When is a Railing Required on a Deck?

Decks can be an incredible addition to your home, but it’s always necessary to address safety and local laws when considering your deck build. If you’re in the early stages of designing your dream deck, you’ll want to consider railings as part of this equation. While most decks are decently high up to allow for a nice view, it’s also possible to build decks that are only slightly elevated.  If you’re considering a shorter deck or porch, you might be wondering, “When is a railing required on a deck?”

WA State Deck Railing Requirements – Will My Decking Need Rails?

The answer to this question is actually fairly simple.  In the state of Washington, building codes note that all porches, landings, and decks that exceed 30 inches (2.5 feet) tall are required to have a railing.  It also mandates that these guardrails must themselves be at least 36 inches (3 feet) tall and that the balusters can be no more than 4 inches apart.  Most other states have slightly less strict deck building codes, though not by much.  These deck railing requirements are enforced by the state building code inspectors, and they will refuse to sign off on anything that does not meet these standards.  If you need to go back to the drawing board for your decking plans, our team at Northwest Decks can help.

If you’re now thinking of building a 29-inch high deck to avoid adding a railing, you might want to reconsider.  While being able to cut out the cost of railings is nice, a fall from that height is still dangerous.  Even if you do not have children or animals for whom such a fall could be fatal, falls of that height are still enough to cause broken ankles and other such injuries in adults.  Especially in Washington’s wet weather, preventing accidental slips and falls with a railing may save you from some major medical bills later.  You may not be legally required to add a railing to your 29-inch tall deck, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one.  Deck railings can be a lifesaver even if you don’t think you’ll need one.

Hand Railing Requirements for Stairs

In addition to safety reasons, there is another reason you may opt to include a guard rail on a shorter porch or deck- stairs.  Washington code requires all stairs consisting of more than three steps to have a hand railing, and the maximum height of each step cannot exceed eight inches.  By this math, the highest stair-accessed porch or deck you could build without needing railings would be 24 inches tall, or two feet.  Anything between 24 and 30 inches will require a railing for the stairs, but not necessarily require fencing around the whole deck.

Given the Washington state building codes, most people are going to need guard rails on their decks, unless you are building a porch less than two feet high.  Luckily, tons of beautiful railing options bring an extra bit of stylistic flair to your deck.  Wooden rails can be matched to the style of your deck boards for a cohesive look; many people opt for a metal railing for their price efficiency and sturdiness.  Composite decks can pair well with both wood and metal railing styles.  There are other options as well; wire balusters or clear vinyl panes can be used in place of traditional balusters for a less obstructed view.  A decorative railing is a great way to highlight your decking; it’s also a great place to incorporate outdoor lighting.  You can install lights directly on the railing, or you can wrap them in string lights for a softer look.  If you’re not sure what kind of framing will best fit your deck design; consult with one of our team members, and we can help you find the best products and materials for your design build.

At Northwest Decks, we’ve helped homeowners all over the Puget Sound dream up their perfect decks.  Our expert team handles every step, from initial design to final install.  We can install any kind of deck, be it wood or composite decking, and we are happy to help install a railing as well.  There are many different railing options available on the market and our team can help you pick the perfect railing for your dream deck design.  If you’re thinking of a beautiful deck or porch space for yourself, don’t hesitate to reach out to us; visit our online form to schedule an appointment, check out our other blog post articles for more ideas, or give us a call directly.