, bore 1/2-in. holes for running the cable under the deck. Be sure to start the hole within the area marked for the location of the post base. Angle the hole to get past the framing.
3. Attach the post light. Bore a hole in the post and feed in the cable. Use the screw provided to attach the LED fitting and bulb for the post light. A cover for the light is added later.
4. Feed in the cable. Feed the cable for the post light into the hole you’ve bored. Position the post base.
5. Attach the post base. Using the powder-coated fasteners provided with the railing, attach the post to the deck. For greater holding strength, slightly angle the fasteners toward the center of the post.
6. Attach the post bracket. Install the post top bracket. In this instance, the cap makes the transition to the stair railing. (See step 14 for the type of bracket used midway in a run of railing.)
7. Install the handrail. Measure and cut the handrail. Back out the fasteners of one post so it rocks enough to slip the handrail into place. Bore holes along the outside edge of the handrail, fastening it to both brackets.
8. Measure for the balustrade. The brackets for the balustrade give you wiggle room for inserting the balustrade. Measure so the section will fit into the brackets deeply enough that you can bore and attach fasteners to hold the section.
9. Cut the balustrade. Cutting the balustrade isn’t just a simple matter of lopping off enough to fill between the posts. Instead, you want to center the balustrade so the outermost balusters are an equal distance from each end. That means a bit of waste to avoid an awkward, unsymmetrical look.
10. Position the balustrade. Slip the section into the post brackets from underneath. Use a scrap of decking to hold the balustrade snugged up into the brackets. Measure and slide the balustrade until you have it centered between the posts.
11. Fasten the balustrade. At each bracket, drill holes and install fasteners to hold the balustrade in place. Remove the positioning scrap and retighten the screws on the post bases.
12. Install the corner posts. Working around the perimeter of the deck, install the corner post 2 in. in on both sides from the deck edge. Leave the fasteners loose so the post can be tipped to accept the rail. Fasten the corner cap onto the post.
13. Space the posts. Work out the post locations so they are evenly spaced on each side of the deck. Each section of balustrade should be no more than 6 ft. wide—8 ft. if supported with a crush block attached to the deck midway. Measure and mark for the post location.
14. Attach the bracket. The handrail attaches from underneath to a bracket fixed to each post. Install the bracket to the post as shown.
15. Install perimeter handrail. Cut the handrail to the needed length. Using the flex provided by the looseness of the corner posts, slip the handrail into the cap atop the corner post.
16. Measure and install the balustrade. Cut each perimeter balustrade to size, slip it up into the post brackets, and fasten it.
17. Attach the light covers. Once the deck railing is installed, slip on the covers for each LED light.
18. Install the stair posts. Align the post base with the outside edge of the stairway but well enough away from the nose of the tread so that the attachment screws will bite into the stringer. In this case, the base is set 1 1⁄2 in. from the tread nose. Install posts a consistent distance 6 ft. or less from each other.
19. Mark posts for trimming. Measure so the handrail is 34 in. to 38 in. from the nose of the tread. Using the same measurement at the top and bottom of the run, snap a chalkline to mark the angle for cutting each post.
20. Cut the posts. Wearing eye and ear protection, use a metal-cutting blade to make the angled cut on each post.
21. Install post brackets. Attach a handrail bracket to each post. In this case, the screws fasten to an extruded channel in the post.
22. Attach the handrail. Cut the handrail so it extends about 3 in. from the bottom post on the stairway. Position the handrail on the post brackets. Attach the special bracket that makes the transition from the horizontal deck railing to the incline stairway railing. That done, plumb and attach each stairway post.
23. Check and adjust the balustrade. Stairway balustrades are made in several angle options. Set the section in place and check the angle. The balustrades can be wracked slightly if the balusters are not quite parallel to the posts.
24. Install the balustrade brackets. Measure and cut the sections of balustrade. Resting the balustrade on the nose of the treads, slip brackets onto each bottom bracket, push it against the post, and fasten.
25. Attach the brackets to the posts. With the bracket attached to the rail, line it up and attach it to the post.
26. Cap the handrail. File the cut end of the handrail to remove any burrs and push the cap in place.