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cable railing wood deck

3 Tips to Make Sure Cable Rail Wood Frames Last for Years to Come

Homeowners want to spend more time enjoying their outdoor spaces and are making larger investments to make those spaces more livable. According to the 2018 U.S. Houzz Landscape Trends Study, 51 percent of homeowners spend more time entertaining outside after completing landscaping projects. In addition, more than 27 percent of homeowners reported that their usable outdoor area is significantly larger than that of their home.

The growing interest in outdoor living areas provides a significant opportunity for deck builders. Homeowners who spend time outdoors want plenty of space to relax, gather and entertain. At the same time, it’s important that they are able to enjoy their view. That translates to larger decks – in some cases multi-level decks – and the need for a railing solution that offers unimpeded sightlines.

When renovating or adding decks, many remodelers are opting to install cable rail infill on railings instead of traditional wood infill. The streamlined stainless steel cables provide a durable, low maintenance alternative to wood balusters and glass panels while providing homeowners with the clear vistas they are seeking.

CableRail in lakefront patio – design and installation by Leanne Lee

Cable railing can be particularly striking when combined with wood frames. However, it’s crucial to take care when constructing the frames to reduce the chance for bowing and possible failure – and accompanying callbacks. The following are three important considerations to keep in mind when building wood frames that support horizontal cable rail infill to help ensure the railings are safe and will endure for many years.

CableRail in lakefront patio – design and installation by Leanne Lee

Build a solid frame. Wood frames have to be able to withstand 200 to 300 pounds of load per horizontal cable, which – on a typical installation – translates to 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of tension. This load is frequently not realized until the cables are tightened and an insufficient frame bows badly or, in some cases, fails. To prevent this from occurring, begin with a strong top rail of at least 2×6-inch wood or 5/4×6-inch for hardwoods such as Ipe. To prevent lifting or bowing, top rails must be properly secured to all posts. This can be accomplished by attaching 1×4-inch wood blocking under the top rails between posts, which provides additional compression reinforcement to keep posts plumb. If adding a bottom rail, the rail should be spaced no more than 4 inches above the deck surface, or as specified by code.

Size and space posts correctly. End and corner posts carry the majority of the tension load, making them particularly critical. Begin with end posts that are a minimum of 4×4-inch and keep in mind that softer woods such as cedar may require 6×6-inch posts, especially in the case of 42-inch high railings. Since intermediate posts or pickets carry minimal tension loads, they can be sized as desired to support the top rail and comply with code-required lateral loads. Space all posts and pickets/verticals a maximum of 3 feet apart to reduce deflection if cables are forced apart, and make sure to securely attach posts to the deck. For those cable end fittings requiring drilling through end posts, space posts 3 to 4 inches from the face of a wall to allow enough room to attach the fittings.

Space cables to code. To adhere to code and ensure safety, a 4-inch sphere must not be allowed to pass between cables. If forced apart, each cable can deflect as much as ½-inch – even when anchored to a properly constructed frame. To account for their flexibility, the cables should be spaced no more than 3 inches apart. Even with the most rigid frame, spacing exceeding 3 inches may not meet code and could potentially be hazardous. Keep in mind that straight runs of cable with no bends, rises or dips can extend up to a maximum of 70 feet before terminating. However, runs with bends – up to two corner bends at most – should not exceed 40 feet.

For more information on properly installing cable rail infill, visit www.feeneyinc.com

Featured Image: Decks by Kiefer

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