Many different railing materials can be used for deck railing. Having installed many of the most popular ones, wood, composite, vinyl, aluminum is my favourite. When someone asks which railing, I recommend my first answer always is aluminum. The reason is the long list of pros of aluminum compared to the shortlist of cons.
Pros of aluminum railing are durable. It will not rust, rot or burn and requires minimal maintenance, all while providing a stylish guard around the deck. The biggest cons of aluminum railing are initial cost but also limited style options.
As I said, I am a fan of aluminum deck railing. Going through the pros and cons of, I may sound salesy, which is not my intent, but I am a fan. Full disclosure, I think aluminum railing is the best railing for most decks, there are some exceptions of which I will get to while discussing the cons of aluminum railing. But for most decks, aluminum railing will provide the best value.
Before going over the reason that aluminum railing is a great choice, let’s discuss the cons and why and when aluminum railing is not a good choice for a deck.
Cons of Aluminum Deck Railing
- Limited style
- Can be easily scratched
The cost of Aluminum railing is the biggest drawback.
It is not the most expensive deck railing, but it is costly. Aluminum railing material on average will cost between $35 and $40 a linear foot depending on gauge, style and supplier. For a 12′ by 10′ deck with aluminum railing on three sides will cost roughly $1200 to $1400 for the material, which for a wood deck is a significant percentage of the cost of the deck.
The average cost to install aluminum decking is 25% of the material cost. So if the railing costs $1200, it will be an additional $300 to install. Bringing the cost of the deck railing up to $1500 on the low end. But with added corners or stairs, the price will increase.
Something to considered. If you are only paying $2000 for the decking and joist, including labour, is the extra $1500 for aluminum railing worth it? And that’s on the low end of aluminum railing costs.
Aluminum Railing has limited Style options.
Decks are often more than just a place to set the lawn chair. A decks value is usually in its aesthetic appeal and beauty. Aluminum railing provides nice clean lines, and we will get into that more as a pro, but as a con, it is very limiting in style. Often the only style choice is straight or wide pickets with limited post styles and tops.
Which simply may not work with a more elaborate deck design. There are so many details that can be added to a deck to enhance its appearance, but aluminum railing is very limited in what it can offer. It is much more a practical deck guard than a masterpiece.
With similarly limited colour options, some manufacturers have up to 12 colour options, but most have two, black or white. Even with the more extensive colour options, you cannot choose or match colour but only pick from their choices. A very restrictive con of aluminum railing.
Aluminum Railing Finish can be Easily Scratched
Aluminum Railing is durable and will not rust, but the paint is easily scratched. With a high gloss finish, you can even mar the paint finish with your fingernail. Easily leaving a mark with a screwdriver or knife.
Often the solution is powder coating finish of the railing, which is thicker and denser, minimizing nicks in the railing finish. Some manufacturers will go as far as a slightly rough finish to help reduce the appearances of scratches on the railing.
These are three of the cons of aluminum railing, but enough of the negative aspects of aluminum railing. What are the positive elements of aluminum railing?
Pros of Aluminum Deck Railing
- Low Maintenance
- Easy Cleaning
- Easy installation
- Won’t Rot, corrode, stain, fade or rust
- Fire, mould and mildew resistant
- No splintering, cracking or warping
- Environmentally Friendly
- Clean and stylish styles
- Easy touch up of scratches
- Unparalleled strength with minimal size
- Minimal Impeding of view
Maintenance or the lack thereof is the first reason I started suggesting aluminum railing. It requires no regular staining or painting. The pickets or top rail will not rot and need to be replaced. Install it and forget it. While not entirely, aluminum railing is low maintenance, not no maintenance. But the maintenance required for aluminum railing is also an advantage.
Aluminum Railing is Easily Cleaned. No harsh chemicals or expensive tools to clean the deck railing. Only soap and water with a cloth and bucket. Even annoying things like bird poop will quickly wipe off of aluminum railing with a little water and soap. All without staining or requiring intense scrubbing to remove. If you can wipe down the counter, you can clean aluminum railing.
After maintenance, Ease of installation attracted me to aluminum railing. Aluminum Railing isEasy to install,especially when ordered preassembled. For top-mounted deck posts, the installation of blocks during framing is vital for railing strength. But with an impact driver, screwdriver and level and you can install the railing. It is the most effortless railing I know of to install.
Making installation even easier is it is Lightweight. A six-foot section of railing weighing less than 40 lbs (18 kg), allowing a single person to carry the railing into place and install.
Aluminum Railing is Durable, in so many ways. Aluminum railing will NOT rot, corrode, stain, rust, burn, fade, grow mould or mildew, splinter, crack or warp. Decks are great, but they are exposed to elements 24/7, which can be bad for railing. But aluminum railing is resistant to almost anything that could go wrong.
Powder coating finish on aluminum railing retains its colour for years. The coating also increases the railing resistance to corrosion. Keeping your railing looking good for many years to come.
Aluminum railing having a high combustion temperature allows you to use your barbeque closer to the railing. Freeing up more space on the deck for other things. Just one more pro about aluminum railing
On top of aluminum railings durability, it is Environmentally Friendly. After many years of enjoying your deck and railing, aluminum railing can be fully recycled with minimal environmental impact even after years of use.
I listed limited styles as a con of aluminum railing, but I think the Clean lines, and style is a plus. Aluminum railing simple design is a plus for many decks. Yes, it’s a con for certain decks designs, but for many decks, its simplicity is beautiful.
Another advantage of aluminum railing is Easy touch up of scratches. Because the colour doesn’t fade, you only need to touch up the scratched area of the railing, not the entire railing. Unlike stained railing, which will fade and often require the whole surface to be stained to prevent mismatched colours. Touch up can be done with a small brush, often part of the lid of the bottle, spray can or my favourite, touch up pen with minimal mess and simple application.
Aluminum railing possesses unparalleled strength with minimal size. Deck railing post, according to the IRC, must be able to resist a bending force of 1 100 psi (500 kg). A wood railing requires a solid 4×4 post to meet this requirement but aluminum with hollow post and often with only 5/8″ (16mm) pickets, still exceed wood railings strength. Few materials can match aluminum railing strength.
The strength of aluminum allows for a less-impeded view off the deck. Allowing you to enjoy the view around the deck while sitting down. The small 5/8″ (16mm) pickets spaced 4″ (100mm) apart provides more view than railing. Only glass railing allows a more unobstructed view from the deck.
Summary of Aluminum Deck Railing Pros and Cons
The biggest con of aluminum railing is the cost. The price of aluminum railing prices it out of many decks designs, but if you can get over the price. The most significant pros of aluminum deck railing are low maintenance and durability. Once installed, you will need to do nothing with them except occasionally clean them. They will last for years without costing you another penny.
There are many other advantages and disadvantages of aluminum railing, but one question will determine if your next deck will have aluminum railing. Are the durability and low maintenance worth the upfront price you pay for it?