Q: We have a problem with our 1975 home that seems to be a common one in our neighborhood: wrought-iron railings embedded in the front concrete steps. We salt the steps when they're icy because they're on the north side of the house, and the railing has rusted and rotted where it is in the concrete. How do we remove the railing? Once we do, we'd like to install a new system with a better life span — maybe even something made of wood. Any suggestions?

— Gary, Southington, CT

A: Tom Silva replies: Removing your railing won't be difficult. Just back out any fasteners holding it to the house, then use a reciprocating saw with a metal-cutting blade to slice off the support posts flush with the concrete. Once the railing is off, wire-brush the stoop to remove rust stains.

Given the complexity of installing wood railings, I'd stick with metal — either iron or aluminum — because it needs less maintenance. Installing metal is easier, too. A home center might be able to match the overall shape of your old railing with stock metal sections. Or you can have custom railings made; check the phone book or the Internet under "ornamental iron" or "metal fabrication." Look for railings made of solid metal, which is more durable than hollow tubing.

This time, don't embed the railing in the concrete. It's a lot more work than using corrosion-resistant masonry screws. Use the new railing as a template for locating the position of the anchors (at least 2 inches from the edge of the stoop), and drill holes for them using a masonry bit. Then, if you ever have to replace the railing again, it shouldn't be a big chore.
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