For years, deck builders and their clients were satisfied with plain wood railings. That changed when manufacturers began offering composite, vinyl, and aluminum parts; cable railing components; and accessories such as post caps with low-voltage or solar-powered LED lighting. Kits that package all the parts for a railing section in one box simplify installation. But deck builders who are willing to mix and match rail components can give their projects a unique look and differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Regardless of whether prepackaged at a factory, assembled from components from different manufacturers, or fabricated on-site the traditional way using wood, railings should meet or exceed code. Pay particular attention to guard-post installation—critical for railing safety—as well as to the little details, such as allowing space under bottom rails to sweep debris off the deck and providing top rails that are wide enough to accommodate drinks.