Most new houses come with a deck accessible from the family room, kitchen or both. When these decks are 30 inches or higher off the ground, deck building codes require them to have railings. We're familiar with the top railing where we put our hands and don't really know what the materials supporting the railing are called. They're known as balusters or spindles.
Where do you find them in your home? The terms apply to building features indoors and outside.
- Stairs need railings for safety. Railings can be attached to a wall. When there's no wall, railings will rest on balusters or posts with spindles.
- Decks and patios also need railings (more to prevent people from falling off. Balusters are more common on patios where the surface provides the bases for balusters that sit on the surface. Decks are more likely to be built with a combination of posts and spindles. Only the posts are tied into the underlying deck structure.
- Balconies are similar to decks and patios, with railings for safety. The materials used, house style and budget will influence the design you use.
Similarities Between Spindles & Balusters
They're key components in a railing system that's both decorative and functional. They insure the safety of anyone walking near an unsafe edge, supporting a hand rail we hold onto for support.
There are many materials to pick from. Your home's design, decorating style and budget will influence your choice of materials. Balusters and spindles can be made from wood, various plastics, fiberglass, wrought-iron or stone. (Read Decks to Die For, to learn about the factors that influence deck design)
How are Balusters and Spindles Different?
The term baluster is something of a tongue twister, so contractors and homeowners more often use the word spindle. The terms are used interchangeably because they mean almost the same thing. Balusters rest on a footing like the steps in a staircase or the floor of a deck. In contrast, spindles don't attach directly to the base. They're supported by a horizontal bottom rail that attaches to posts.
So in the photos shared here:
- Top deck photo illustrates vertical spindles.
- Indoor stair photo shows indoor balusters that attach to the floor.
- Bottom deck photo shows horizontal spindles (sometimes called balusters) attached to posts. Be aware that horizontal spindles are considered dangerous as children can easily climb them which defeats their safety value.
How interesting to learn that it is required to have rails if the deck is higher than 30 inches. My neighbor is helping me building a deck. I will immediately look for a contractor to come do the rest of the deck instead.
It’s absolutely true that horizontal rails are dangerous! In fact, the code in many places doesn’t allow for any railings that are stair or ladder-like.
Eric, I agree that from a safety perspective, horizontal rails are dangerous. However, I do accept that there are situations like a raised deck with no access by people other than those in the house, might make sense … like my father’s house at the beach.