What is Aluminum Railing?
It will likely take you only one guess to determine what aluminum deck railings are made from. If you guessed aluminum, you would be correct!
Aluminum is a sturdy, non-corrosive material that is perfect for railing. Railings go through a process called extrusion. Extrusion is when aluminum is forced through a die, which is a form of the desired shape of the railing (similar to toothpaste through the hole at the end of the tube.)
The design of the railing as it goes through extrusion, combined with well-placed welds, gives aluminum deck railing the required strength.
Extrusion design varies by railing brands. Wall thickness and architectural design play into the overall quality of the aluminum railing. A thicker wall leads to a stronger railing, which means it can span longer spaces between posts. Higher quality aluminum railing is made with thick walls, adding to its overall strength, durability, and versatility.
Once the aluminum has endured the extrusion process and the appropriate joints have been welded, aluminum deck railing typically goes through a finishing process called powder coating.
Powder coating is a seemingly magical process that adds an important element to aluminum railings - anti-corrosion.
What is Powder Coating?
Powder coating is a type of finishing that offers anti-corrosive properties. It is a unique process that uses the power of electricity to evenly, thoroughly apply the powder coating. This makes the coating nearly impenetrable by outside elements.
The first step requires the aluminum be dipped into a solution to prepare the surface for the rest of the powder coating process. The solution is alkaline and helps clean the aluminum for the best powder coating coverage.
Next, once dry, the aluminum undergoes a negative electrical charge. The powder receives the opposite charge - positive. As we know, opposites attract.
The powder is then sprayed and the opposite charges result in the powder coating being “attracted” to the negatively charged aluminum. This ensures complete coverage and eliminates waste.
The powder coated aluminum is typically sealed with a special coating and then placed in an oven of sorts for drying and finishing. This method of finishing keeps the aluminum railing from peeling in the sun and allows it to be simply cleaned and polished back to its best shine for many years.
The Draw of Aluminum Railing
Aluminum railings may be some of the most versatile railings you will find. They fit in almost any design and are budget friendly.
Aluminum may be one of the few railing types that is virtually indestructible. It does not rust or corrode, it does not blister or peel, and they lack the problems of wood like warping or splintering.
The durability of aluminum deck railing leads to its low maintenance quality. Powder coated aluminum railing is as maintenance free as you will find.
Maintenance typically includes a hose down or power wash of environmental influences like pollen or grass clippings. The powder coating does not crack, peel, or chip like simple paint. Outdoor railings should be wiped down as needed.
Aluminum deck railings typically come as a ready to install kit. This makes DIY installation a possibility for most people, using basic tools like a drill, level, and tape measure.
Aluminum deck railing comes in as one of the most affordable railing options available. It is more expensive than plain wood but is far more reasonably priced than the high-end materials like stainless steel, wrought iron, or glass.
Beyond the purchase price, the low maintenance needs, DIY-able installation, and lifespan makes aluminum deck railing quite budget-friendly.
Most aluminum deck railings are made of strong alloys that support a robust railing system. Many think of the aluminum that makes up cans, which feels quite flimsy. The aluminum used for deck railings is very strong.
In addition to original strength, aluminum deck railings are in it for the long haul, as they do not rot or wear like some other railing materials. Aluminum railings are perfect in settings that endure harsh weather or heavy wear and tear.
Aluminum railing gets a bad wrap for being cheap and appearing that way. This is simply untrue. This type of railing is beautiful and can mimic different materials like wrought iron. If you combine the lower cost, better durability, and easier installation with the already attractive looks, aluminum may be the ideal deck railing material.
Pros and Cons of Aluminum Railing
Like any building material, aluminum railings have pros and cons to consider before committing to using it on your stairway, deck, or patio.
Aluminum railings are strong. As we mentioned earlier, aluminum is strong despite the common notion that it is thin like foil or cans. Aluminum can be processed into almost any shape or strength, and aluminum railings are designed to be very strong.
Aluminum is used in many heavy-duty applications, and it is certainly capable of standing up to the rigors railings face.
Aluminum railing is light. The hardest part about installing deck railing is getting the components to the installation point. Aluminum railing, while strong, is very lightweight and easy to work with. This makes installing aluminum railing a solo DIY job if you can handle it.
Even if you prefer to let someone else do the work, you can be assured that a professional aluminum railing installation will be quick and painless compared to some more complicated, heavy materials.
Aluminum railing looks attractive. Aluminum railing comes in so many different options it can be overwhelming. Color, shape, style, and other aesthetic choices abound. From modern to classic, all the stylistic decisions are yours to make.
It is important to keep in mind that you should always select a powder coated aluminum offering. This will ensure you reap the benefits of aluminum like strength and longevity. Without powder coating, aluminum loses its durability.
Aluminum railing is low maintenance. Once powder coated, aluminum railings are as close to maintenance free as you will find. A simple wipe down or spray off (for outdoor railings) is the most you will need to muster when it comes to maintenance. No painting, staining, or obsessive cleaning necessary.
Aluminum railing is durable. Aluminum railing stands up to most tests of toughness. Corrosion, insects, rust, and warping are not threats to powder coated aluminum railings. Aluminum railings will inevitably stand the test of time ahead of most other railing products.
Aluminum railing is environmentally friendly. This pro has become more and more important over time. Aluminum railing can be found as a recycled product and most aluminum railings are recyclable. These are great attributes for anyone concerned with how their building materials choices impact the environment.
Aluminum railing gets a bad rap. Aluminum railings are really a “meet all needs” kind of product. There are those who simply balk at anything that is not the highest end material, which makes sense in some homes or businesses. However, without being told, you might not be able to separate the high-end materials from aluminum products.
Aluminum railings are strong, durable, and can be manufactured to meet almost every design need. Their only real con might be that they are thought of as cheap.
How to Install Aluminum Railing
We have mentioned multiple times now that aluminum railings can be installed as a DIY project. While aluminum railings are easier to install than many other railings, it will still require some element of handiness and knowledge.
If you do not feel confident in your abilities to measure, cut, drill, or perform other basic skills, feel free to jump to our Using a Professional Install for Aluminum Railing section below. Otherwise, we have broken down the steps to install aluminum railing in their simplest form (this is not a comprehensive installation guide - refer to your railings’ manufacturer for detailed instructions.)
Most DIY aluminum railing comes in kits, making the project much more manageable. Here, we will assume you are using some form of aluminum railing kit.
The Unboxing and Posts
- Always check your kit before beginning any work. Make sure every component is present.
- The posts (vertical pieces that will support your railing) will be placed first. Determine the location of each one.
- Position the posts where you intend them to be and mark the spot.
- Pre-drill holes where the marks are.
- Secure the posts with included hardware into the pre-drilled holes.
Put the Railing Together
- Attach the spindles (the infill) to the bottom railing.
- Attach the top rail to the spindles.
Install the Railing
- This step brings the railing and the posts together, forming a sturdy, safe boundary to your deck, stairs, or other area.
- Secure the railing to the posts, as directed, with included hardware.
- Enjoy your new railing!
Using a Professional Installer for Aluminum Railing
The steps for installing aluminum railing outlined above are simplified to give you an overview of the process. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable setting posts and drilling holes, it might be time to seek out a professional installer for aluminum railing.
Sometimes even a confident DIY homeowner has an aluminum railing project that is just too complicated. When it is time to call in a professional, it may feel overwhelming to filter through all the choices out there.
Use our convenient tool to find a high-quality, experienced aluminum railing installation expert near you.
Aluminum Railing: Sample Costs and Comparison Guide
Like most building materials, the price of an aluminum railing installation can vary depending on many factors - quality, installation, location, size, etc.
Some average costs can be found for both DIY and professionally installed projects.
- DIY: $50/linear foot
- Pro: $75/linear foot
As we mentioned, there are several factors that will likely impact the costs, including:
- Infill: While aluminum spindles are standard, you can upgrade to high-end infill like glass or stainless steel cables.
- Quality: Aluminum is a great material for railing but there are varying degrees of quality - mainly determined by how thick the aluminum is.
- Project Size: How tall is the railing? How long is the railing? How many twists and turns does the railing take?
- Setting: Stair railings are more expensive than a flat surface, for instance.
- Location: Like everything in the world, cost can be determined by where you live or where the project is.
- Finishing: Standard post caps are less expensive than those with solar lighting installed. Certain color options can carry a cost premium.
Aluminum railing often gets pushed into the category of being “cheap.” This is simply not the case. Many options are very high-quality and can compare well against high-end options. Here is a quick comparison of some typical choices:
Aluminum vs Stainless Steel Cable Railings
Aluminum deck railing requires far less maintenance than stainless steel. Steel is heavier, making installation less convenient.
Installing steel cable railings require specialized tools and skills, as the material is inflexible and often requires custom installations.
While there are some DIY stainless steel cable railing kits, they require far more knowledge and a special skillset to install. Aluminum railings can often be installed by a novice.
Aluminum vs Wood Deck Railing
The moment you install wood deck railing, the clock begins ticking on its lifespan. Even well maintained wood is subject to rot, splintering, or bug infestations. Aluminum railings require almost no upkeep and are not prone to breakdowns.
Wood is far from maintenance free and requires staining or weather coating to maintain its beauty and strength. Aluminum railings require simple wipe downs from time to time for the sake of cleanliness.
Aluminum vs Vinyl Deck Railing
Aluminum railings stand up to nearly any weather condition while vinyl can have issues with very hot or bitter cold temperatures.
The fluxations created when vinyl expands and contracts can lead to accelerated aging and deteriorating quality. Vinyl is also known to fade or crack due to its vulnerability to the sun’s powerful UV rays.
Aluminum railing stands strong against any elements and requires very simple upkeep to maintain its quality over time.