The installation of railing posts is often the lead up to completing a deck project. The posts must meet Code requirements for height, spacing, strength, and even fasteners. It is important to understand how to install deck railing posts, so your deck is safe for all who use it.
Deck railing posts are spaced to meet Code and design. They are secured to the framework with approved hardware and blocking or to the decking with surface-mounted post bases. Railing posts must withstand a minimum of 200-pounds of pressure applied to the top of the post or railing.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at Building Code requirements, different ways to install railing posts, look at a selection of fasteners, and explain the common installation methods. Our hope is that by the end of the read, you’ll have a better understanding of how railing posts should be installed and which method is best for you.
- Deck Railing Code Requirements
- Deck Post Installation Options
- How to Install Deck Railing Posts
- How to Install Deck Stair Railing Posts
- How to Install Deck Railing Posts on Top of the Existing Deck
Deck Railing Code Requirements
Deck railings come in hundreds of different styles and finishes, but all must meet code requirements for safety. The International Residential Building Code (IRC) provides minimum guidelines for most construction projects and is the basis for many national and local Codes.
For example, in the USA, railing heights must be 36” above the decking if the deck is 30” above grade. In Canada, the railing must be 36” high if the deck is 23-5/8” to 71” above grade, and 42” if it’s higher than 71” off the ground.
It should be noted, however, that there are different areas within each country that may have more stringent requirements, so it is important to check with your local building department. California is a case in point; it requires the minimum deck railing height to be 42” above the deck surface if the deck is 30” above grade.
Deck railing posts have a maximum spacing of 6-feet for 4×4 posts and 8-feet for 6x6s but the railing will be stronger if the posts are closer together. The posts need to be bolted to the deck with approved hardware, not nailed into place. Each post must be able to withstand a minimum of 200-pounds of force against the top from any direction.
There is currently a discussion in some localities, though, that posts need to meet a safety factor of 500-pounds of force. Notched 4×4 railing posts fastened to the deck rim may not support that weight and could be unacceptable in your area even though it may have been in the past, so check before you build.
Deck Post Installation Options
There are many deck configurations that affect how railing posts can be installed. Posts are commonly notched and fastened to the rim and end joists, bolted to joists and blocking, secured with anchors, or attached to the deck surface.
Cutting a notch in the base of the railing post allows it to rest on the decking and fasten directly to the rim or end joist. This will minimize the intrusion of the railing into the deck and allows the railing to be added after the decking is done. Notching 4x4s is not acceptable in some areas, however, as it weakens the post – notching 6x6s may be permitted, though.
Fastening posts to the rim joist may require the use of extra hardware to transfer forces against the post to other parts of the deck structure. Rim joists are a weak point since they attach to the end grain of other joists with nails or screws. Forces applied against the top of the railing post act as a lever and can rip the rim out of the joist ends; hence, this practice may have additional requirements.
The use of engineered anchors transfers forces against the post to the joists making for a stronger, more secure railing. Anchors add to the cost and must be installed correctly which also adds to structural requirements for posts fastened to end joists. They can be installed after the decking is down, but it is easier to do beforehand. Corner posts may also require two anchors to ensure they are secure against all possible forces.
Bolts with Blocking
Using 4×4 blocks and approved bolts to secure posts makes for a more secure railing. The blocks are bolted to both the joist and the post, providing a more rigid connection. However, additional 2x full-depth blocking may need to be installed to facilitate the block and bolts. The connection is very strong, improving the strength of the railing connection and its safety. It does require more blocking and bolts, adding to the cost and time, and must be done before the decking is down
Surface Mounted Post Anchors
Surface mount anchors are fastened to the finished deck. There are numerous products available and must be installed following the manufacturer’s instructions with approved hardware. The anchors fasten to the finished surface of the deck and often through it into joists and blocking.
The railing posts are attached to the anchors either prior to or after the anchors are secured. Surface-mounted anchors are costly but provide a reinforced base for the post and connect in such a way that they meet or exceed Code requirements. They are easier and quicker to install than other methods, attach to any surface, last longer, and provide a greater range of flexibility for design.
How to Install Deck Railing Posts
Installing deck railing posts often begins before the deck is begun. Determining the type of materials and the finished look helps to identify the way posts will secure to the deck structure, and where. That way necessary reinforcing is built in place and doesn’t need to be added as an afterthought.
The planning stage is the best time to determine the type, style, and look of the railing desired for a deck. The dimensions of the deck and height off the ground, privacy barriers, and the location of stairs or access points are important considerations as they affect the placement of the railing posts. This is also the time to check out building code requirements and any homeowner association regulations for your area.
The frame of the deck, including posts, beams, joists, blocking, and any other structural members are part of the deck layout. Whether computer-assisted or paper and pencil designed, layout the deck. Identify perimeter dimensions and locate where access points will be. Privacy barriers and shelters on the deck that are part of the perimeter may be an extension of the railing structure layout too.
Planning Post Placement
With the layout developed, identify where railing posts need to go – 4x4s max at 6ft spacing and 6x6s at 8ft. Locate where openings for stairs will be and mark those post placements. Measure the perimeter of the deck and divide the space into even parts to determine the post location.
Determine if the posts will mount to the perimeter or be set in 2” to 4” or more. Decide if the posts next to the building will attach to the structure or if there will be 2” gap for a paintbrush.
Decide on Post Spacing and Posts Height
The railing posts may all be evenly spaced, or the design may call for different gaps between some. Decide on the look and identify where posts need to be. Identifying railing post spacing is helpful in projecting material costs for posts and additional hardware or timber.
Set the height of the railing to meet Code minimums, and then determine if the railing height obstructs views from a seated height. Raising the railing height 6” may make all the difference. If the post will support privacy barriers or other structures, decide on their heights too.
Tools and Materials
As with any project, identify and gather the tools and materials needed for the task beforehand. It will prevent time-wasting runs to the hardware or lumber store, and much frustration. It’s all part of planning and preparation. Tools commonly include:
- Pencil (or three)
- Tape Measure
- 48-Inch Level
- Circular Saw or Miter Saw
- Drill and Impact Driver Combo Kit
- Long bit sized for fasteners, driver bits, clamps, hammer, wrench, and maybe a chisel.
Some anchors may require other specialized tools that may need to be purchased.
The materials will depend on the type of posts being installed. Cedar or pressure-treated 4x4s or 6x6s, square or round metal tubing, anchors, bolts, nuts, washers, structural screws, and dimensional lumber for blocking or reinforcing. There may be other materials needed depending on the type of posts and installation method.
How to Install Deck Railing Posts Inside of the Deck Frame
There are several ways to install railing posts inside the rim and end joist frame. The most common utilize carriage bolts and blocking or engineered holdown brackets and blocking with carriage bolts.
With Deck Post Holdown
Simpson Strong-Tie and a few other manufacturers make galvanized or treated deck post holdown connectors engineered to counter the forces applied to posts and meet Code requirements. The connectors fasten to ½” diameter bolts or threaded rods run through the framing and post. It also attaches to structural members or blocking with eight 1/4”x1-1/2” treated screws.
The aim is to transfer the load from the rim or end joist and share it with other structural members. Thus preventing force applied to the post from levering the rim joist away from the deck and causing an accident.The connector commonly attaches to the top bolt or threaded rod driven through the rim or end joist and post, while the lower bolt receives a washer and nut. The top bolt is usually 2” below the top of the board. On a rim joist connection, the connector attaches to the side of a joist. With the end joist, blocking is needed to connect the end joist with the one parallel to it.
An additional connector is used to solidify the connection between joists. Additional blocking may also be required if posts don’t line up with joists at the rim. The use of holdowns minimizes the amount of fastening hardware visible on the deck perimeter.
With Carriage Bolts
Sandwiching the railing post between the rim joist and full-depth 2X blocking is another way to transfer and reinforce a railing. The three members are connected with two 1/2″ diameter galvanized carriage bolts. To meet Code in most localities, the rim joist and blocking must be fastened to the joists with 1/2″ lag screws or structural screws like LedgerLoks.
This method works whether the post is beside a joist or between two. Posts on the end joist will require more blocking to frame the post properly.
Installing Deck Railing Posts on Outside of Deck
Fastening posts to the outside of the rim or end joist requires additional blocking and Deck Post Holdowns to counter stress forces. Where the post is near a joist end, the holdown fastens to the joist, and to the top 1/2″ bolt run through the post and rim joist.
Additional blocking is required if the post falls between two joists. Attaching posts to the end joist requires blocking to connect the next parallel joist and two holdowns to secure the connection.
Installing Deck Railing Posts Corners
Corner railing posts may be mounted inside or outside the rim and end joists, it’s all a matter of blocking, brackets, and structural fasteners. Whether installing one post on the inside where the rim and end joist meet, or two posts to frame the corner, the posts must meet multi-directional force requirements.
An inside corner post needs to be blocked and bolted in both directions. One method is to run blocking parallel to the rim joist that sandwiches the post base and uses two holdowns – one fastens to the blocking with a bolt through the end joist and post, and the other to the end joist on a bolt run through the rim joist, post, and blocking. Bolts and brackets will also need to be offset about 1/2 an inch.
Outside corner posts need additional blocking to reinforce the inside corner. Bolts through the post, rim or end joist and blocking fasten to a holdown which is secured to the rim or end joist. This method also works if two posts are attached at the corner, one to the rim and one to the end joist. Offset the bolts to avoid them conflicting with each other.
How to Install Deck Stair Railing Posts
Placement and installation of the stair railing post on the deck is similar to securing other posts. Fastening the bottom stair railing post also requires it to be secured to the base. The bottom of the stair often rests on a concrete pad, sidewalk, or pilings. A common practice is to use two 1/2″ bolts to fasten the bottom railing post to the end of the stair stringer or the bottom riser board, or add two bolts and fasten it to both.
Another method is to anchor the base of the post into the concrete and fasten it with two 1/2″ bolts to the stringer. The galvanized steel anchor may be set in the concrete at the time of the pour, or installed after it cures. Simpson Strong-Tie has an adjustable post base that works well for both methods.
Made of heavy, 16-gauge galvanized steel it raises the 4×4 post 1” off the concrete to prevent moisture damage. The bracket attaches to the concrete with a 1/2″ diameter bolt, and to the post with six 10d hex-head drive galvanized screws to provide a solid, secure base for the post.
How to Install Deck Railing Posts on Top of the Existing DeckInstalling railing posts to the top of the deck boards is done using surface mounted post anchors. Different manufacturers offer bases for railing posts that attach to the deck boards or through the boards to blocking or joists under the decking.
The railing posts must still meet Code requirements for the pressure applied to the top of the railing, so make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.Post bases are commonly made of powder-coated or enameled galvanized steel or paintable high-strength nylon or plastic. They are available for 4×4, 6×6, and even 8×8 posts; however, some have restrictions on the height of the post it can support.
The base mounts to the decking using lag screws, bolts, tap-cons, or engineered screws.
Most bases also raise the post off the surface, helping to protect it from moisture. Some anchor bases are adjustable for slight deviations in post dimensions, while others require posts to be trimmed or sanded to fit.
Installing deck railing posts to meet Code safety requirements is important to prevent injury. Posts can be fastened during deck construction to transfer and share forces applied to the railing and post for a more secure attachment.
Alternatively, railing posts may be mounted to the decking using manufactured post bases. Whichever method you use, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and use the appropriate hardware and fasteners.
I hope you have a better understanding of how to attach railing posts, so they are secure and safe. If you found this guide helpful, please share it with others. As always, your comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Eugene has been a DIY enthusiast for most of his life and loves being creative while inspiring creativity in others. He is passionately interested in home improvement, renovation and woodworking.