What is the best material for deck railing?

Key-link Powder Coated Aluminum Railing Outlook Series

We believe the best railing material is powder coated aluminum due to its strength, durability, and long product life. 

Deck railing selection can be daunting. There are several other options available such as aluminum, composite & vinyl, and traditional wood railing. We’ll compare the industry’s most popular options, and what kind of decking pairs well with each.

Powder Coated Aluminum Railing

Keylink Aluminum Vertical Cable Rail used on an interior balcony

Powder coated aluminum railing is amongst the most popular railings today due to its thin profile, high quality finishes and variety of infill options. Today’s aluminum isn’t your grandfather’s old wrought iron railing. Aluminum railing is powder coated with a durable, fade resistant finish. Aluminum is also anti corrosive, so you won’t have to worry about the substrate rusting over time. We highly recommend choosing a railing with an AAMA 2604 powder coating finish or if your railing is exposed to salt water, AAMA 2605 finish.

Aluminum railing comes in a variety of infill options such as stainless-steel cable, glass, and aluminum support balusters. Stainless steel cable, both vertical cable and horizontal cable railing are the most sought desirable options for their high visibility and contemporary styling. Glass panels offer excellent visibility and have the added benefit of blocking the wind. Aluminum support balusters are the most affordable option and have a smaller baluster profile than cheaper railing alternatives.

Due to the limited maintenance required with aluminum railing, we suggest pairing it with low maintenance decking. PVC or a high-quality composite decking will ensure that you have low maintenance and long-lasting outdoor living space for years to come.

Composite & Vinyl Railing

Superior Plastics 3000 series railing on a deck

Composite and vinyl railing has seen some of its market share start to decrease with the rise of aluminum railing, but it still is widely popular with homeowners because of its ease of installation and low maintenance. Composite compound comprises of a mixture of recycled plastic, wood flour and PVC. Vinyl railing features an extruded vinyl shell that is supported by an aluminum insert. Composite and vinyl railings are usually bulkier, using larger extruded balusters and favor a post sleeve that is installed over a 4x4.

Infill options are more limited with composite system. These systems are usually offered in a vertical round or square baluster. However, cable railing is an option if used with an external cable railing fitting. Simply drill through your line posts and screw the external fitting into the 4x4 posts.

Like aluminum railing, we recommend pairing composite and vinyl railing with a low maintenance decking such as budget composite decking.

Cedar and Pressure Treated Lumber

Cedar decking and railing

Cedar is a naturally rot resistant wood species which has made it a popular choice for a DIY wood railing. Pressure treated lumber, often Southern Yellow Pine, is lumber that has been impregnated with a chemical to make it less susceptible to rot and bug infestation. Lumber requires the most maintenance of all the railing options listed. Typically, you will need to power wash and stain the railing every one to three years.

Wood railing has a variety of design options but is traditionally assembled with 2x4 top and bottoms rails and 42” beveled balusters.

Cedar and treated railing pair with the decking of the same material and you can usually depend on the railing lasting as long as the deck surface.