Handrail Height requirements are issued to create a safe and enjoyable space for everyone. In the United States, Handrail Height is based on either the ADA, IBC/ICC, OSHA, or your local building jurisdiction.
While many ADA standards have been incorporated into building codes, it is essential to note that the ADA is not a building code but a standard by which a facility open to the public may be deemed accessible.
Knowledge of the code requirements is important whether a Handrail is used as a standalone system or combined with an existing bar, glass, or cable railing system. Inline Design provides this information in an advisory capacity only and is not liable for any code non-compliance. Customers are encouraged to call their local building jurisdiction to get information about their local building codes. Local building codes supersede national building codes.
- Height Requirements Chart
- ADA Height Requirements
- IBC/IRC Height Requirements
- OSHA Height Requirements
- Children Height Requirements
- Handrail Gripping Surfaces
- Pinch Vs Power Handrail Grip
- Handrail Extensions
- How Many Handrail Brackets Do I Need?
- How Far Should The Handrail Be From The Wall?
- Does A Stair Handrail Need To Be Continuous?
- Do I Need A Handrail For 3 Steps?
- Does Code Require A Handrail On Stairs?
- What Angle Should A Handrail Be?
- How To Measure For Handrail?
- What Are The Typical Stairs Run And Rise?
- What Is The Typical Floor To Floor Height Residential?
1. Height Requirements Chart
|Stair Rail System
|34" to 38"
|34" to 38"
|28" with a min of 9" with above Adult Handrail
|30" to 38"
|36" to 38" may also serve as Guard
|42" +/- 3"
|36" to 38"
2. ADA Height Requirements
The current ADA standards dictate that the top of Handrails gripping surfaces shall be 34 inches minimum and 38 inches maximum measured vertically above walking surfaces, stair nosings, and ramp surfaces with a greater than a 1:20 slope.
Handrails must remain at a consistent height above walking surfaces, stair nosings, and ramp surfaces. If your railing run is across multiple surfaces like a ramp, stairs, and landing, it must be consistent height across all the whole railing run.
When the ramp has a slope that is less than 1:20, a Handrail is not required. However, if a railing is present on walking surfaces with running slopes less than 1:20, they must comply with ADA standards.
- The height from the surface is between 34" and 38"
- The height is consistent across runs
3. IBC/IRC Height Requirements
The IBC requires a guard to be 42 inches tall, with Handrails falling between 34 and 38 inches. When the 42-inch guardrail is used on a stair or ramp, a secondary Handrail will be required at the appropriate height. If the guard top rail is not used as a Handrail, it would not have graspability requirements.
The IRC required the top of all Handrails must be between 34 and 38 inches measured from the walking surface or the nose of the stairs.
4. OSHA Height Requirements
OSHA requires the top of the gripping surfaces of Handrails shall be 30 inches minimum and 38 inches maximum vertically above walking surfaces, stair nosings, and ramp surfaces.
The height of top rails, or equivalent guardrail system members, is 42 inches, +/- 3 inches, and may not exceed 45 inches above the walking-working surface.
5. Children Height Requirements
When children are the principal users in a building or facility (e.g., elementary schools), a second set of Handrails at an appropriate height can assist them and aid in preventing accidents.
A maximum height of 28 inches measured to the top of the gripping surface from the ramp surface or stair nosing is recommended for Handrails designed for children. Sufficient vertical clearance between upper and lower Handrails, 9 inches minimum, should be provided to help prevent entrapment.
- The maximum height from the surface is 28"
- The minimum vertical clearance between Handrails is 9"
- The height is consistent across runs
6. Handrail Gripping Surfaces
Handrails have specific parameters they must meet to comply with ADA standards. The Handrail gripping surface is the actual Handrail you grip while using the Handrail. This surface needs to be continuous along the length and not obstructed at its tops or sides, including the landings and corners.
The underside of the gripping surface should not be blocked for more than 20 percent of its overall length. Horizontal projections of the Handrail Brackets shall be 1 1/2 inches below the bottom of the gripping surface.
Handrail gripping surface with a circular cross section shall have an outside diameter between 1.125 and 2 inches. The gripping surface for a non-circular cross section shall have a perimeter dimension between 4 inches and 6.125 inches and a maximum cross section of 2 1/4 inches.
If the perimeter is greater than 6 1⁄4” shall have a graspable finger recess area on both sides.
The Handrail gripping surfaces and any surfaces adjacent to them shall be free of sharp or abrasive elements, have rounded edges, and not rotate within their fittings.
Handrail gripping surfaces shall extend beyond stair flights and ramps with three exceptions. Inside turns in a switchback or dogleg, aisle ramps, and stairs, providing access to seating, or when extensions are hazardous due to plan configuration.
7. Pinch Vs Power Handrail Grip
Pinch Handrail Grip does not meet ADA requirements of Handrail Grip Safety like Power Handrail Grip does. The Pinch Grip is only about 25% of the maximum grip strength possible by the Power Grip.
Pinch Grip is the act of using the tip of the fingers to pull a small object like a spoon. Power Grip is the act of holding with the entire surface of your hand's palm on a cylindrical object like a Handrail Tube. The ideal Handrail Tube size for Power Handrail Grip is between 1 1/4" to 2" in diameter.
8. Handrail Extensions
Handrail extensions at the top of a stair flight need to extend 12 inches horizontally to the landing. The extension is measured from the nose of the top landing to 12 inches horizontally. All extensions shall return to a wall, guard, the landing surface or be continuous to the Handrail of an adjacent stair flight.
Handrail extensions at the bottom of a flight of stairs need to extend at the same slope as the stairs at a distance equal to one tread depth or be continuous to the Handrail of an adjacent ramp or stair run.
The top and bottom of ramps need a minimum of a 12-inch extension. The extension will need to have a return to a wall, post, or landing surface. It can also run continuously to the Handrail of an adjacent ramp or stair run.
9. How Many Handrail Brackets Do I Need?
You need a Handrail Bracket every 4 ft +/- 6 in maximum and 1 ft +/- 6 in maximum from the ends. For example, for a 10 feet Handrail, you need 3 Handrail Brackets. The first Handrail Bracket at a 1-foot distance, the next one at 5 feet, and the last one at 9 feet (or 1 foot from the other end).
The Handrail Brackets and Handrail as a system need to meet the 200-pound load requirements for Handrails in a downward direction. Care needs to be taken in locating the Handrail Brackets to the substructure for proper support.
10. How Far Should The Handrail Be From The Wall?
ADA requires a minimum of 1-1/2 inches clearance between the wall and the Handrail. ADA as well requires the same clearance of 1-1/2 inches minimum between the bottom of the Handrail and the horizontal stem of the Handrail Bracket. Handrail shall have a maximum projection from the wall of 4-1/2 inches.
11. Do I Need A Handrail For 3 Steps?
No. Residential Code requires a Handrail starting from 4 steps above mounted at least on one side of the stairs.
Building codes define a step as a riser. Top and bottom landings are not considered a step. The common language in the different building regulations and codes specifies 4 risers.
Two Handrails are required when the width of a step extends 7 feet, with exceptions for single dwelling units. Remember to check local building codes.
12. Does Code Require A Handrail On Stairs?
Handrails are to provide stability or support while ascending or descending stairs to prevent injury. Handrails are typically supported by posts or attached to walls.
Code requires at least one Handrail on all Stairs with four risers and a stair width of fewer than 44 inches, keeping a clear width of the stairway to 36 inches minimum. Stairs that are wider than 44 inches need to have a Handrail on both sides.
If one side of the stairway is open, a guard railing is required on the open side, and the Handrail can be mounted on either side.
13. Does A Stair Handrail Need To Be Continuous?
Handrails must be continuous within the entire length of each stair or ramp run. Handrails with switchbacks or doglegs on stairs or ramps shall be continuous between flights or runs across the landings. There are some exceptions to these continuity rules so remember to check with your local building department.
The handrail and any surfaces adjacent to them shall be free of sharp or abrasive elements, have rounded edges, do not rotate within their fittings, and have no obstructions along the tops or sides.
14. What Angle Should A Handrail Be?
The handrail needs to be a consistent height above the nose line of a stair or ramp. This is measured from the nose of the stair to the top of the railing. Most stairs are between 20 and 40 degrees, as calculated from the run and the rise of a step. Handrail Code does not use this angle, instead calling out for a consistent height about the walking surface.
When mounting your handrail, take the top or landing nose and measure the appropriate distance repeating the same with the bottom step. These two points create the Stair Nosing line, which is the guide to mount the handrail railing.
15. How To Measure For Handrail?
The length of material needed for a stair handrail is from the nosing of the top landing the nosing of the bottom step and add 2 feet.
16. What are the typical Stairs Run and Rise?
The 2018 IBC building code for the rise and run of stairs is a maximum 7" rise and minimum 11" run. The OSHA standard for the rise and run of stairs is a maximum 9.5" rise and a minimum 9.5" run. The IBC maximum rise of a single stair flight is 12 feet.
17. What Is The Typical Floor To Floor Height Residential?
The height of each floor of a building is the sum of the ceiling height, floor thickness, and building material. In residential buildings, the floor height is usually between 10 - 14 feet.