One of the most important steps when you build your deck or porch is installing the outdoor stair railing. This step-by-step guide will show you how to install DIY deck railing railing that is both beautiful and safe.
You can also add an outdoor baby gate to the stairs to keep pets and kids safe. Bonus: upgrade your deck style by refinishing a wooden deck and adding space-saving built-in deck benches.
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Our girls were really little and the steps up to the deck were in rough shape, so we built a baby gate for the deck stairs to keep the kids safe.
A decade later, the deck and stairs have been rebuilt — but they needed a handrail to ensure that mom, plus all the grandkids, can use the stairs safely.
How do you build a rail on an existing deck? Follow along and I’ll show you!
DIY Deck & Stair Railing Video
Watch step-by-step how I added the deck railing, stair railing, and side trim to these basic deck stairs to make them look amazing! Read below for detailed step-by-step instructions, too.
How to Install DIY Deck Railing for Stairs
This tutorial shows how to install a standard deck and stair railing with 36″ handrail height and 39” post height using vinyl deck railing. We installed on a composite deck, but install will be similar on wood decking.
For this 45″ x 40″ deck landing and 13 steps, we needed 21 linear feet of handrail. Your materials needs will be different for your deck and stair dimensions, so here’s how to calculate the materials you need to install your own deck and stair railing.
Calculate Deck & Stair Railing Length
This is a very important step, so measure twice!
- Measure and draw out your landing area.
- This porch landing is 45″ x 40″ (with a small bump out by the stairs) so we need about 92″ of straight railing for the 2 sides plus the bump out.
- Determine the needed number of posts.
- This porch landing area extends beyond the stairs a bit, so we needed 3 posts for the straight railing.
- I anchored the railing directly to the house, so I didn’t put a post next to the house, but you can if you prefer.
- For the stairs, we placed one post at the bottom and 2 posts equally down the length of the stairs.
- Stair rail posts should be less than 6 feet between.
- Measure the length from the front of the bottom stair the the front of the top stair to get the right length for your stair railing. This set of stairs was 12 1/2 feet.
It’s is crucial to have accurate measurements in order to buy the correct amount of deck railing system materials! Measure twice, at least.
*This measurement will be similar if you are installing wood posts and railing, but the wood decking will install differently.
Deck and Porch Railing Materials
Before you start shopping, keep in mind that deck railing is labeled with it’s NOMINAL measurement. The actual measurement will fit that nominal measurement *when installed with posts*. Like this:
Mom liked the deck railing design of this Veranda traditional white metal rail kit with black metal balusters (and the matching stair rail sections). For this particular railing system, straight handrail sections come in *nominal* 8’ lengths (actually 92″) and stair handrails come in 6’ sections (actually 67 3/4″).
So, for this porch railing and stair railing, I needed:
- Materials for 6 Posts
- (6) Install kits for vinyl posts (powder-coated steel)
- (1) 8-foot straight handrail kit (actually 92″)
- Includes handrail, bottom rail, balusters and one bottom rail support bracket
- (3) 6-foot stair handrail kits (actually 67 ¾”)
- Includes handrail, bottom rail, balusters and one bottom rail support bracket
I also added white PVC trim stair risers and 1×8 Trex trim along the side of the stair stringer to improve the appearance of the stairs.
The deck railing components were about $850 total. It was a couple hundred more for the additional composite boards for the stair risers and side trim/closed stringer.
Prep The Stairs
The contractor who installed these new deck stairs didn’t do the job up to Remodelaholic standard…. so before we installed the deck railing, we cleaned up a bit. I…
- Added a bracket on the concrete patio foundation and secured the bottom stair.
- Added additional blocking to the frame of the stringer where the post base would be anchored.
- Added new riser trim and adjusted the stair tread placement.
Now the deck was looking good and ready for the DIY deck railing to be installed!
DIY Deck Railing Installation
Install a vinyl DIY deck railing is a good project for homeowners who have some experience with other projects. The deck railing is pretty easy, but the stair railing requires a little more planning and experience to get right (or to make adjustments).
Measure twice and follow the manufacturer instructions and your front porch, back porch, or deck will look great after you finish this upgrade!
Step 1: Install post bases and sleeves
Anchor the post bases to the top of the tread on the first stair at the bottom, then at the top of the stairs, and at the other determined post locations.
Depending on the deck/stair design, you may need to add blocking between joists or along stairs for the post bases to anchor to. I had to add two layers of blocking to the side of the stringer for some of the post bases to anchor into. I was able to anchor directly into the deck post for a couple of the post bases.
To anchor and install the post bases and sleeves:
- Mark and predrill 4 – ⅜” holes for ⅜” x 3” lag bolts.
- Install the separate bottom plate beneath the deck and the post on top using the lag bolts and nuts.
- Drive in lag bolts with impact driver and use the shims (that come with the post) to level the post.
- Put the bottom post insert in place, then the top post insert.
- Slide the post sleeve over the post base and inserts.
- Slide the post base trim section over the post sleeve.
In order to have the stair railing be nice and level along the stairs, the stair posts aren’t all in exactly the same location on each stair. Check out the video to see how I used a string line to get them lined up so they look great.
Step 2: Install railings on the landing
To install straight deck railings on the landing, you’ll follow the basic process from the manufacturer instructions:
- Cut rails to length.
- Install bottom rail support braces (if needed – for our short spans, they weren’t).
- Assemble the railing sections by adding the balusters to the bottom rail and then top rail in the pre-cut holes.
- Place the assembled rail in place (supported by scrap wood spacers or the support braces) for a dry fit.
- Attach the top rail metal brackets to the rail using screws.
- Place the bottom rail bracket over the bottom rail.
- Place the assembled rail in place again (carefully!) with support from the spacers.
- Attach the top rail metal brackets to the post, centered, with screws.
- Attach the bottom rail brackets to the post, centered, with screws.
- Install the top rail bracket covers with screws and slide on the bottom rail bracket covers.
Attaching Railing Directly to the House
I ended up not needing a post next to the house. You could add one if you are worried about stability. I anchored the rail brackets right into the brick or the wood with the brick anchor screws.
I attached the deck railing directly to the house using a bracket kit like this. This saves on the cost of an extra post, if you are okay with drilling directly into the exterior. This brick exterior was no problem at all.
Adding Railing to a Tight Corner Section
Because of the bump out overhang on the porch area, there was a really tight spot of railing that was just over 4” that I decided to add a handrail to. In order to make this work I had to remove the post sleeves and install the handrail with the post sleeves off the post base.
This was a little tricky, but it worked. Here’s how I did it:
- I marked the location of the handrail and installed the straight rail line bracket to the post sleeve. Do this for the bottom rail support and top handrail.
- Then I cut the handrail and bottom rail to length, making sure to leave one hole in the center for one black baluster for that section.
- Next I attached bottom rail to one post sleeve, added the baluster, and attached the top rail to the post sleeve.
- Then I attached the bottom rail and top handrail to the other post sleeve.
- With this section assembled, I carefully slid the 2 post sleeves over the post bases and inserts (and into the post base trim which I had already slid over the post bases).
Step 3: Install railings and balusters on the stairs
This was a bit tricky. I needed to find out how low I needed the bottom railing needed to be and how to keep a consistent line along the top of the stair. This is where I tell you what I learned so you don’t have to make my mistakes.
Watch the video to see how I used a string line to get the stair railings aligned properly!
I ended up installing the top of the railing about 1″ too high, which meant I had to notch out the post caps in the nest step. So, keep that 1″ in mind when calculating this part!
I’d recommend placing the stair railing for a dry fit *and* placing the post cap during the dry fit to prevent the extra work I made for myself.
To assemble and install outdoor stair railings:
- Assemble the stair railing section by placing the balusters in the pre-drilled holes in the bottom and then top railings.
- Place the assembled railing section adjacent to the posts. You can use spacers below the bottom rail and clamps to attach the railing section to the posts for this dry fit.
- Adjust the placement of the railing section until the distance between the post and the first baluster and the other post and the last baluster is the same.
- Mark the posts on each rail, top and bottom.
- Unclamp the railing and cut the ends at the marked locations, at the correct angle.
- Slide the angled stair railing brackets onto the rails.
- Place the rail and mark the bracket hole locations, then predrill the holes.
- Attach the brackets to the posts using screws, then secure the bracket to the rail with another screw.
Step 4: Install post caps
For your correctly installed railing height, installing post caps is a breeze! These pre-glued post caps just slide right over the top of the post sleeve. You can use the included rubber cement adhesive; I opted to use Liquid Nails adhesive instead.
Because the height of the railing was a bit too high on my install, I had to cut out small notch on the uphill side to fit the profile of the handrail. Doable but more complicated than it needed to be.
Step 5: The Remodelaholic Finishing Touch – Installing Stair Side Trim
Because the existing tread lengths were already determined, I installed the risers to match so I could install the side trim over the top to create a sort of closed stringer on the deck stair skirt. The side trim ended up being two layers of 1×8 pvc boards. I used about 4 boards total for the entire skirt on these 12.5 foot stairs.
Because of the construction of the stairs, I had to add some spacers to bring the wood surface to the level of the end of the treads and risers. I used some pieces of 2×4 pressure treated lumber at about 9” long. I should have done them a bit longer to hold the second board better, more like 12”. I also needed to add some spacers to the back of some of those boards to make sure they were all at the same level.
The boards were also warped a bit so I had to make sure to get them straight to stack another layer under it evenly. I used some screws and shims to get it straight then I screwed it in place.
Deck & Stair Railing FAQ
What is the best type of outdoor railing?
We choose vinyl deck railing! It’s a bit more expensive than wood, but we like that it’s easy to install, sturdy, and low-maintenance. Wood deck railing is a great option and looks nice, but will require the same annual maintenance (or semi-annual, depending on your climate) as a wood deck.
For a zero-maintenance deck and outdoor railing for Mom, we chose to use PVC deck boards and vinyl railing with aluminum metal balusters. These composite railings will look great for years – no splinters or weathering.
Can you have a porch without railings?
Check your local building codes. Many low porches or decks or short staircases can be built without railings.
Can vinyl deck railing be cut?
Yes! All vinyl deck railing kits are designed to be cut to length to fit your specific needs. Check the manufacturer instructions for specifics, and be sure to use the correct saw blade (usually a fine tooth blade) on a circular saw or miter saw for a clean cut.
How can I make deck railing sturdy?
When you’re installing new deck railing, make it sturdy by ensuring that the posts have sufficient blocking between joists to hold the base. Cut the railings as accurately as possible, and fasten the railings to the posts with the correct fasteners to ensure a strong and secure railing.
What is the difference between PVC and vinyl railing?
In fencing materials, PVC and vinyl are terms used interchangeably. Vinyl fencing is PVC, so all vinyl fence materials are also accurately called PVC fence materials.
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