That style shift from traditional to transitional and even modern looks is influencing not only an uptick in cable but also in contemporary styles overall.
Deckorators’ Camfferman sees it in the continued popularity of aluminum railings. “The sleek, clean, sophisticated profile of aluminum is very appealing to more and more homeowners,” he says.
“Aluminum is what people are into right now,” concurs Hess. “…Vinyl is pretty traditional at this point. Aluminum has the same benefits in that it is low-maintenance and will last a long time. But it also brings a fresh, open feeling, the industrial look, the modern look, the clean look—that’s what people are going after right now.”
Fiberon’s Symmetry and Horizon railings can be specified with round, black aluminum balusters for a clean look that appears to recede from view.
The effect also can be achieved with glass balusters, which naturally deliver a clean, sleek appearance and immediately lend a high-end feel. “Glass railing systems continue to trend up as they become more accessible and customizable,” Camfferman asserts. “They give you a very sleek and sophisticated look with unobstructed views—perfect for decks overlooking water or mountains.”
Deckorators recently introduced SLX Invisirail, which combines glass panels with minimal stainless steel posts to eliminate most sight-line obstructions. The company’s new ALX Contemporary aluminum railing features a brushed titanium finish for resistance to scratches and corrosion and the appearance of stainless steel.
Like cable rail, glass is ideal for deck spaces with views.
And don’t count out composites. “Composites offer homeowners easy maintenance, multiple color options, and plenty of customization opportunities,” Sellards says. “In the case of Fiberon composite railing, it’s easy to install, as well. Plus, since we have different rail profiles, you can easily get that clean modern look people seek with cable or aluminum. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Similar to trends in the home’s façade, blending of products and textures— such as composites, metals, and glass—is becoming popular as a way to customize and personalize their outdoor living areas.
“One of my favorite looks is the stainless posts with cable infill and a wood top rail. That’s one of our mainstays,” Harris says. “It’s a great look because the wood really complements the stainless. It also softens the look. Just as more and more people are looking favorably on modern design, a nice way to soften that modern look of metal is with a wood top rail.”
Addressing labor woes
Outdoor projects are certainly not immune to the labor crunch, and it’s impacting what builders can and will install.
“More contractors are seeking products that help them build faster and create capacity,” says Camfferman. “Builders are making room in their portfolios for products that are easy to work with and save installation time.”
In response, manufacturers are increasingly offering preassembled railing systems or kits with pre-cut parts and panels and/or pre-installed connectors. Fiberon’s railing kits, for example, eliminate the need to calculate the correct number of balusters or worry about selecting the wrong cap or skirt; they also reduce the amount of SKUs and inventory a dealer needs to manage.
“People are really fighting to keep the people that they have…and they’re trying to find a way to get new people on staff,” says Harris. “One of the main advantages of integrating built-off-site architectural products into your project is that you need less qualified labor to install products…they’re delivered to the jobsite ready to be installed.”
AGS offers custom stainless steel rails that would typically require a metal fabricator if crafted on site. The rails are built off site especially for each project and show up ready to install with just a few screws.
The company also recently introduced a dual-post connecting system for its Rainier custom prefab stainless steel railing systems; by positively connecting two posts together at the end of each run, the company says, the reinforcement system reduces deflection from the tensioned cables, allowing for higher tension to increase safety and reduce sagging of the cable.
Ultra-tec has started a new program called Ultra-Flex, which simplifies the process of buying cable railing. Dealers can easily sell it because it breaks the process down based on installation needs, says Robert Noose, Western Region Sales Manager. All the dealer needs to know is where and how the cable will be used, the types of posts, and height.
Key-Link cable railing comes with pre-installed fittings, says Melanie Hess, the company’s Content Writer and Event Coordinator, so contractors need only run the cable through the posts and then tighten.
Camfferman says Deckorators is offering more preassembled rails than it ever has, with materials arriving to the jobsite with the top rail, bottom rail, and balusters installed together. “All of this is with an eye toward helping installers finish quicker and minimize the frustrations they have on the job,” Camfferman says.
The UltraLox Interlocking Machine allows lumberyards to assemble Ultra- Lox panelized aluminum railings inhouse. Railings are made to size and then delivered to the site. “Essentially it opened up something they weren’t able to do before,” Mike McAllister, Marketing Consultant for UltraLox, says about a lumber dealer that recently added the system to its offerings. “They took railings from an afterthought to a forethought, and it’s become a sizable profit center for them. They’re the manufacturer, so the margins and lead times are really good.”
Because they are made to size, the system is especially ideal for multifamily projects, McAllister adds, where it can dramatically speed multi-week railing replacement projects.