Porch Balustrades (Porch Railings): Heights, Designs & Building Codes

I didn’t get any actual work done on my porch this weekend, but I did do a lot of dreaming and planning! I’m very anxious to get moving on that porch makeover, because I think it’s going to do so much towards adding curb appeal to this house.

Until Friday, I hadn’t really given much thought to the baluster design that I wanted. I just knew I wanted a balustrade to complete the look I envision in my head, and I just assumed it would be the standard railing like this…

I still might use that style. It’s a classic, so you can’t really go wrong with it, in my humble opinion.

But when I started googling balustrade designs on Friday, I came across an article on The Old House Guy all about porch railings — heights, styles, building codes, curb appeal, and more.

I’ll admit that the first time I read that article, I was a bit put off by it. Here’s the gist of it — current building codes (which require a porch railing to be 36-42 inches high) destroy curb appeal and make houses look ridiculous. To quote Old House Guy, “The height of your porch railing will determine if your house has curb appeal or is just a clown house. Porch railing height of 3 feet or more will destroy the look of your house and all your hard work.” And he goes on from there, in a snarky and opinionated way, but with plenty of examples demonstrating his points.

Again, I initially rolled my eyes and moved on. But the article — his points, his examples — continued to nag at me. So I went back to look at that Fixer Upper house from this season that gave me hope that I could work with the front porch that I have rather than doing some big, costly front elevation remodel.

I was forced to admit that The Old House Guy was right. The “before” of that house was definitely outdated and needed some updating and creative touches, but look how big that front window looks. You can actually see the whole thing, and it looks so open. And anyone sitting in that front room would have complete, unobstructed view out of the window.

Then they added the porch railing, which looks to be 36 inches high (i.e., the height required by building code if your front porch requires a railing). And while I love the style of the railing and the character it adds, it kind of gives the feel of a prison cell. It visually cuts off way too much of the porch, and it covers a little more than the lower 1/4 of the (new, beautiful) window, which would completely block the view out of the windows for anyone sitting in that front room. From the street view, you can’t even tell that there are cute little rocking chairs on that porch.

So I was feeling a bit defeated. The Old House Guy had some very valid points, and the last thing I want to do is make my front porch feel like a jail cell and/or block the view out of the windows when I’m sitting in the living room. I’d rather have no balustrade at all.

But then I began to wonder why in the world my railing would need to be 36″ high when I’m not even required to have a railing in the first place. My porch is 20 inches above the ground. That’s a full 10 inches lower than the 30-inch height where the requirement for a 36″ railing kicks in according to code.

So I called the local building codes office, with all of my fingers crossed, and spoke with a building code inspector. And I got the answer I wanted! He verified that I’m not required to have a railing in the first place, and said that since I’m not required to have a railing, then anything I add would just be decorative, so it doesn’t need to meet code requirements that would be necessary for a porch that’s 30 inches or higher. (Which also means that the 36-inch-high railing on that Fixer Upper house was unnecessary.)


Although during the course of our conversation, he did tell me that my front porch steps are in violation of code. Four or more steps require a hand railing on the steps, and mine don’t have a handrail. (Neither does the “after” of that Fixer Upper house, which has the same number of steps I do, so I wonder why there’s no handrail.)

So I’m excited (again) about having a cute little decorative baluster on my front porch that doesn’t block any views or make my front porch feel like a prison cell. I nailed together two 1 x 4 pieces of lumber, and nailed them up at various heights just to get an idea of how high mine needs to be.

According to The Old House Guy, the top of the railing shouldn’t cover the window sills. But my windows are 19 inches from the porch, and when I get the floating wood porch floor installed, it’ll be even less than that. I can’t bring myself to do an 18-inch railing. That seems ridiculously low. So I started at 28 inches. It did cover just a very little bit of the window, but it still looked pretty open.

Then I decided to lower it just a tad to 25 inches. I liked it better.

And then, just out of curiosity, I raised it to 36 inches, which is the height that would be required by code if my porch were 30 inches or higher off of the ground.

Thank goodness I don’t have to do that. I don’t at all like how it cuts the bottom portion of my windows in half and would totally obstruct the view out of the windows for anyone sitting in the living room.

So after determining the height (around 25 inches), I had some fun doing some mock-ups. I started with the very traditional look with the simple balusters (although the ones in the mock-up are too thin and toothpick-looking, but you can still get the general idea).

I really like this design. My house is a very simple ranch style house and I think the simple design of that balustrade fits the style. Anything fancier might be overkill, but of course, that didn’t stop me from trying! 😀 I tried out this “X” design…

I do like that the “X” design gives it a fresh, modern touch, while still being a pretty simple design.

And finally, I tried this cathedral scroll design. It reminded me of my music room doors (which you can see through the front door).

That’s a beautiful design, but I think it’s overkill for my simple little house. So I think I’ll do either the traditional design with the vertical balusters, or the “X” design. I’ll have to mull over it a bit more, and probably change my mind at least 50 more times, before I make a final decision. 🙂

I will have to figure out what to do about that handrail on the steps, though. Naturally, I’ll continue the same design onto the steps that I use on the porch railing, but the handrail will have to meet code. A 25-inch-high handrail isn’t even any use to someone as short as I am. So I’m thinking I’ll carry the same 25″ design onto the steps, but then add height with an extension, similar to this railing…

But that’s a design issue for Future Kristi to tackle. 😀

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  1. I hate to disagree with you because I generally love everything you do. A higher porch railing is useful to lean against when you have several people on the porch and it gives more privacy to the people sitting on the porch. It won’t obstruct any of the daylight coming into the front room and since it’s an open railing, it will only partial obstruct the view of the street for people sitting in the front room. Any porch furniture you install will likely have the same effect. Further, to my eye, a low porch railing looks “off”, like the builder ran out of wood. Having no porch railing makes a porch look naked (gasp!). 😉

    1. I would have agreed with you until I saw his examples, and saw that historic porch railings were always much shorter than the current 36-inch height that is used today. And my porch isn’t big enough for several people to fit on there. 🙂 Two will sit out there comfortably, possibly three. But that’s it.

      1. i read it and I hated the lower railings. the whole point of the article is so you will hire them to show you what a new railing will look like.

          1. look on the side of the article and it says Is your porch railings missing let us design new ones starting at $300 and in the middle of the article and at the end.

            1. Okay, I get that. Yes, he makes money helping people restore their houses. He’s allowed to make a living. But that doesn’t mean that the only point of the article is so he can get to your wallet. (The first few years of my blog, I was still working with clients, and for a couple of years, I did e-design. That didn’t make me devious.)
              He’s giving information away for free. If you want his help, you can get it, but you’re not required to hire him. And he does have a point that historic homes generally had much lower railing than what is required by code today. The enclosed balustrade that he shows looks perfect to my eye, and it’s only 18 inches high, and looks original to the house. The one linked above is 25 inches high, and looks gorgeous to my eye. He’s allowed to BOTH write an information article about balustrade heights on historic homes vs today’s new build homes/building codes AND make money helping people restore their historic homes (or make their new build homes have character and charm of an old house). You’re not required to have a low balustrade if you like tall ones (and depending on your situation, you may not even be allowed to have a short one). You like the tall ones, I like the short ones. There’s nothing wrong with that.

          2. We have a porch that’s about the same size as yours Kristi. Same type low big window. Same style seating as you’re planning on having.

            The style of the house is totally different, and instead of a railing, we have a brick mini wall instead of a railing.
            I just went out to measure it, and it’s 24″ high.

            We use this porch daily (husband smokes there) and in the 5 years we’ve lived there, we have NEVER, not… a… single… time… thought: “Man I wish there was a railing to lean against”.

            That’s just not how people use a porch like that, in that size, with that style of furniture.

            We also have 2 kids, who were 3 and 5 when we moved here. And they’ve been on that porch almost daily. Never have they needed a railing, or been at any risk of falling off that porch. The idea of them falling off it is about as ludicrous as them falling off a sidewalk (and really… how frequently have you needed a railing to keep yourself from falling off a sidewalk… which is about the same dimensions as such a porch?).
            And if they WOULD fall off… the porch is only 15″ higher than the dirt surrounding it, which would make it not a dangerous fall… which is exactly why code doesn’t require a railing.

            Don’t let yourself be talked out of it… by people paranoid by “what ifs”. I think your plan is great. 25″ seems perfect. It’ll look awesome.

            1. Your comment had me laughing out loud! It’s so true! I completely agree that the lower porch railings look nicer. I’m in MA and up here we have Cape Cod style houses where people sometimes put farmer’s porches on the front. We just built a Cape and didn’t do a farmer’s porch because I feel like the proportions are way off that way. It can drag down the entire front of the house: https://www.theplancollection.com/Upload/Designers/131/1017/gar_lr34601B600_891_593.jpg

              Rule of 1/3’s is a key component of good design and those railings that we to code didn’t seem to fit within that.

              Kristi, I like the X design!

          3. I love the short railings and the x design, thought the curvy one was a bit too much. In the picture from old guy, liked how chunky bottom of post was to where it met the Rails.

    2. Railing height is usually a building code issue. To the point that you cannot replace or even repair an older shorter rail with a new rail of the same height…

  2. When we were deciding on our north MS cabin porch railings, I found the same website and had pretty much the same reaction you did at first. I agree with his points. Being where we are, we don’t worry too much about codes, since there’s nobody to inspect. Our whole community (on a private lake) would have so many violations it would shut the whole place down!
    There are ways around the codes, of course. I saw on an episode of This Old House where they put a steel cable above the decorative railing to meet the code. From the sidewalk you could only see the decorative railing. I thought that was pretty clever.

  3. I think it would look just right with beefed up white square columns. Would finish that simple look off perfectly.I had a simple balustrade on my front porch for several years.Removed it and porch feels so airy now. Just a thought.

    1. I agree. I’m not a railing person myself . . . . but I’m sure whatever decision you make it will be great. And if it’s not – it will be redone! 🙂

  4. I am not sure what your landscaping plans are for the area in front of the porch, but if you were to plant boxwood or similar, a short railing would look dwarfed as the plants grow. Have you considered just the handrails for the stairs and then perhaps tall planters where they join the porch itself? just a thought. Looking forward to seeing what you will do, as usual!

  5. I think I mentioned this in a previous comment, but if you are planning to do a brick path, there is a chance you can compact sand and put the brick (or brick-like pavers) on top of your existing path. You’ll have to break up the last few feet of concrete (by the street) and grade down to the street, but you may be able to eliminate the bottom step that way!

    1. That’s a good idea. If I can get it to just three steps (two steps plus the porch), I won’t need a railing. I’ll be adding about two inches of height to the porch in the area of the steps with the floating wood floor, so I’d just need to add an inch of height to the sidewalk to bring the total to 21 inches, at which point I can have three steps that are seven inches high (the highest allowed by code). That could work! And when it rains really hard, my sidewalk floods a bit at the porch steps, so that would also eliminate that problem.

          1. This is exactly what I was thinking. If you’re going to widen your sidewalk using brick pavers, why not widen the steps as wide as the porch columns so all would be the same width? Personally with my age & medical issues, I can’t walk up any stairs without handrails or someone holding my hand. My opinion on the railing is: the tooth-picky one is too skinny, the X one is too busy but I love the cathedral scroll! But it, too is just a tad busy in my opinion, but what if you widen the scrolls?!! If you don’t rail the porch (I personally wouldn’t if code didn’t require it) but do add handrails for us seniors, the “relaxed scroll” on wider steps has my vote.

      1. I am not trying to be a nay sayer because with or without railings would look nice to me. Crazy as it sounds, we specifically bought a house that had little to no steps to gain entrance. Our front and back doors have one step and the garage door, two. We did this for friends who frequently visit and have bad knees, backs, etc. I am amazed how they still have to hold onto something with all their might just to navigate that one step. Just a thought when considering railings. We don’t have any and sometimes wonder if we should.

        1. Totally agree. My elderly mother couldn’t get into my house if I didn’t have a hand rail. She even needed a grab handle installed on the wall of her garage to get up the two short steps (we added one so they were not so tall) into her house.

          I also like the idea of widening the steps. I can see them edged in brick.

          I also wonder if a porch rail is needed if you are planning on planting shrubs that will eventually grow high enough to cover it. I regularly walk past a house with a series of long glazed ceramic planters (15 or 18 inches, maybe) filled with trailing vines and flowers on the edge of her porch. It is lovely. In the winter there are greens and twinkle lights.

          One other thought, since I am living vicariously through you: how about a porch swing (or glider) on the window end of the porch, perpendicular to the house? I loved the one on my grandmother’s porch when I was a child. And it is another place to for some color and pretty pillows.

  6. Your post reminded me of my own front porch years (and years) ago. We lived in a small west Texas town, with no zoning or codes at all. My husband, a rig welder, built me a nice deck off the front door of the mobile home we had at that time. I wanted railings for the deck, so our boys couldn’t fall off and hurt themselves. I came home from shopping one day (from the city), and he had made me rails – 48″ high! I told him that’s too high. He told me “they meet OSHA requirements!” Needless to say, the boys had a great time swinging off the “safety rails”.

    I love the X rails above.

    1. Ha! At least your boys were safe out there! 😀 The Wing Stop restaurant here used to have their counter at about 4′ high. It drove me crazy. I could comfortably sit my chin on the countertop, and when I had to sign the credit card receipt, I had to stand on my tiptoes to see it. They finally remodeled and it’s much lower now. But I can easily imagine a railing that high from that experience.

  7. What looks off to me with those mock-ups is not the height but the density. Is there any reason not to make more substantial spindles further apart? Or suspended boxes with x centres between an upper and lower rail?

    1. Because I copied and pasted from other pictures, and I can only do so much with my photo editing program. 🙂 It’s not a perfect mock up, by any means.

  8. I like the 28″ rail vs 25″. I like hiding a little of that bottom sill, it may make those windows seem a bit longer from the street. 28″ lines up with the bottom sill of the breakfast room windows perspective-wise. When you add the view from the porch, enjoying it at 28″ may feel more visually comfortable relative to how that lines up with other porch items like the height of the door handle and armrests of porch furniture relative to the rail. Overall the differences are minor, go with what perspectives you want to favor, I bet either height will work out well.

  9. You have picked the right height IMO. and you probably won’t have any “code” issues since the porch is not that far off the ground.

    Anyway – wanted to share a suggestion. Be sure to consider beefing up your finished columns. It will make the porch look AWESOME.

    The porch company from Nashville, TN has some fabulous pics of finished porches. Screened in and some front porches. A good reference for seeing the benefit of the “right scale” for finished elements. They also make railings – ship to other states. – in a number of different designs if you want to explore those options.

    Check their tab for “open air porches”. They will have some porches with higher railings and that’s largely due to code. The higher up off the ground, it’s required in Nashville area.



    They built our screened in porch. Pics below. Our columns are 10″ with crown molding. And the header along the inside is also 10″. I browsed their finished porches extensively before we finalized our plans. We have 24″ high knee walls vs open railings because I wanted to protect the interior furnishings from the weather. And wanted an interior feel and used a lot of wood furnishings.

    PS . They cap the top of the columns (inside and out) to prevent birds or varmints from getting inside, etcs. Something to consider when you get to that stage.


      1. Yes, it is ours. I tell everyone our Xmas present for life now sits out back. ha ha.

        We worked with Nancy Moore, the owner of the Porch Company. Awesome lady. Ask her advice on the railings too.. she may have some ideas you have not considered (re: height – or something else). They provided all the drawings and finished views. Perhaps they have a way to give you a better visual of how it would look on your home? Maybe worth asking.

        I tried my best to be sure I considered everything before they started. switches and electrical plugs are seated flush inside the wrap around pillars. Used white instead of grey.

        Good luck.

    1. I followed your link to see the different porch railing designs and saw that you can order sample sizes of all their railings in 1/4 scale. SO CUTE! There’s a picture of a long planter box with the double cathedral samples all across the front. Love it. https://porchco.com/store/railings/panels/sample-panels/ I imagine you creative types could come up with all kinds of uses for those. I’m dying to show my daughter when she comes home from school.

  10. I understand that you would like something a bit more decorative than simple straight balusters. But the X looks too busy to me. I really like the two-level railings from Joanna’s fixer upper and the photo from Lawrence and Gomez architects. It is still simple but much more interesting than plain balusters and not as distracting as the X. (However, I don’t know if it would look right with the shorter railing — but you would be able to tell by doing a mock-up.) Just my two cents!

    I was so excited to see a post from you early this morning! It is wonderful following your process and progress. Thank you.

  11. As you were retelling the story, my gut reaction was the same as yours…that you probably weren’t even triggering code. Kudos for looking into it. 🙂

    That said, I still disagree with his premise. I would argue that the railings can contribute to the curb appeal. What’s so special about windows and shutters that they need to be unobstructed when viewed from the street? To me, a beautifully finished porch with nice railings can be just as decorative (if not more so) to the front of a home. It’s really a matter of personal taste and what you’re trying to show-off. Windows? Shutters? Stone work or fancy siding behind the porch? The porch itself? Or maybe some vine or roses that are going to climb the porch posts from the garden below?

    I think you have lots of neat options for the stair railings. You could do it like you said (with handrail extensions) or you could put some stone or other decorative “posts” at the bottom and simply connect them with wooden or metal rails. You could just use decorative metal rails and work them into the design. The sky is the limit. Although I did notice your posts are quite far from the edges of the steps, so you’re either going to have to move the posts, do a short length of rail with short posts to meet the steps, or widen the steps. That’ll be an interesting design challenge/decision.

    Another option you might have (I saw this on TOH) is to work around the 4-step rule by changing the elevation. You could have 2 steps down and then a sloping sidewalk (like a short ramp). Or you can have two steps down, a platform, then 2 more steps down. Or maybe, given that you have a wheelchair occupant of the home and this is an extra fire exit, you might even want to just build in a full sloping, perhaps even curving ramp as part of your landscaping, eliminating the stairs altogether and working the ramp into your sidewalk/porch as if it were intentional.

  12. If it were my house I would rather none than 2’. None a person could walk off and accidentally fall 18”, now with the balustrade so lower than expected, it may be easy to stumble over it and fall 3.5’. A child would love to climb up and again falling 3.5’ instead of 18”. Have you considered planters to add symmetry and block views?

  13. I have tall folks in my family. If backing up to a low railing is a possibility so it the chance of going over the railing. It hits too low on the legs which is below the center of gravity. I’d go with none if given the choice because we are tall. Your house is cute.

    1. I am 6’2″ and had the same concerns Alice expressed. A railing of 25-28″ would hit me mid thigh and I would definitely fall if I backed into it. I like the shorter rail with a floating rail above it. GIves you a view but provides a level of security. Love all you have done!

      1. Let me also add that railings were shorter on historic homes because people were much shorter. I am reminded of that whenever I visit a historic house and see the heights of ceilings, counters and lengths of beds. Ouch! 😂

        1. Exactly what I was thinking. The ‘trip’ factor is high on a low railing.

          How about some iron railing. There are beautiful examples, and easy to see right through. I would encourage you to take a look. Just google ‘iron porch railing’ and there are plenty of examples!

  14. I’m sure you thought of it before suggestions were made but I also think beefier columns are needed for your home. I like all the examples of your railings, but I think the simplicity of the straight spindles or a modified version of the other look great. the are a bit too much for your home imo opinion if you were to go with the mock up picture. I would also go atleast 28inches, I believe lower than that is too short.

  15. I’ve read that Old House Guy before… MAN! HE IS TOUGH (and a tad old house snobbish)! I do wish I had read his blog when we were building… Although we still wouldn’t have passed his strict standards, he raises excellent points about architectural styles and why things were designed the way they were. Wish we had known about some of those for informed decisions!

    We ended up not putting anything between the posts for our house and made the posts more pillar-ish, but I really agree with you on all the points you made regarding your choices.

  16. Interesting how the building codes are different depending on where you live. Our previous house was in Georgia and we replaced our front porch steps that were stone slabs and had settled unevenly (probably due to the weight of the stone). The number of steps wasn’t an issue, it was the total height from ground to porch…as long as it was less than 36”, railings of any type weren’t required. Since we were selling, we elected to not spend the $$. But, it really felt odd and somewhat dangerous to not have the railings! I agree with another comment…I would decrease the number of pickets so reduce the visual clutter.

  17. Love your ideas and the process you are sharing. I think you mentioned that you would be eliminating the ramp on the right side of the porch. Have you thought about adding steps on that end too? It’s sometimes very nice to have two ways to enter the porch.

    Love the shorter railings, by the way! I can’t imagine looking out the windows and having the view blocked by a railing!

  18. What if you built flower boxes to attach and fit between your posts? Plan and work them in to be an integral part of the design. You could have them sit 8″ up from your floating floor, then have them the height you would prefer (to not block a view from inside), attached to your posts on the sides, and you can fill them with beautiful seasonal flowers. I doubt anyone would accidentally go backwards over a flower box like that, lol.

    Or, go with glass panels like we do in SoCal where it’s all about the view.

  19. No balustrades gets my vote. Going short and busy doesn’t seem to fit your house. Do a mock up with landscaping first, then make your decision. Beefed up columns may be where you want to spend your money. I’ll be anxious to see what you decide!

  20. I have noticed that many historical homes do have the lower railings and they look lovely and yours will be too. Since I don’t know your climate and the practicality this might not be appropriate, but what about planter boxes that have a combination of evergreen/boxwood and flowers along the porch edge? That would add color and drama to your porch.

  21. I like the traditional simple balustrade design for your front porch, classic and timeless. I also like one of the other comments about making small stone wrapped posts at the end of your steps, to the pathway, it would tie in the stonework on the house beautifully, IMHO. Maybe you could do a mock up of that idea to see what it looks like.

  22. Well, when I first started reading this post I thought I was going to have an opinion. But, after reading it and reading the post from the old house guy, I decided that I don’t have an opinion or suggestion on this one. I think because I’ve seen so many houses that are no longer historically accurate, I’ve come to accept all the different shapes and sizes. And, I don’t think that you are bound by one specific architectural style, given the mix of materials and the breakfast room and studio additions (i.e. you’re no longer bound by the style of the original home). And, most importantly, I love your mill work and have total faith that you’ll make this look great! So, that being said, do what you love and will make you happy when you drive in the driveway and when you sit and look out the window.

    The only thing that I did have an opinion on was similar to one of the other comments – keep the height of the railings in mind when you pick your plantings so that the plants don’t dwarf all of your hard work.

    Can’t wait to see it come together!

  23. As a person who likes an unobstructed view, I like the idea of a lower porch railing. Any of the 3 basic designs you showed would look great with your home. I also like the little topper portion you plan for the steps.

  24. Have you considered something a little curvey to go with the corbels above your side door? I also like the flower box idea. Maybe low hanging boxes with the same chain as the porch swing.

  25. My parents needed to replace their porch railing and the most important factor for them was line of sight from a SEATED position on the porch. If you enjoy sitting on your front porch and watching the world go by, or even just looking at your front yard, I strongly urge you to pay close attention to your line of site while seated in a favorite chair. They found the railing that was there when they bought their house was perfectly set up to BLOCK the view of wildlife…not what they had in mind.

    1. I was going to say this too! We got our “country porch” done and sit down to relax and can’t see anything, the railing is in the way! I found a “railing height” table set at a big box store and now we can sit out there and enjoy the “view” which is the house across the street and one car an hour, lol.

      1. Oh , you just reminded me that my parents sent their table and chairs to a welder to add on height so they could see over the original porch railing! So much work but their view is wonderful!

    2. Yep, this. My front porch came with the “to code” railings, even though our porch is only 6″ from the ground! Brand new home, and they built it that way to match the balcony directly above which obviously does have to have railings. But yes, when I sit down that top railing directly blocks my line of site and it drives me nuts! Especially because my number one reason for sitting out there is because my kids want to play outside and I want to keep an eye on them. I end up dragging the porch chair off the porch and into the driveway so I can see them. I’ve been dreaming of removing that railing for years, but am afraid the whole porch would have to be re-poured or covered with something because the cement was poured around the posts for the railings.

      1. It may not work with your budget or the style of of your home, but stainless wire or clear plexi panels provide greater visibility yet keep with code. Unfortunately they’re both expensive and somewhat industrial or modern looking styles…

        1. Thanks Jill, so sweet of you to reply! A neighbor did steel railings inside on their staircase with their modern re-do of their interior and it’s stunning! But I haven’t ever seen an example of steel railings with the wooden posts I’m stuck with that didn’t also do a wooden top rail, so I’m right back to zero visibility when I sit. And in the rainy PNW where I live, plexiglass panels would be a cleaning nightmare for me. My porch is also only 5 1/2′ deep, so a little “prison like” when sitting there behind the railings. I think it’s best to save up to open it up altogether.

          I like the idea of a 4′ porch swing on the end perpendicular to the house, that would also then block off that side if I took the railing down. Never thought of that before – I’ve always seen porch swings on deep front porches parallel to the house and thought I didn’t have room for that.

  26. I have had 3 homes with railings on porches. The height is a real concern especially if you are short . Regulation height is exactly at me eyeline when seated. My first home was at a height for no requirement just for style. The porch was only six feet deep so it felt closed in and cramped. I always wished there was no railing. Second house off the ground (railings required ) we lowered the railing below code for sight reasons. My porch is 12 ft deep by 80 long so very spacious. Third house we lowered porch 1 step and used iron railing ( code height) to have great sight . Long story small porches that are enclosed become very small and confining . So consider the depth of the porch before sliding it in. Personally I think the front of your house leans to a craftsman style ( open with beefy columns. Are you going to do a decorative piece above window on stone?

  27. Your house has a big presence and a tiny porch.

    I still like your idea of expanding the porch. We have a 4.5 ft deep porch and I am unhappy with it. You cannot put a 5′ porch swing on the end. You have to put the swing parallel to the house. You cannot arrange a nice sitting group either. You just have a “galley” porch.

    I wonder if you could add a half moon shape to the front porch to expand the width and incorporate a curved ramp as well? I would keep the present roofline and post locations so your porch had both sun and shade areas.

    Will there be enough room for Matt to maneuver on the porch if there is a seating area?

    A curving ramp is a great idea if this is your forever house. Ramps are easy on the knees as well as wheel chair accessible as you get older. Will Matt have to go out the back and around the house if he wants to get the mail?

    I like the idea of beefy columns and shorter railings too though. It just depends on how you want to use the porch..

  28. I agree with the ideas of lengthening the stairs, bulking up the porch support posts and take a look after landscaping. With the addition of shutters, porch swing, maybe a table or pots, a railing might be confining and busy. With adding some dimension with landscape (meaning some mounded flower beds, not flat, the height of porch could be even less) I feel a porch railing could be unnecessary.

  29. I personally think it’s too soon to be deciding on balusters. Since you are planning to beef up your posts, the balustrade may look completely different.

    Have you considered adding another post to frame the window? If the post base is not too large, you could have a more symmetrical look around the window.

  30. Have you considered wrought iron? The thin, black spindles might visually disappear or could add some nice contrast! Maybe at least worth a photoshop effort to see if you like it.
    I have a railing story. This past summer, I contracted a mason to restore my front porch stoop. The previous owners had built a wood porch over the crumbling brick/concrete stoop, and by last summer, the wood was rotting as well. I told the guy that I just wanted concrete with vinyl railings, the very cheapest option, because I am planning to put the house on the market this year and just wanted something safe! He insisted that he would do brick, at no additional charge to me, because it will look prettier from the street. I told him, as long as it does not cost me, do whatever you want. This was in June. He started the project at the end of July. He started from the top down, because he was under the impression that the step into my house had to be the same rise as the stairs (even though it’s a 4′ landing). So right off the bat, I have a very inconvenient 7.5″ step up into the doorway. Then we got to the point where he was laying 2-8 bricks a day. His hired help apparently had a drug problem and was unreliable, and also it was very hot, and the mason was old, so he couldn’t work that hard. I was nice about it because I’d hired him before and he was a really nice guy who always did great work. Then, because he misunderstood local building code and started from the top, he had to tear up a 12′ section of my sidewalk and re-pour it to make the rise on the first step match the rest. Come October, porch is still no where near finished. He starts installing the vinyl railings, and I lean on one and find it totally wobbly. He was using these $2 clips that you would buy to hold a 4×4 in place if you were fastening it to something at the top (think enclosed porch). So then he started fighting with me that he’s not a railing guy and it was too hard to install vinyl on my porch because it was built out of brick and fastening into brick is hard (remember that I had asked for concrete and he insisted on installing brick?). Several fights ensued, and I ended up getting wrought iron railings for the same price as vinyl because they’re thinner and could be installed in the concrete rather than the edge brick. The project finally was done in November. The porch is now the nicest part of my house, but man was it a hassle! But the takeaway from the whole project was that I initially thought I hated wrought iron- I like the “beefier” look of wood and vinyl, but I am now reformed!

  31. I love your ideas and work and I was thrilled that you found the Fixer Upper example which has allowed you to envision the possibility of keeping the existing roof line.
    Two features of the Fixer Upper exterior redo that stand out to me: 1) the substantial 36″railing (36″ IS bold and your eye “goes to” the railing) 2) ending the railing at the end of living room window. (I was particularly struck by the impact of ending railing at window) In my mind, both of these features strongly enforce “cottage” curb appeal.
    By contrast, a continued low railing (to the end of the porch) “feels” more sleek, modern and ornamental with less commitment to one style.
    The railing choice will establish two very different “curb appeals” and
    it seems that your decision on railing choice reflects the same design choice you face in deciding whether to keep original projection of porch or change to hip roof.
    This is such a highly personal decision and we love watching your decision making process. (It helps each one of us clarify our preferences.) Thank you for making time to share!

  32. To me, the railing is okay, but the posts looks they should be more substantial, i.e. thicker and finished out. As they are, they look, to use your term, “tooth picky.”

  33. This is totally off-subject, but please just say NO to boxwoods! They smell like cat pee-pee (sorry, Peeve) & I can’t imagine sitting on a pretty front porch, smelling cat pee-pee! My bank & several other places I go has them & I always hold my breath while walking past them!

  34. I actually read that same article when I was thinking of replacing my wood balustrades with maintenance free (painting them was driving me crazy). After giving it some thought I pulled the old ones down and left it bare, and it was the BEST decision I ever made for our porch. I now enjoy sitting out there and I never realized it felt like you were in prison with the railing and balustrades up. Now it feels like we are part of the yard and outdoors, but with some shade/comfortable furnishings. Our porch is not high either so I realized the railings were totally unnecessary. Try hanging out on your porch with your mock railings up to see how they make you feel from the porch before deciding for sure!

  35. Hey Friends! Thought I’d chime in with my two cents. Personally, I don’t like the look of the lower railing, but that, I suspect, is that my eyes have been trained to the standard height. Having said that, we ALL know our Miss Kristy is a bit of a free spirit so I believe we can expect something that may not be quite the norm! I’m just wondering, if you aren’t required to have a rail at all, if there may be another solution outside the norm? Not sure what to suggest for the front porch, but other places have used wire or plexi or….. What other possibilities are out there? Hmmmmm……

  36. Well, I have read most of the comments and I would say a lot are against any railings. For my, I love them and would be thrilled to have lower ones. We had to match code with our back deck rails and I hate that when we sit out on the deck they are in the way. So I vote for lower railings!!

  37. Krist, since you are planing to redo your steps (yeah – I love 5’ or wider) and you say you can reposition the posts, you can ignore lining them up with your front door. For example, move the left post in line with the left side of the door. Then move the middle post to where it lines up with left side of window. Fill that area with three steps. You could even extend the steps on one side to wrap around the edge so there are three steps going to the side. You could play with the walkway; say retangles 1/3 side by side out to the street. If I remember correctly, you have a great tree which could be highlighted by careful balancing. Beef up those posts, play with steps and walkway. I bet you can come up with curb appeal that extends to the curb and not need the balastrade.

  38. I think your house and the fixer upper house only have three steps. the porch itself doesn’t count, just the stairs. Could be wrong, but that has been my understanding.

  39. Looking at your house, because of its strong horizontal lines and low roof line, please just consider either simple vertical square balusters or a horizontal one, maybe like the small panes of the upper sections of your windows.

    As much as you love the x-shape and pierced railing styles, they are not going to look right on your 1950’s-60’s Texas ranch style house. Want those railing styles? Sell this house and buy a Victorian.

    Like everyone piping in, I vote for beefier posts.

    For your steps, do widen them. I like the idea of the box section above the vertical balusters (as shown in the photo you posted) to make them conform with code. They can then die into the vertical posts, while the balusters will continue around the porch. You will love the way broader stairs will make your entry look much more open and welcoming.

    Also, have you considered widening the fascia boards on the eves of your house, especially in the peaked section? That, along with thicker posts, might better balance the bulk of the house.

    I have to say, it is sure easy to spend other people’s remodeling money!

  40. I read the blog post and all comments. I agree 100% with comments about how too tall of a railing obstructs the view when sitting on the porch. My story: our house was a fixer upper and the old front porch wrought iron railing had been off for awhile. In 1997, we installed railing at 36” high because it was code so my husband insisted. What a mistake. This was well before the proliferation of websites on the subject. Suddenly, the porch felt closed in, it didn’t look right and our eyesight hit the top of the railing when we sat down on the porch chairs.

    We stopped using the front porch and went to the back porch where the railing is only 28” high. Huge difference. My husband is 6’-3” tall and has never, ever even come close to toppling over the railing. And no one ever leans against the railing while having a conversation. There are plenty of chairs to sit on.

    Now our front porch severely needs replacing, and we get to correct the railing height. I came across the Old House Guy’s article on railing and had an aha moment where I finally realized why the our front porch always looked a little off. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. I live in a small town with many older homes with front porches. So many of them have replaced the railings at too high of a height. Very few are redone well.

    Photo of current front porch: http://i1087.photobucket.com/albums/j470/514Miller/10C8D3CE-6169-4291-8B10-D11B8A84D98F_zps6lxakesn.jpeg

    Photo of back porch: http://i1087.photobucket.com/albums/j470/514Miller/A03DA75D-C1A3-4621-A634-D37709CAA56C_zpseg0qlz88.jpeg