Your deck top rail is a fundamental part of your railing design and can influence the entire look and feel of your outdoor living space. That’s why finding the right top rail style is an essential part of planning your deck design. But with so many options, how do you know which is right for your space? To help you in your journey, we’ve gathered deck top rail ideas to suit your unique style, plus guidance on how to incorporate each look into your design.
FAQ: “What Is the Top Rail on a Deck Called?”
Before you jump into deck top rail ideas, get familiar with all the components of a railing, including the top rail, so you can customize your design like a pro.
- Top rail – The uppermost piece of the railing that runs between posts and connects to the top of the infill. The top rail is also sometimes referred to as a cap rail. A top rail is different from a handrail, which is typically installed lower than the top rail and is meant to be graspable.
- Bottom rail – The lower piece of the railing that runs parallel to the top rail between posts and connects to the bottom of the infill.
- Infill – The piece that fits between the top and bottom rail, filling the inner portion of the rail.
- Post – The vertical piece that connects each railing panel and secures the railing to the deck surface. Composite railings feature a post sleeve that covers a wood post, while aluminum railings feature a full aluminum post.
- Post cap – The top piece of the post that often features a design and can include lighting.
- Post skirt – A detail piece that covers the bottom of the post, where it connects to the deck surface.
Deck Top Rail Ideas: Know Your Material Options
Deck top rail ideas and styles can vary by your material choice. While traditional wood has historically been a popular choice, it’s not the best. More contemporary materials like composite and aluminum railing can give you that look you want — with the durability and performance you deserve.
Deck Railing Materials
Fading, splintering, and moisture damage like mold and rot are some of the main issues traditional wood railings face. While wood stains and sealers can restore color and offer some protection, they require painstaking and costly maintenance to apply.
Made of a mix of high-performance polymers and recycled wood and plastic fibers, composite railing is designed to look like real wood while being far more durable. Choose top rail designs ranging from traditional milled wood looks to more contemporary, minimalist designs.
Aluminum railing is designed to mimic the look of wrought iron, with far greater resistance to rust, corrosion, and fading. Choose from classically inspired top rails to more sleek, modern designs.
With TimberTech® composite and aluminum railing, you skip the rigorous maintenance while enjoying high-performance, high-style railing designs. Plus, our railing systems offer several top rail, color, and infill options, so you’re bound to find the right look for your space.
Now that you’re familiar with your material choices, explore deck top rail ideas from contemporary, popular options to more timeless, traditional designs.
Popular Top Rail Profiles
Interested in the latest deck top rail ideas for your design? These popular options give you not only a stylish design, but also a functional perimeter with their broad, flat surfaces that make for a perfect spot to set down your drink.
The Drink Rail features a deck board top rail for a linear, horizontal profile that gives you a chic look ideal for transitional and modern design styles. The deck board top rail can be installed in an over-the-post application for a continuous, flat rail or in between posts for more definition in your design.
The Drink Rail is featured in both our Classic Composite Series and Impression Rail Express aluminum railing series, so you can choose the option that suits you best. Plus, for your deck board top rail, you can choose a deck board color from any TimberTech decking collection featuring square-shoulder, full-profile boards.
Classic Composite Series Drink Rail
3 color options: Matte White, White, and Black
4 infill options: Composite balusters, aluminum balusters (round and square), stainless steel cable rail, glass panels*
CHOOSE THIS FOR: A highly customizable railing design to get just the look you want.
Impression Rail Express Drink Rail
3 color options: Dark Bronze, Black, White
2 Infill options: Aluminum balusters (rectangular only), glass panels*
CHOOSE THIS FOR: A sleek, modern design that gives you clear sightlines with its narrow profile.
Drink Rail Inspiration
Explore deck top rail ideas featuring Drink Rail to get a sense of whether this design is right for your space.
COASTAL-STYLE DECK RAILING
Capture a coastal feel for your railing design with a crisp white composite railing with a cool gray Coastline® deck board for the Drink Rail. Pair your Drink Rail with a stainless steel cable rail infill for unobstructed views to your backyard’s natural scenery.
WOODLAND RETREAT DECK RAILING
For a railing that fits in perfectly with the mix of shadows and dappled light in a wooded backyard, opt for the black composite railing with rich brown Mahogany deck board as the Drink Rail. The black posts and balusters combined with the richly hued deck board top rail perfectly complement your woodsy surroundings.
LUSH GARDEN DECK RAILING
Don’t want to obstruct your view, but still want a railing with style? Opt for the Impression Rail Express Drink Rail with a gray Ashwood deck board top rail and black railing. Post caps on every other post give your railing a character-rich look, while the narrow aluminum balusters and sleek linear top rail allow for clear sightlines to your lush garden.
Contemporary Top Rail
Similar to the Drink Rail, the Contemporary Top Rail features a board as the top rail for a sleek, linear design and welcome functionality with a flat surface to place your drinks on. This deck board top rail is featured in the Classic Composite Series and comes in two colors with four infill options. The Contemporary Top Rail is only installed in over-the-post applications, giving you a linear, modern look for your deck perimeter.
Contemporary Top Rail Inspiration
Explore some of your options to determine whether the Contemporary Top Rail is right for you.
SCANDI-CHIC DECK RAILING
Scandinavian design champions warm neutrals peppered with black and white accents. Pair your warm tan decking with a sleek black Contemporary Top Rail for a Scandi-chic look. For another subtle layer of visual texture, add a stainless steel cable infill.
VERSATILE, MODERN DECK RAILING
Have a more traditional-style home but want to incorporate contemporary elements? A Contemporary Top Rail features a versatile design that lends a modern touch to your outdoor living space without feeling out of place on a traditional home.
Traditional Top Rail Profiles
Prefer deck top rail ideas featuring more classic designs? These top rails range from traditional milled wood looks to stately wrought iron-inspired designs.
When seeking traditional milled wood-styled deck top rail ideas, look no further than the Classic Composite Series Premier Rail. With an elegantly sculpted top rail, the Premier Rail lends a touch of elegance to your space. Add some dramatic contrast by pairing black balusters with your white posts and rails.
Looking for stately deck top rail ideas for your large outdoor living space? The Reserve Rail features an impressive, elegant top rail designed to make a statement. In a crisp white, the Reserve Rail strikes a sophisticated profile along your deck perimeter.
CLASSIC TOP RAIL
For subtle sophistication and a classic wrought-iron-inspired look, opt for the Impression Rail Express Classic Top Rail. This sleek top rail features minimal detailing for an attractive perimeter that doesn’t take away from your backyard views.
Thinking About DIY-ing Your Railing?
A successful DIY deck railing project is possible with the right tools and resources. However, keep in mind that some deck top rail ideas are easier to install on your own than others.
Be sure to check with your local building codes department and refer to your railing’s installation guide before breaking ground on your build.
Railing Installation Best Practices
No matter what style of railing you choose, there are common railing installation best practices you’ll need to abide by to ensure a safe, sturdy structure. If you’re thinking of installing your railing on only a section of your deck, keep in mind for your design that any part of your deck surface that is 30” or more above the ground will require a railing.
Common Railing Best Practices
Deck height: 30” or more above the ground will require a railing
Top rail height: At least 36” minimum from the deck floor.
Space between balusters: 4” maximum.
Space between bottom rail and deck floor: 4” maximum.
WANT THE EASIEST DECK RAILING INSTALLATION?
Choose any Impression Rail Express top rail for a panelized railing system where you install the balusters as one piece, rather than individually. LEARN MORE
Deck Top Rail Ideas: Bring Your Vision to Life
With deck top rail ideas percolating in your mind, you’re ready to start bringing your vision to life. Download the TimberTech Railing Guide for a complete list of all your top rail options as well as guidance on how you can customize each one to create your unique deck perimeter.