Porch railings need to be designed with the following considerations in mind: what is the primary use of your porch, how much traffic will the steps and hand rails get, are there any special requirements (such as ADA compliance), and do you want something that goes well with your home’s architecture?
For a porch used primarily for seating or lounging, pick long-lasting materials such as wood or stone. For example, brick can be fitted in place around wooden posts or on top of a stone column. In some areas of the country, decks with built-in benches make good use of otherwise unused space. A pergola is like an open trellis that creates a shady area without walls and gives you the option of installing a variety of vines.
For areas that will get a lot of foot traffic, metal railings are durable and require less maintenance than wood or stone. Metal is also an excellent choice for coastal locations that are exposed to salt spray, as it can withstand the corrosive effects of salt air better than most other common porch materials. Other options include composite lumber (made from recycled plastic) and glass balusters surrounded by steel or aluminum components.
Follow your local building codes when deciding on a railing material. For example, metal balusters must be spaced at least 16″ apart in residential applications; many cities have stricter guidelines that increase the minimum spacing to 24″. Handrails should not project more than 4–6 inches above the top of the baluster.
Also, if you have wood stairs, be sure to install a metal rail on at least one side (and preferably two). This meets building codes in many areas for steps without handrails.
When choosing your railing design, make sure it complements the style of your home. You don’t want something that sticks out like a sore thumb or clashes with the other architectural elements surrounding it. For example, a traditional Victorian home would not look good with sleek modern-style slats and spindles , while contemporary homes usually do not go well with elaborate Victorian scrollwork . Match up paint colors and finish materials as well — like matching dark brown wooden posts with mahogany colored pickets instead of painted white pickets — and you’ll create a look that is uniform throughout your home.
If you have any special concerns — like if the steps will be used by someone with disabilities or if there are high winds or other weather conditions in your area — ask for help from professionals at local building supply stores. They can guide you through all of the available options, assess your needs and local codes, and recommend solutions that fit your budget. If they do not have an answer to a specific design question, this should be a red flag about working with them because it suggests they may not know their own products well enough to give you good advice on any number of issues.