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Railings are a necessary part of every deck. While some may argue they only serve an aesthetic purpose, railings provide an irreplaceable safety barrier as well. International Residential Code states that if a deck sits 30-inches above the ground. Furthermore, each individual rail must be 36-inches tall to meet height requirements.

Before you get distraught about having to add a railing, research the different types of railings available. You will soon discover that railings come in a wide variety of styles, finishes, and materials, making it easy to find the perfect look you are hoping to achieve, and ensure the safety of family and friends on your deck as well.

Custom Versus Prefab Railings

Railings elevate the appearance of any type of deck, but not all railing systems are created equal. Knowing these standards can help you determine if you want to pursue custom fabricated railings or prefabricated ones. Let’s explore the differences between these two types of systems.

Custom Fabricated Railings: Custom railings are exactly that – railings built specifically for a certain home by a local fabricator. Many homeowners like the idea of custom-created railings. It allows them to get the exact appearance and design elements they prefer. It comes with some drawbacks, though. Even the best professionals can run into challenges with getting them just right.


  • Top and bottom rails need perfectly drilled holes to match up and align with one another.
  • Each segment needs to be mounted to the posts with either screws, nails, or brackets, often at a tricky angle.
  • Many projects require welding to complete the work.
  • If you want a handrail as part of your railing system, that is an extra step to the process.
  • Don’t forget about the finishing touches with a coat of either stain, paint, or a protective powder coating. Applying these finishes requires skill and precision.


Custom railings do not undergo extensive testing like prefabricated railings do. For this reason, custom railings are a huge undertaking to ensure structural integrity. You want to hire a fabricator with prior experience building these sorts of systems – an individual that is meticulous, knowledgeable, and pays attention to detail.


Also, be prepared for a potentially prolonged completion date. Custom railings can be rather complicated to build and typically take more time to install compared to prefabricated railings.

Prefabricated Railings: Often referred to as prefab railings, these are pre-engineered modular railing systems. This means the railings are predesigned, premanufactured, and even tested during the manufacturing process.

This does not mean prefabricated railings are some boring or standard design, though. Homeowners can customize pre-assembled railings to achieve the look of their dreams by incorporating various add-on options available, including accent handrails, accent trim, accent panels, ornaments, inserts, and more.


Some homeowners love the fact that prefabricated railings are manufactured in advance. A trained professional in a factory setting works to measure and then assemble the top and bottom railings. The welding is completed outside the home, reducing potential safety incidents from occurring on your property. Plus, you get the peace of mind and reassurance that every railing is tested for strength, durability, and accuracy.


If you plan to install your railing system without the assistance of a professional installer, prefabricated railings are an excellent DIY choice. Most often, the work requires cutting the panels into the lengths you need for your specific deck layout, and then installing those panels with brackets and mounts provided by the manufacturer. The majority of the hard labor is completed beforehand, and step-by-step instructions are typically provided.


In addition, your preselected aesthetic finish – stain, paint, or powder coating – is applied in the factory. For example, metal railings need a protective coating, but require welding too. With prefabricated railings, the coating is applied after the welding is finished in the factory, ensuring you get an even coat with high-quality products applied in a controlled environment.

Making the Right Choice for Your Deck

Choosing between custom or prefab railings can feel like an overwhelming task. Before making that big purchase, you also need to take into account your deck design, deck layout, and decking platform materials you are trying to coordinate with. Every railing system has pros and cons to consider, and what works for one homeowner might not be the best fit for another.

Remember, while railing systems are most definitely meant to boost the appearance of any deck, they also serve a functional purpose. It is crucial to install a railing system that provides safety and security to your friends, children, pets, and family. Decks are a wonderful extension of your living space, and no one wants to see an injury or accident happen.