Wood-framed Deck Guard Post Resources and Residential Details

A deck and porch study reported that 33% of deck failure-related injuries over the 5-year study period were attributed to guard or railing failures. While the importance of a deck guard is widely known, there was a significant omission from my May 2014 post on Wood-framed Deck Design Resources for Engineers regarding the design of deck guards.

A good starting point for information about wood-framed guard posts is a two-part article published in the October 2014 and January 2015 issues of Civil + Structural Engineer magazine. “Building Strong Guards, Part 1” provides an overview of typical wood-framed decks, the related code requirements and several examples that aim to demonstrate code-compliance through an analysis approach. The article discusses the difficulties in making an adequate connection at the bottom of a guard post, which involve countering the moment generated by the live load being applied at the top of the post. Other connections in a typical guard are not as difficult to design through analysis. This is due to common component geometries resulting in the rails and balusters/in-fill being simple-supported rather than cantilevered. “Building Strong Guards, Part 2” provides information on the testing approach to demonstrate code-compliance. Information about code requirements and testing criteria are included in the article as well.

Research and commentary from Virginia Tech on the performance of several tested guard post details for residential applications (36” guard height above decking) is featured in an article titled “Tested Guardrail Post Connections for Residential Decks” in the July 2007 issue of Structure magazine. Research showed that the common construction practice of attaching a 4×4 guard post to a 2x band joist with either ½” diameter lag screws or bolts, fell significantly below the 500 pound horizontal load target due to inadequate load transfer from the band joist into the surrounding deck floor framing. Ultimately, the research found that anchoring the post with a holdown installed horizontally provided enough leverage to meet the target load. The article also discussed the importance of testing to 500 pounds (which provides a safety factor of 2.5 over the 200-pound code live load), and the testing with a horizontal outward load to represent the worst-case safety scenario of a person falling away from the deck surface.

Simpson Strong-Tie has tested several connection options for a guard post at the typical 36” height, subjected to a horizontal outward load. Holdown solutions are included in our T-GRDRLPST10 technical bulletin. In response to recent industry interest, guard post details utilizing blocking and Strong-Drive® SDWS TIMBER screws have been developed (see picture below for a test view) and recently released in the engineering letter L-F-SDWSGRD15. The number of screws and the blocking shown are a reflection of the issue previously identified by the Virginia Tech researchers – an adequate load path must be provided to have sufficient support.

SDWS Detail C: Interior Post on Rim Joist between Joists, at 500-Pound Horizontal Test Target Load
SDWS Detail C: Interior Post on Rim Joist between Joists, at 500-Pound Horizontal Test Target Load

Have you found any other resources that have been helpful in your guard post designs? Let us know by posting a comment.

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David Finkenbinder

Author: David Finkenbinder

David Finkenbinder is a Branch Engineer for Simpson Strong-Tie, working out of the branch in Columbus, OH. He has a B.S. in Agricultural Engineering from Penn State, and a M.S. in Civil Engineering from Virginia Tech. He is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Ohio. Since joining Simpson Strong-Tie in 2007, he provides product support to design professionals, specifiers, and major contractors through education, product development, and by offering technical expertise. His research and development efforts have focused in wood-framed deck construction and structural wood fastener solutions.

2 thoughts on “Wood-framed Deck Guard Post Resources and Residential Details”

  1. I often use the handrail information and sample calculations in the back of the Julius Blum catalog. We often have steel or aluminum handrails designed for multi family and custom homes.

    I agree that handrails are often overlooked or designed at the last minute. I have been trying to encourage my clients to discuss and plan for the handrails earlier in the design process.

  2. Please note: ASCE 7-10 Section 4.5.1 says: “All handrail and guardrail systems shall be designed to resist a single concrentrated load of 200 lb (0.89 kN) applied *->IN ANY DIRECTION<-* at any point on the handrail…" (emphasis mine).

    Compliance with ASCE 7 requires two HD2A connectors to achieve both inward and outward capacity as noted at the end of the STRUCTURE magazine article.

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