During the last several years, wood science researchers at Virginia Tech have scrutinized the structural connections commonly found in residential wood decks. This work resulted in the publication of the Manual for the Inspection of Residential Wood Decks and Balconies (Forest Products Society, Madison, Wis.) and the JLC article "Load-Tested Deck Ledger Connections" (3/04).

For this article we turned our attention to residential deck railings — the guardrails intended to prevent people from accidentally falling off the edge. When decks rise more than a couple of feet off the ground, such accidents can be serious and even deadly, as news reports have corroborated. With many decks standing 8 feet or higher above...

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