One of the most important decisions you will ever make when choosing your cable railing is selecting the correct hand railing and cable railing post material for your environment. Although the cables and fittings are usually made from stainless steel, the choices are many for post materials. With so many different choices of railing materials it can be very difficult to know whats the best choice for you. Here is a guide to help you understand materials and their advantages and disadvantages.
Determine Railing Location
For the most part your project will fall into one of the following categories, Interior or Exterior and Passive or Corrosive Environment.
A) Interior or Exterior – If your project is interior you are in luck. Interior railings are not subject to the elements like exterior railings are. Interior railings are not subject to wind, rain, snow and extreme temperature swings. In these conditions there is a lot of flexibility with both the railing material and the finish. If your railing is exterior you need to consider the elements and your biggest enemy is water. Water can get inside of posts and cause corrosion. It drips down the cables and runs down the posts where the cable and posts meet. We prefer to use solid material whenever possible since it cannot be penetrated by water (i.e. wont rust from the inside out). If tubing is used its best to have a drain hole for the water to escape so it does not collect water and eventually freeze during the winter months.
B) Passive or Corrosive Environment – Most of the country will fall into the passive category although if your project is within a couple miles of the coast, you will fall into Corrosive environment category. If you live in this environment you probably already know how corrosive the salt air can be. A salt dense fog or ocean spray will create a chloride rich environment that can accelerate the corrosion process of a many metals, especially ferrous metals. The best defense is to select a metal or metal coating which inherently resists corrosion. When customers tell me that they are in a saltwater environment we typically recommend one of three material options. Polished 316 stainless steel, anodized or powder coated aluminum, hot dip galvanized and powder coated steel. The biggest area of concern with all cable railings is where the cables meet with the posts. The cables can rub on the finish and the contact of dissimilar metals can accelerate corrosion. For this reason we actually press small plastic bushings into each post. These bushing help to prevent the contact between the posts and the cables.
Budget can be a big driver of the your material choice. Here is a list of materials in order from least expensive to most expensive.
1) $ Wood – A popular option for railings has always been wood. Wood is by far your cheapest option and also the easiest to work with. The downside is that it does require maintenance and can crack or rot over time. If you are remodeling an existing deck, chances are it was probably a wood deck with wood railings. The good news is that there are many lower maintenance and longer lasting wood options out there like IPE Brazilian Walnut and Mahogany. Many of our customers like the feel of a wood top rail and it compliments a metal post nicely.
2) $$ Powder Coated Steel – Many of the projects we do use powder coated steel posts. If the project is indoors or outdoors (but not near saltwater) powder coated steel posts hold up very well. The post is only as good as the coating that protects it and the quality of the powder coating is all about the person that applied it. Proper prep work and application is everything when it comes to the sustainability of powder coating over steel.
3) $$$ Powder Coated and Hot Dip Galvanized Steel – If you are in a coastal environment and looking for a cost effective solution that will hold up in the toughest environment I recommend Powder Coated and Hot Dip Galvanized Steel. Galvanizing the steel will prevent rust for 75 years or more. Steel is very strong and the combination of galvanizing plus powder coating gives you more flexibility in color choices.
4) $$$$ Anodized or Powder Coated Aluminum – Aluminum has many positives such as being light and easy to work with. Aluminum also holds up extremely well and resists corrosion very well. With a polished finish and a clear anodized coating you can achieve a look that is similar to stainless steel at a fraction of the price. Its no wonder anodized aluminum is used extensively for high performance windows and doors. One drawback is the limited choice of color and texture. If more color choices are important, aluminum can be powder coated. There are literally 1000’s of color choices.
5) $$$$$ Polished Stainless Steel – When stainless steel in properly handled and polished its truly the most beautiful metal. Light reflects off of it from all different angles and it will glisten like a diamond in the sun. Stainless steel is one of the more expensive options (other than Bronze or pure nickel) for your railing and it’s also the most difficult material to work with. If you have the means stainless steel posts are a great option for any environment.
Make a Decision
If you still are not sure what’s the best material solution is for you just give us a call and we can help you figure it out. It’s not uncommon for customers to request multiple price estimates so that they can compare the cost differences in materials. Unfortunately there is not a “one size fits all” when it comes to cable railings which is why we tailor all of our railings to meet the needs of our customers.