Handrail Bracket: Design Guidance

Handrail Brackets are versatile, durable assemblies that can be installed in a wide range of indoor and outdoor applications. Individuals must consider structural requirements, materials, location of the project, compliance with building codes and more, to ensure a smooth installation. Understanding such elements while planning may help you avoid bottlenecks and get the most out of your design.

Key Points

  1. Why are Handrail Important?
  2. What is the difference between Handrail and Guardrail?
  3. What are the different considerations when selecting Materials of a Handrail System?
  4. What are the Code Requirements of a Handrail Bracket System?
  5. What are the Basic Adopted Handrail Regulations?
  6. What is the required Railing Height?
  7. What are the Requirements of the Handrail Grip?
  8. What are the different Design Options?
  9. What are the different Mounting Options?
  10. How do I assemble my Hand Railing System?
  11. Why should I buy from a Trusted Supplier of Handrail?
  12. References


handrail brackets

Why are Handrail Important?

Each year over 1 million Americans are injured (9) as a result of slips, trips, and falls on stairways, according to a study conducted by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, (1). Handrails provide support and stability while climbing stairs, walking down a hallway or walkway, or even maneuvering in the bathroom. They add a third point of contact, which is essential for older populations as well as being extremely beneficial for the younger populations. When used properly handrails can decrease the rate of falls, leading to safer environments. They provide a universal design element that benefits all populations.

What is the difference between Handrail and Guardrail?

While the terms handrail and railing have come to be used interchangeably. They are however very different and it is important to distinguish between the two. A handrail is designed for fall prevention and complies with the ADA guidelines (2). Making stairways, walkways, hallways, and bathrooms safer, not only for those with mobility issues but for people of all ages and abilities. A guardrail or railing is used to prevent people from falling off of a stairway rather than falling down one. A guardrail can also act as a barrier for a porch, deck, or balcony, preventing people from falling off of the edge. Often guardrails on stairs act as handrails.

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What are the different considerations when selecting Materials of a Handrail System?

When designing a railing system many materials may be considered, understanding the options for which applications are suited is essential to ensure the railing system is structurally sound and maintains its integrity. It's important to understand the difference between the types of materials available in railing design applications and their respective benefits.

Stainless steel is a popular selection while aluminum also offers some advantages as well. Non-welded pipe railings are specially designed to utilize all the advantages of aluminum; where strength, durability and no-paint maintenance is a key factor. Stainless Steel is the presumed standard when it comes to loading requirements while aluminum systems require smaller spans or reinforcement inserts.

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Many designers and architects stand behind steel or stainless steel as the way to go to balance form, function, and cost-value. It's flexible in terms of modern or traditional design, and it's long-lasting and durable. Stainless steel is environmentally friendly and 100% recyclable. It's important to keep in mind the wear and tear your railing systems will experience.


Railing systems are often designed without taking the local environment into consideration. Ignoring this consideration or project-specific factors has the potential to impact a lasting appearance. The installation environment, indoors or outdoors, beach or desert are critical factors in material selection.

Indoor railing systems are most affected by the volume of traffic in their location which requires tougher materials. Outdoor applications might have extreme temperatures, precipitation, saltwater proximity, or chlorination as with pools. You need to consider a material that will withstand the rigors of the environment.


Material performance and its ability to resist scratches, nicks, dents, and abuse should be a top consideration. Applications can experience higher-volume use or contend with vandalism. Aluminum railings are easily dinged, Powder-coated metal can be chipped or a lighted railing can be kicked-out, these types of issues pose a real concern for maintenance and appearance. While Stainless Steel may be seen as more expensive upfront the life cycle costs are usually is less.

What are the Code Requirements of a Handrail Bracket System?

International Residential Code (3) applies to one and two-family dwellings while the International Building Code (4)applies to commercial buildings and multi-family residential construction. You must also consider the National Fire Protection Association (5), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (6), and the Americans With Disabilities Act requirements (2). Be aware codes (7) might be different so always check your local code requirements. The basic guard railing requirements include load, height, the distance between handrail and other objects, shape, and changes of level.

Basic guidance to consider with handrails they must be able to withstand a uniform load of 50 pounds per foot or a concentrated load of 200 pounds placed at the top of the handrail. Handrail height is between 34 inches and 38 inches. The handrail must be continuous within the full length of each stair flight or ramp run.

What are the Basic Adopted Handrail Regulations?

Building codes that come into play during construction or renovation can be confusing. They also are considered when an insurance or home evaluation inspection is performed. Here are the basic adopted regulations which are enforced at the state and local level, there might be some code variations, remember to check your local codes (4).

Guidance Commercial
The handrail must be installed on at least one side of every stairway with 2 or more steps or a ramp with a slope greater than 1:20 X X
The handrail must be installed on both sides of stairways and ramps with the exception of 'monumental' steps, no part of a stairway or ramp may be more than 30" from the handrail. X
The top surface of handrails must be 36" +/- 2" above the surface of the ramp or stairs measured from the stair nosing. X X
The handrail must be uninterrupted for the full length of the ramp or continuous runs of stairs. a stairway that includes a winder's or circulator is considered a continuous stairway and the handrail must turn with the stairs. X X
Space between the handrail and adjacent surface must be 1½” X X
Ends or extensions of the handrail must return to the wall, guard, or landing surface. X X
Ramps: Handrails must extend horizontally for 12" minimum beyond the top and bottom of the ramp runs. X
Stairs: Handrails must extend horizontally for 12" minimum, beginning directly about the top riser nosing. Handrails must extend at the same angle as the stairs beyond the nosing of the bottom step by one tread depth. X

What is the required Railing Height?

When considering a railing, you will also need to decide how long the railing will need to be. You will want to get this right the first time so you don't end up with a railing that is too short or too long and then have to reorder the railing. There are two ways to do this. The simple way is to measure the distance of stairs from the nose of the bottom step to the nose of the top step and add 3 feet. The other way involves some math. Measure the rise and run of the steps and apply the following formula to calculate the length: Railing Length= √ (height2 + Length2). The result will be your railing length.

What are the Requirements of the Handrail Grip?

There are 2 main types of handrail grips(10), the pinch and the power grip. While the aesthetic of the handrail is important so too is the intended use. Each style has an intended purpose.

The pinch grips occur when the force to grasp the handrail comes from pinching the fingers and thumbs towards each other. This style of grip only allows for 25% of the maximum grip strength. Many decorative railings incorporate the pinch grip. This style of grip is effective for guidance up and down the stairs, ramps, or walkways, but does not allow for enough grip strength to prevent a fall. Handrails incorporating the pinch grip do not meet ADA (2) requirements.

The power grip is over 5 times stronger than the pinch grip as it allows for maximum grip strength and the fingers flex towards the palm. In addition, a power grip allows those with mobility impairment to use their arm and upper body strength to assist their lower body when climbing or descending. Proper handrail design includes a power grip.

A cylindrical handrail with a diameter between 1-¼” and 2” provides the maximum grip strength, reducing and preventing falls on stairways and ramps.

What are the different Design Options?

Handrail brackets are available in a wide variety of styles. To comply with regulations, which require that a hand must be able to pass unobstructed over the entire length of the handrail, they must ensure that the distance between the adjacent wall and the gripping surface of the handrail is a minimum of 1½”. Brackets that are “L” shaped are the most effective in meeting this requirement. Allowing for the passage of the fingers as people grip the handrail to guide themselves up and down stairways, hallways, and ramps. An ADA-compliant handrail should have L-shaped brackets, where the horizontal portion that attaches to the wall is at least 1-½” (38mm) below the handrail profile.

What are the different Mounting Options?

Another commonly overlooked aspect of railings is the mounting hardware itself. You will need to use the correct mounting hardware for your specific application. Using the correct hardware will speed the installation while ensuring a long life. For mounting the railing to the concert or brick, you will need concrete wedge anchors or concert screws. When attaching the railing to the handrail brackets use the screws recommended by your supplier.

How do I assemble my Hand Railing System?

Make Sure You Have the Proper Equipment & Tools. This one may seem obvious but often overlooked when installing a railing. Being eager to get your new railing up, installed, and done. When it comes time to actually installing your new railing if you don't own the Hammer Drill and your mounting in concrete or you forgot to pick up screws for mounting the railing will slow the process and increases frustration. So make sure you have all the tools you need ready, available, and at your hand when you go to install the railing. Remember to lay all your tools out and double-check you have everything you will need.

Why should I buy from a Trusted Supplier of Handrail?

Railing systems are just one of many project costs you have to contend with but often overlooked. Understanding future maintenance needs, cleaning, painting, and upkeep costs when choosing which material is best for your application can save money long term. Take a deeper look at all the factors influencing material and product selection and make sure you’re looking at it job specific. Remember to leverage your expert resources - which in the end provides the clarity and assurance needed, and saves valuable time in the design process.


NLM (1) National Library of Medicine OSHA (6) Occupational Safety and Health Administration
ADA (2) ADA Standards SBCA (7) Structural Building Components Association
IRC (3) International Residential Code ICC (8) International code council
IBC (4) International Building Code Reuters (9) Reuters Health
NFPA (5) National Fire Protection Association USAB (10) U.S. Access Board
Note: Customers are encouraged to call their local city for information about their local building codes (8) . City building codes supersede national building codes. Inline Design is providing this information in an advisory capacity only. The company is not liable for any non-compliance with applicable building codes associated with railing installations.