how to extreme

Installing a PVC Handrail for your Deck.

Decks, Railing September 8, 2007 admin

By Larry Walton, Photos By Bruce W. Smith


Install a plastic handrail system with the strength of concrete.


When I first saw the stack of material in the garage I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding!” But I didn’t want to discourage the homeowner who was very proud of his internet purchase. I’m glad I kept my mouth shut for once. In the end, I was both surprised and happy with the finished product.

My first concern with any handrail system I build is that it is sturdy, so I was glad to discover that this system had aluminum reinforcing inside the rails to give them strength.

The next thing I discovered was that one of the mounting methods the manufacturer recommended would work perfectly for our application. The hollow plastic newel posts could cover a metal pipe and then be filled with concrete. More sturdy, more better.

I could tell from the pre-cut holes in the shoe rail and handrail that we would have limited choice for newel post location. I wanted to keep the baluster-to-rail spacing about the same as the baluster-to-baluster spacing, so we would have to determine the newel post placement as we went.

Inserting a pressure-treated 2x4 gives the vinyl newel post strength when anchored to the house framing.

Inserting a pressure-treated 2×4 gives the vinyl newel post strength when anchored to the house framing.

Another thing that was predetermined was the height of the rail. Because the newel posts have notches to receive the top and bottom rail, they come made to length, and the elevation is predetermined.

Getting Started

Here’s how we installed the PVC rail system: Start with newels that will be next to the house. When locating the newel post, be sure there is adequate room on the deck surface to install any trim pieces that go around the bottom of the newel.

Pre-drill the 2x4 with a hole that clears the lag bolt threads.

Pre-drill the 2×4 with a hole that clears the lag bolt threads.

When attaching posts to the house, use pressure-treated 2-by-4 inside the hollow newel to provide strength and rigidity. This also disperses the pressure of the anchoring points over a broader area on the inside of the newel post wall.

In our case, an educated guess told us there would be framing at the locations where we wanted to attach the newels to the house. If there is no framing at your post location but the house has plywood sheeting behind the siding, this will be adequate but more fasteners will be required. In some cases you may need to open up the wall to add backing or choose a different post-mounting method that anchors into the deck substructure.

Before driving fasteners into the house, examine the area inside and out for faucets or other plumbing fixtures that may indicate the presence of water pipes inside the wall. Avoid these pipes with your fasteners.

Use a fender washer on each of the lags that go into the pressure-treated 2-by-4s. This keeps the fastener head from burrowing into the wood where the hex head can no longer be gripped. We used a 1/2-inch drill with a socket for driving big screws and lags on this project, but an impact wrench would be a good choice as well. Be sure to use the side-handle on a 1/2-inch drill because these situations create a lot of torque, which puts your wrists at risk.

Be sure to use the side handle when driving lag bolts.

Be sure to use the side handle when driving lag bolts.

A 1/2-inch drill provides plenty of torque.

A 1/2-inch drill provides plenty of torque.