Using Roof Deck Railing Systems to Turn Your Roof into an Entertainment Space

an iron roof deck railing system

Railings on rooftop decks should be made of a high-quality material and installed with care.

I’ve never been one to want to have a party on the roof. I prefer my parties on the ground. But one of my friends, who has a place in the city, wanted to create a socializing space with a view. As his roof was the only place to go, he started considering ways to add a railing to it. Using a sturdy roof deck railing system, he was able to create an exciting space to socialize which was also safe for his guests.

When you add a railing to your roof, you have to keep some things in mind which you wouldn’t need to consider if you were working on a normal deck. One of those considerations is preserving your roof’s structure. The last thing you want to do is cause damage that makes your roof–or your railing–unsafe. However, with the right railing and mounting system, you can avoid the common issues with roof deck railings and create a unique place to socialize.

Concerns Specific to Roof Deck Railing Systems

Roof deck railings are, for the most part, the same as most other deck railings. As you’re working more than 30 inches above grade, you’re going to have to use a railing that’s at least 36” high. Your balusters are also going to need to be a maximum of four inches apart, just like any other railing. However, because of the elevation and the fact that you’re working on an important part of the building’s structure, you’ll also need to keep the following in mind:

  • Increased wind: You’ll want an extremely sturdy, heavy railing for your roof as the elevated height will increase the wind that the railing must stand up to. If you live in a windy climate and use a flimsy railing or cheap mounting hardware, it could pull loose from the connection or even bend. If you’re looking to decrease the wind on the rooftop, consider using a sturdy, solid deck railing as a windbreak. Just make sure it’s securely attached to the roof surface or side.
  • Safety lighting: Most people don’t have lighting systems already installed on their roof, except perhaps for one light over the entryway. But, if you’re going to have people up on your roof, you’re going to want to illuminate the railing so people won’t wander too close to the edge at night. LED railing post lights, especially lights integrated into your railing post caps, work well for this.
  • Leak potential: If you’re surface mounting a railing on a flat roof, you risk puncturing the roof’s moisture barrier, which can lead to leaks. If you still want to mount the railing on the surface of the roof, it’s best to take a look at the building’s plans or talk with someone who knows how the building was designed before you undertake the project. If this isn’t possible, try a fascia mount railing system which is designed to attach to the side of the roof, not the surface.

When looking at the safety of the roof deck, an inspector will be focused on the height of the building itself. Once the ‘occupied roof deck’ reaches 75 feet higher than the lowest level of emergency fire access to your home, it could be considered a high rise. This changes the codes it must comply with. However, if you’re just adding a railing to the roof of your one or two-story home, then avoiding most issues is as easy as choosing the right railing system.

Picking a Railing System for a Rooftop

There are a lot of good railing systems out there, but unfortunately, there are a lot of bad ones too. Specific to dealing with a roof, you’re going to have to consider the increased risk if it fails. After all, if someone falls off your 6-foot deck, they’ll probably live. If they fall off your roof deck, serious injury is a guarantee. To get the best railing possible, you’ll want to seek out railings that:

  • Offer code-compliant fascia mount options: A side mount system of posts, rails, and balusters is the ideal way to install a railing on the roof. Some systems only offer fascia mounted balusters, but for a rooftop setup, you want to go with all fascia mounted components, including the posts.
  • Are compatible with LED lighting accessories: Using lighting components that work with your railing system is a great way to improve safety while also eliminating the need for a lot of additional light fixtures. Also, as the cords are hidden in the posts, you don’t have to worry about guests tripping over them.  LED railing lighting uses small, low energy-emitting devices that don’t become overheated and are able to be held in place by your post system. Some, like surface mount lights, can also be recessed into your floor to light up a pathway or to illuminate your railings from below.
  • Are designed to resist the elements: Iron and aluminum railings are great options for the roof. As your rooftop takes the full brunt of bad weather, you’ll want your railings to be powder coated as a safeguard against rust and UV damage. Systems that use pre-galvanized steel and a zinc phosphate pre-coat are particularly resistant to the elements, and the heft of steel stands up well to wind, rain, and everything in between.
  • Are simple to assemble: As you’re working on the roof, which for some people (like me) can be a little nerve-wracking, you’ll want to minimize any installation complications. Fascia mounts can be a bit of a challenge to set up on a place like a rooftop, as you can’t just stand them up and screw them in. Instead, you’ll actually need someone to hold them in place for you. To make the process easier, I recommend using pre-welded panel systems. This allows you to fascia mount entire panels at once.

There are a lot of options when it comes to installing railings on a rooftop, but the most important thing to keep in mind is to choose a high-quality system made from a strong material–a rooftop is not the place for vinyl. You’ll also want to use a system that complies with International Building Code, and you’ll want to follow the instructions carefully to ensure your rooftop deck is a safe place to congregate. When my friend decided to make his rooftop into an entertainment space, he went for a steel system that met the above criteria and was also easy to install.

Like my friend, you want to err on the side of caution when installing a roof deck railing, so consider using a Fortress Railing system. Their systems, and their entire line of building products, are designed to work with building codes and provide a long-lasting product that stays safe and beautiful. They’re also carefully engineered to be easy and intuitive to put together. When you’re putting a railing on a roof deck, working with Fortress is a good way to do it safely.