Handrails are functional, durable assemblies that you can install in a wide range of applications. Individuals should consider structural requirements, location, and compliance with building codes. Understanding these elements while planning may help you avoid issues and get the most out of your design. See our Handrail Design Guidance for detailed information.
- What is a Handrail?
- When is a Handrail Required?
- What are the Basic Requirements of a Handrail?
- What is a Guardrail?
- When is a Guardrail Required?
- What are the Basic Requirements of a Guardrail?
1. What is a Handrail?
Handrails aren't guardrails, although the terminology is often used interchangeably. A Handrail provides a graspable surface along stairs that assist in preventing falls and compile with ADA guidelines. Hand rails provide a third point of contact and allow for a stable transition with stairs, ramps, and maneuvering in slippery environments.
2. When is a Handrail Required?
Handrails shall be on at least one side of each continuous run of treads or flight with 2 or more risers with no part of the stairway or ramp shall be more than 30" from a handrail.
3. What are the Basic Requirements of a Handrail?
The handrail height shall be between 34 inches (865 mm) and 38 inches (965 mm) measured vertically from stair nosings, ramp surfaces, and walking surfaces. Handrails height shall be consistent across all surfaces.
Handrails shall be continuous for the full length of the stairs, and handrails end shall be returned or terminate in newel posts or safety terminals. Handrails shall have a space of not less than 1 1⁄2" between a wall and the handrail.
Circular handrails shall have a diameter of 1 1⁄4" – 2".
- No noncircular handrail shall have a perimeter less than 4"
- If the perimeter is 4"–61⁄4"shall have a maximum cross-section of 2 1⁄4"
- If the perimeter is greater than 6 1⁄4" shall have a graspable finger recess area on both sides
4. What is a Guardrail?
A guardrail is used to prevent people from falling off of a stairway rather than falling. A guardrail can also act as a barrier for a porch, deck, or balcony, preventing people from falling off the edge. Often guardrails on stairs will act as handrails.
5. When is a Guardrail Required?
Along any open-sided walking surface, including stairs, ramps, and landings, located more than 30" vertically above grade at any point within 36" horizontally to the edge of the open side. If a stair is more than 30" above grade at any point in the stair’s flight, a guard is required along the full length of the open side.
6. What are the Basic Requirements of a Guardrail?
36" minimum above the walking surface or the line connecting the leading edge of treads.
No openings shall be large enough to allow a 4" diameter sphere to pass through with the following exceptions:
- Triangular openings on a stair between the tread, riser, and bottom rail of a guard, shall not allow a 6" diameter sphere to pass through.
- Other openings on guards located on stairs shall not allow a 4 3/8" sphere to pass through.
This handout is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the full code text. If discrepancies arise, the code shall govern.
Customers are encouraged to contact their local state or city to get information about their local building codes. City building codes supersede national building codes. Inline Design provides this information in an advisory capacity only and is not liable for any code non-compliance.