How to Install a Porch Railing

Transform your porch by installing a complementary railing in just seven simple steps.

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White Porch Railing

Putting up porch railing sounds like it should be simple, but DIYers can encounter a few snags. "The biggest problem is not matching the railing to the style of the home," says Mark Demerly, chair of the American Institute of Architects' Custom Residential Architects Network. You may be tempted to purchase whatever style is on display at your local home supply store, but that could be a mistake. Let us help you choose a complementary porch railing and guide you through the installation process.

Prep Your Porch

Before installing a new railing, take time to inspect the condition of your porch. Make any necessary repairs to the floorboards or siding. If you're building a new home, paint the exterior and install the porch flooring before building the railing. Otherwise, you'll have to install the flooring around the railing posts, and the railing may get damaged in the process.

Choose a Material and Style

Porch railings can be constructed from wood, metal, stone or synthetic materials. Your home style, climate and budget are the key factors in deciding which way to go.

Wooden Railings
Wood is a classic, relatively inexpensive choice that suits a wide range of home styles (Image 1). A simple picket railing works well for Georgian-style homes, while a more detailed, patchwork design complements Queen Anne Victorians. Craftsman bungalows often feature square patterns, as shown above. In general, more traditional homes should have railings with a greater level of detail compared to contemporary homes.

If you don't find the right style at your home supply store, go to a lumber yard and put in a custom order. It may not cost as much as you think, and "will add a lot to the curb appeal of your house," Demerly says. He recommends using cedar rather than pressure-treated lumber. "When you get into two-by-two's, pressure-treated pieces have a tendency to warp really fast. Cedar is much more stable."

Unfortunately, wooden railings are not resistant to rot. If you live in a humid climate or an area where termites are present, it's best to consider other options.

Metal Railings
While not infallible, metal products are more resistant to decay (Image 2). Patterns range from fanciful to stark and should be selected based on the period of the home. Picket-style iron railings enhance a historical look and are a good option for Georgian homes in climates not suited to wood.

Other alternatives for termite-prone areas include limestone, marble or synthetic railings.

Synthetic Railings
Synthetic railings include PVC and composite materials that blend wood particles with resin and vinyl (Image 3). The surface can be colored and textured to resemble natural wood. Synthetics tend to be more expensive than wood, but the benefits may be worth the cost — particularly in humid climates.

"It doesn't fade, warp, split, splinter or crack," says Paul Bichler, owner of Tri-County Marine, a contractor in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "You don't need to seal it or paint it. It's maintenance free." The product is so durable that some manufacturers offer a 30-year warranty.

Other than the price, the drawback to PVC or composite railings is that they come in a limited number of basic styles. Depending on the manufacturer, you may find picket-style railings and a few square or round patterns. The choices may be too limited for homeowners aiming for a highly customized look.

Prime Your Railing

Once you've selected your materials, determine whether they need to be primed. If you're using natural wood or metal, prime all of the railing elements before you begin the installation. Be sure to use a primer formulated for your specific material. Synthetic materials and metal coated with a pre-colored powder finish generally do not need priming.

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