Existing deck rails not to code...need help/ideas.


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Old 04-15-10, 04:28 AM
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Existing deck rails not to code...need help/ideas.

So, my wife and I purchased our first home about a year ago, and have been remodeling ever since. I'm just wrapping up a major interior family room remodel, and now that the weather is turning, I'm going to focus on the deck. The previous home owner (who was a contractor, btw) build an~580 square foot semi-wrap around deck that varies in ground height from 2' to ~12'. The deck boards are weathering pretty badly, and to save money, I'm planning to flip them (those that are still all structurally sound) since the deck isn't that old, possibly run each side through a planer and take 1/32" off, then re-stain. I was also planning on redoing the railing since it's not in the greatest shape. I'm not a contractor, but I always felt that the railing was too low, so after doing some quick research, it seems at a minimum deck rails have to be 36" and 42" at the end of my deck where the drop-off is ~12'.

Here's the kicker. This guy built the rails at 30" I have NO WAY to achieve 36" with the posts cut to the height they are (I can get 34" from the deck floor to the top of the deck posts). How on earth am I going to increase this railing height short of ripping the whole deck apart and resetting new posts? I'm assuming a I can't lap joint or sister 4x4" extension on the existing posts since they are structural? Any help would be appreciated, guys. Thanks!
 
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Old 04-15-10, 05:28 AM
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A couple thoughts:

Once you remove the floor boards, you could cut off your 4x4's flush with the top of the joists, and bolt new ones that are about 48" long (depending on the size of your floor joists and the final height desired) in different locations.

Or you could cut off the 4x4's and instead or replacing them, install all your new balusters outside the rim joist flush with the bottom, (dogear the bottom ends of the balusters) and use 2 bolts per baluster. Cap with a 2x4. (or cap with a horizontal 2x4 on edge attached along the interior side of the top edge of the balusters with a 2x6 cap centered on top)
 
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Old 04-15-10, 05:37 AM
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Originally Posted by XSleeper View Post
A couple thoughts:

Once you remove the floor boards, you could cut off your 4x4's flush with the top of the joists, and bolt new ones that are about 48" long (depending on the size of your floor joists and the final height desired) in different locations.

Or you could cut off the 4x4's and instead or replacing them, install all your new balusters outside the rim joist flush with the bottom, (dogear the bottom ends of the balusters) and use 2 bolts per baluster. Cap with a 2x4. (or cap with a horizontal 2x4 on edge on the back side of the ballusters and a 2x6 cap on top)
I thought about your first suggestion when I initially encountered this, but I have two sections of stairs on this deck where the 4x4 is flush with the stringer. If I cut this 4x4 flush, I won't have a post for the stair rail.

As for your second suggestion, doesn't a rail with this design still need 4x4s for support?
 
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Old 04-15-10, 06:44 AM
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In your current design, the 4x4's provide support for the cap and the balusters. And since the posts are continuous, they're very strong laterally. Not all deck handrails are built this way. Many are bolted on the exterior after the decking is finished, or bolted inside the framing so that the decking may be notched around the posts.

It's hard to give specific advice without seeing your deck... but its not always imperative that the 4x4's that support your hand rail be exactly at the corners of your deck, or at the exact corner of the stairs. I can imagine that in your mind you are picturing revamping the handrail using the EXACT same setup you currently have, just taller. But what you probably need to do is come up with a new design.

If you are dead set on using 4x4's that are close to being in the same area, you could bolt them directly to the sides of the rim, or notch them halfway and dogear the bottom so that they look inset. This would still enable you to have a post right at the corner of your stairs, it would just be on the outside. You can also support the weight of a cantilevered handrail with just a block underneath at the corner, if lateral support is being provided by 4x4's or balusters nearby.

And as for the 2nd question, handrails must be able to withstand a concentrated horizontal load of about 200 lbs at any point along the rail. This may or may not require 4x4's depending on the layout of the handrail. The weak point of any handrail is where it terminates (like at the bottom of the stairs, or where the handrail meets the house, but is not attached to the house). It is advantageous to have a 4x4 at certain locations. But generally, you'd be surprised how strong a baluster railing is when they are bolted to the rim (not screwed) every 6" or so, especially when you have a 2x6 cap that isn't going to bend. There may be places where it would be advantageous to have a 4x4, which would then probably require you to have others added for symmetry, but not necessarily for strength. In any case, I guess I'm trying to steer you in the direction that bolting to the outside of the rim is the way to go, whether it's with 4x4's, 2x2's, or a combination of the two.

Again, it's hard to give specific advice without seeing the deck or having a floor plan and it's impossible to plan the entire thing for you. Maybe you have, or have looked at some books on deck building? Look for pictures where the handrail is bolted onto the exterior of the rim. You could even use Google images to get some ideas.

Also, there are others here who are proficient at deck building and they will probably be along shortly.
 
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Old 04-15-10, 08:35 AM
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I've attached a picture of one section of the deck (including the stair section) from last summer (excuse the terrible steps the past owner built and horrendous landscaping, that is all ripped out now)

Does this help?

 
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Old 04-15-10, 01:38 PM
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Where I am, the max spacing of the 4x4 post is 6' and by the looks of it , yours are greater than that. Unless there is someone telling you that you need to replace the rails, I'd think twice about it.
If needed, you could wrap the existing post with 3/4, 5/4 or 2x to make them taller. Then cap them. Use the existing rail and add a 2x6 to the bottom so that the space from the rail to the deck is < 4". You should also make sure the spacing between the pickets is < 4".
If done correctly, the deck boards will have their crown up. When you flip them over, they will be crown down and will tend to hold water. Not so good.
The materials in the stain and the wood preservative are quite hard little particles. They will not be a good board to run through a planer especially if it is your Buddy's. Spray nails are also a bummer. Trying to run cupped boards through a planer and remove 1/32 will be more of a pain than you can imagine. By the time you get the board looking good, it won't have the strength of the 5/4 and flex under your feet.
It would be a great time to change to a composite board.
 
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Old 04-15-10, 04:29 PM
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Originally Posted by dan0661 View Post
Where I am, the max spacing of the 4x4 post is 6' and by the looks of it , yours are greater than that. Unless there is someone telling you that you need to replace the rails, I'd think twice about it.
If needed, you could wrap the existing post with 3/4, 5/4 or 2x to make them taller. Then cap them. Use the existing rail and add a 2x6 to the bottom so that the space from the rail to the deck is < 4". You should also make sure the spacing between the pickets is < 4".
If done correctly, the deck boards will have their crown up. When you flip them over, they will be crown down and will tend to hold water. Not so good.
The materials in the stain and the wood preservative are quite hard little particles. They will not be a good board to run through a planer especially if it is your Buddy's. Spray nails are also a bummer. Trying to run cupped boards through a planer and remove 1/32 will be more of a pain than you can imagine. By the time you get the board looking good, it won't have the strength of the 5/4 and flex under your feet.
It would be a great time to change to a composite board.
Why would you recommend to leave the railing alone?

The only reason I ask is, the deck looks like crap, and that's why I'm considering replacing these items. However, I'm not planning to stay at this house for more than 6 years or so, so I'm not willing to sink $10K+ into a composite rebuild really. The deck posts are all spaced differently, and yes they are all over 6' spacing. The railing is also very lose and weak, so it's a danger to people using our deck. The deck boards being used now aren't 5/4, they're 2x4s since he used 24" OC spacing with the joists.

Thanks for the heads up on the planer, I hadn't considered the effect the stain/finish would have on the knives.

As for the cupping, the deck is (I would guess, 10-15 years old). Would there still be a noticeable cupping?

Any other suggestions or options? Thanks for all the help!
 
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Old 04-20-10, 05:46 AM
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The only reason to reuse the rail would be it is cheaper and quicker than building new. Wrapping the existing posts makes the space between the posts smaller. Cut off the ends of the rails, predrill holes and secure them to the post.
If you plane the 2x4 deck too much it will also flex under you feet @ 24"oc. 2x6 Trex for 400sf deck will run you about $4500
The wood will still want to cup or twist or bow still. That is why so many nails tend to work their way loose after time with the wood expanding and contracting, twisting and moving.
"Looks like crap" has so many variables. To me, looks like crap is that the deck hasn't been maintained with the exception of a power wash that ate the top layer of the boards off five years ago. There are broken, loose and split boards and parts of the rails are missing. I also like it when stuff is actually growing on the deck.
If it's an appearance you are looking to fix, you could wash and strip off the old finish. Use a belt sander (with safety equipment) and clean up the deck surface a little then apply a new finish. Some of the finish products like an acrylic resin, will fill in the roughness of the grain and really smooth out the surface. Downside of finishes on decks is that they should be redone about every two years.
If it's a style issue you could replace all the balusters with some of the fancy aluminum ones.
The money, time and effort you spend now may help you in selling six years from now.
 
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Old 05-30-12, 07:44 AM
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Re: existing deck not to code, need itdea

I assume your project is long completed, but was viewing for an answer to a similiar question I have. Anyway ...another idea to address issues similar to yours could be to built large terraced planting beds around the deck to "raise the land" to avoid a minimum railing height, and have the beds gradually terrace down to the current level.
 
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Old 05-30-12, 08:12 AM
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It's been more than two years since this question was asked
 
 

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