The closely spaced arrangement of traditional balusters visually encages a porch and often conceals attractive landscapes from view. Building codes allow several railing materials in lieu of conventional wooden post-and-baluster railing systems. Some substitutes are easier to install and less expensive than balusters. An understanding of the costs, installation requirements and aesthetic impacts of baluster alternatives allows you to choose the right railing system for your porch construction or renovation project.
Metal cables are a common substitute for traditional baluster porch and deck railings. Railing cables often consist of woven or "braided" stainless steel wires. Builders commonly install cables horizontally between deck or porch posts, pulling them taut with tension tools and securing them to the posts with hooks or clasps. Although thin and unobtrusive, cables are exceptionally strong. Consult your local building authority to determine the required spacing between cables and acceptable cable size. Because of their stainless or galvanized steel content, cable railing systems often cost as much or more than conventional wooden balusters. However, installing cable railing systems generally requires less labor than installing wooden balusters.
Glass and Plastic Panels
Glass and clear plastic panels create a solid barrier between deck or porch posts while allowing a full view of the outlying landscape. Glass and plastic panels usually require special mounting systems that consist of channels and post-mounted brackets. Because glass and plastic railing panels must withstand wind and weather, building codes often regulate the panels' thickness and composition. Thick glass and plastic panels generally cost more than conventional wooden balusters.
Unlike cables and clear panels, lattice obscures the view beyond the deck to provide increased privacy. The term "lattice" generally refers to thin, overlapping strips of wood that form a square or diamond-shaped grid. Builders might construct lattice on-site or install prefrabricated lattice panels. Prefabricated lattice panels are available in both wood and plastic. Lattice railing typically costs less and is easier to install than conventional wooden balusters.
Most building codes allow several types of metal mesh in lieu of wooden balusters. Metal meshes suitable for porch or deck railings include welded wire mesh and chicken wire. To substitute mesh for balusters, builders construct a conventional railing system of posts, top rails and bottom rails. Subsequently, wire mesh attaches to the posts and rails with staples or broad-headed fasteners. Depending on the spacing between posts, wire mesh might require additional bracing or nailing surfaces. The materials and installation costs of metal mesh material compare favorably to conventional wooden balusters.
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