What do deck handrails and fences do?
Decking handrails and fences are first and foremost a safety feature. Decks over a metre high are required to have handrails installed to a particular specification (further details below), although even decks below that height may benefit from railing to help prevent falls.
Decking handrails and fences can also be used to enhance the visual appeal of your deck, and provide a more or less natural looking border. Decking handrails can either be fully enclosed to completely block out the wind and provide some privacy (particularly good if you're on a higher block of land), or left as open as possible to allow breeze in and preserve your view. In some cases, glass or acrylic infills are used instead of balustrates to ensure more or less uninterrupted views.
If you're weighing up design options for handrails on a new deck, the most sensible approach is to consider the period and specific style of the home, and ensure that your railings and details are faithful to that style of design.
How are handrails constructed?
How your decking fence or handrail is constructed largely depends on the function you want it to serve, and the materials you wish to incorporate. A wooden fence can be designed and installed by most home handymen, but the installation of glass or acrylic/polycarbonate panels for a modern designer piece will require the help of professionals.
A popular choice for decking nowadays is stainless steel wire strand balustrades, which provide the benefit of blocking passage through the gaps while being barely visible, therefore allowing a virtually uninterrupted view. Each strand is tightened to provide maximum tensile strength and, because they're made of stainless steel, they won’t corrode with time and weather exposure.
Handrail requirements and heights
There are quite a few building regulations that apply to the construction of a handrail or fence for your deck, so it is best to do thorough research during the planning stages to ensure compliance. The Building Code of Australia (BCA) states that handrails are required for decks and structures attached to the house over one metre in height above the ground.
In addition, decks four metres above the ground must have vertical balustrades with spacing requirements to stop anyone or anything of size accidentally falling through, so this may limit your design and material choices.
Handrails must stand no less than one metre above the decking. Individual regulations may apply to the type of materials you are looking to construct your handrail with, so make sure to get all the information from your supplier or installer.
Local councils may also have their own regulations when it comes to fencing and handrails for your deck so it is best to seek advice from them at the planning stage to be aware of any regulations that might apply, and to check that your installer is fully up to speed on the local regulations.