Stair railings aren’t just for aesthetic purposes. They’re a key component in safe and accessible design. When your railings are installed in the right places and taken care of, you make your property a safer place for more people.
The problem is that a railing in disrepair is almost as dangerous as not having a railing at all. In some cases, damaged railings can be more dangerous because they look safe to use when, in fact, they’re not.
As a property owner, it’s your job to stay on top of railing repair. Part of that is recognizing that your railing is beyond repair and it’s time to replace the whole thing.
Read on to learn how to recognize the signs that it’s time to replace your railings.
In order to prevent people from falling in any direction, whether that’s over a deck railing or backward down a flight of stairs, railings need to be secure. Make sure that you regularly assess your railing for structural integrity. To do this, grab the railing and try to move or shake it.
If the railing doesn’t budge, you’re in good shape. If there is a small amount of movement, try tightening the hardware and try moving it again. If there is a large amount of movement or if tightening the hardware doesn’t fix the situation, it’s time to call railing repair experts.
Many railings are wooden. Wooden railings are often treated for water resistance but this treatment can wear away over time, leaving your wooden railing susceptible to the main culprit behind rotting: moisture.
If your railing is made with 100% or partial wooden materials, make sure that you assess it for rotting on a regular basis. Wood that is beginning to rot may look damp or darker in color in certain areas or it may feel spongey. In high-humidity rooms or outdoor spaces, you may also notice mold growth that often indicates the presence of rot.
When your railing shows any sign of rot, it’s better to replace than repair. Isolated rotting still indicates that the entire railing has been exposed to moisture. (Note that this is a more common issue for deck railings than indoor stair railings.)
Almost all railings are secured using metal hardware, including screws, washers, and brackets. It might seem like these small components aren’t playing a huge role in your railing’s structural integrity, but the reality is that they are designed to bear quite a bit of weight. When they start to rust, they weaken and eventually break apart, making your railing unsafe to put weight on.
Once again, rust tends to form on hardware when it has been exposed to moisture. This is another reason why rotting indicates that you should replace your entire railing. The same humidity or water damage that caused rotting has also compromised the integrity of your hardware.
Cracked or Warped Materials
Cracked or warped materials are some of the easiest-to-spot signs that you need to replace your railing. We tend to think of cracking or warping as something that happens primarily to wood, but the reality is that it can also happen to the materials that are used for commercial railings, like metal.
Cracking or warping can occur for a number of reasons including water damage, temperature fluctuation, and the use of too much force. However, one of the most common reasons that a railing starts to crack or warp is age.
If your railing is on the older side and starts to deteriorate in this way, there’s no doubt that it’s time for a replacement.
Nearby Pest Problems
Do you have a wooden railing? If so, make sure that you keep it in mind in the event of a pest invasion.
Certain pests, in particular, can present a threat to wooden railings. The number one culprit behind exterior and interior damage is termites, although carpenter ants and certain types of wasps can wreak similar havoc on wood.
If you know that you’ve had a pest problem near your wooden railing, inspect the railing for signs of damage. Look around and below the railing for wood shavings and check all of the materials for holes. Many of these pests hollow out the wood that they infest, so you’re going to need to opt for a replacement.
Broken or Missing Pieces
Railings are made up of a number of components. The most basic railing consists of a handrail and hardware securing the handrail to the wall. However, many railings are more complicated, featuring spindles that run in vertical lines from the handrail to the base rail.
When one of your railing components is broken or missing, consider the entire thing compromised. Sure, it can seem like something like a broken spindle is no big deal. The truth is that without each spindle intact, your railing is no longer providing the protection it should provide.
In some cases, you may be able to replace a railing with one or two broken or missing pieces. However, if multiple pieces are broken or missing, the more cost-effective choice is to replace the entire thing.
Know When Railing Repair Is Out of the Question
Your railing does more than complete the look of your deck or staircase. Railings make private and public spaces safer and more accessible and in many cases, are a requirement to meet building codes. Don’t neglect railing repair and don’t ignore the signs that it’s time for a complete railing replacement so that your property remains safe for all.
Looking for stair railing ideas or accessible interior design inspiration? Take a look at our design content and get inspired by top builders, new renovations, interesting attractions, and more.
About the Author/s
The New Jersey Digest is a new jersey magazine that has chronicled daily life in the Garden State for over 10 years.