Outdoor Living Project Guide

Patios & Decks: Materials and Railings

Step 3

Choose Your Materials

While there are a number of beautiful natural and manmade materials available, the best material for your deck or patio will depend largely on two factors: preference and maintenance. Many homeowners prefer the authentic look and feel of natural wood and stone — and many are willing to spend the time and money necessary to maintain them. But most homeowners opt for durable alternatives like concrete pavers and composite decking.

“Cedar, redwood and ipe are beautiful woods that will last many years so long as they’re well maintained, but you have to make sure you know what you’re getting into,” says Michael Beaudry, Executive Vice President of the North American Deck and Railing Association. “And nothing’s maintenance-free — you have to clean everything — but composites and PVCs are much, much lower maintenance than you’re going to get with a pressure treated lumber.”

Engineered materials will typically cost more up front, explains Beaudry, but they will also offer bigger cost savings and require less maintenance over the longer term. Further, many engineered decking and patio materials are designed specifically to endure and deflect heat and saturation. And, they’ve also come a long way in terms of color and aesthetic.

Dive Deeper into Materials

Patio & Decking Materials Guide

Average Costs

Build a Deck

Install a Patio

Install an Awning

Step 4

Select Your Railing System

Upper-level decks require railings for safety and building code compliance. And many ground-level decks and patios may also benefit from the inclusion of a railing — whether for aesthetics, enclosure or privacy. Most local governments have specific requirements for post height, supports and baluster spacing. So, it’s important to check your local building codes before you start your project.

Modern railing systems offer many attractive options. Cable and exterior glass railings, for example, are built to minimize line of sight obstructions and blend into the landscape. And there are a number of post caps and other options to add interest to more traditional options too.

“There are so many wonderful options now,” says Beaudry. “There are literally hundreds of railing designs to choose from, whether you use a metal cable rail or paned glass — which you can hardly even see — or low-maintenance aluminum and iron, which are good for a very long time without having to do anything but wipe them off. And they’re very affordable. Especially aluminum. It’s very inexpensive and you can get 100 looks that you never could before.”

“We use a lot of wrought iron, which lasts decades without much maintenance,” adds Andy Hashman of Mosaic Outdoor Living in Colorado. “And we’re installing a lot of railings with lightweight tops and balusters. So, when you’re looking at it, you’re looking almost through it. Color is important too. Your eye should just carry through the railing.”

Dive Deeper into Railings

Railing Systems Guide

Fun Fact

The average deck used to be about 175-250 square feet. Now it’s closer to 400-450 square feet.

Michael Beaudry, Executive Vice President,
North American Deck and Railing Association

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