Photo of a residential deck construction(C) Daniel Friedman Porch & Deck Railing / Guardrail Code FAQs
Q&A on guardrail construction best practices

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FAQs about the Best Practices for Building Guardrails on Decks & Porches:

This article series describes recommended construction practices for deck safety, deck railing requirements, guard railing construction and building codes, and critical safe-construction details for deck and porch rails, guardrails, and exterior stair guard railings and handrails.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

FAQs about Building Safe, Legal Deck, Porch Railings

Tall entry stair (C) Daniel FriedmanThese questions and answers about deck railings or guardrails were posted originally at DECK & PORCH GUARDRAILINGS - be sure to see that article.

[Click to enlarge any image]

On 2018-05-31 by (mod) - not all guardrails require posts for support


My opinion the model codes certainly do permit some guardrails to be built without posts - depending on the type and design. The model codes specify the strength of the railing or guardrail that's required not the details of How It's to be constructed.

Your guardrail needs to be able to withstand certain loads.

Reasons for using posts (or not) when installing a guardrail are detailed at GUARDRAIL POST CODES & SPECS - please take a look and let me know if questions remain.

On 2018-05-30 by Martin Alper

You post a photo of a deck where the rail is supported by the balusters only. No Posts. Do the codes allow this?

On 2018-04-11 by (mod) - There are no handrails on either side of the steps. The seller’s agent says that it wasn’t a code requirement


In my OPINION the seller's agent does not have your daughter's safety in mind and is simply trying to speed and simplify the sale and perhaps to maximize his or her commission.

It doesn't matter if the steps are "grandfathered" in without a railing. If someone falls off they'll be just as hurt, grandfather or not. It's a valid safety concern.

The cost of curing this is not a show-stopper expense, it's a safety hazard.

In my OPINION the absence of a hand railing would not be a reason to stop the purchase of a home I wanted (which is why I hold the naysayer realtor in low esteem). The cost-to-cure is a tiny fraction of a percent of the value of the home. If the seller doesn't want to spring for that safety correction the buyer should do so.

Deck guardrail posts under construction (C) Daniel Friedman Paul GalowIf for other reasons your daughter goes ahead with the purchase, just as I'd have advised the seller and listing broker I warn that a stairway without guards and handrails is a trip and fall hazard.

Hazards might be even greater when many strangers are visiting the property: prospective buyers, realtors, appraisers, movers, repair people called in to tune up the home for its new owners.

So I'd like to see a handrail installed promptly, and I'd expect your daughter to warn her movers to take extra care on the railingless stair if she's moving in before that's done.

On 2018-04-11 by Steve

My daughter is buying a home where you have to climb five steps to reach the front porch. There are no handrails on either side of the steps. The seller’s agent says that it wasn’t a code requirement in Fulton County, Georgia when the home was first built and purchased in 2001.

Seems like it would have been required. Anyone know where I can find this out.

On 2018-01-09 by (mod) - 3 ft or below the frost line is pretty standard.


3 ft or below the frost line is pretty standard. But I recommend using masonry piers and keeping the actual wooden post above ground for a longer post life.

On 2018-01-09 by Mike Tree

Contact me at

How deep must post be put ingriund, when installing a patio deck.

On 2018-01-09 by (mod) -

Dave G

Baluster spacings (typically 4") are given in detail at

On 2017-10-05 by Dave G

How much space is required between verticals, between each other on handrail?

On 2017-09-26 by (mod) - lattice enclosures of space below the deck - for safety?


In SOME jurisdictions the local building department might have a safety reason to keep kids from wandering under a deck so might want the lattice enclosure, but that's not something I've found in building codes.

The maximum height above ground that a typical inspector permits a deck or steps without a guardrail is 30" but that too will vary depending on local regulations where you live. In my opinion we should always have guardrails even if a deck is just a few inches or a foot above ground, since I have seen people chatting away at a deck party followed by taking a step backwards, falling off of a low deck and suffering an injury.

On 2017-09-26 12:06:09.623758 by bert

Also what is the min height that no steps or porch rail is required ?

if a contractor builds a deck does he have to fram and enclose the porch with lattice?

On 2017-08-04 by (mod) - Calhoun SC requirement for guards on balconies


Using Calhoun SC as an example

R312 Guards:

Required on porches, screened porches, balconies or raised floor surfaces more than 30 inches above the floor or grade (grade is
measured from the lowest point 6’ out) must be 36 “ high [along open stairs] and 4 “ sphere openings -

Watch out: I've read that for Balconies in South Carolina you need to be at 42" - which I recommend anyway as safer. I'm looking for the specific citation.

SC has adopted the 2015 IBC with South Carolina Modifications -

The final legal authority is your LOCAL building inspector, so I'd give them a call.

On 2017-08-04 by David Pickens

How high does the railing need to be on a second story balcony in SC?

On 2017-07-18 13:37:50.081334 by (mod) - The needed guardrail isn't reduced by a planter.

Not in my view. The needed guardrail isn't reduced by a planter.

Someone could easily trip or fall backwards over the planter

On 2017-07-17 by Doris Bachmann

What is an acceptable safe height for a planter on a deck instead of a railing? Will 24" to 28 " suffice if the planter is 16-18" wide

On 2017-06-27 20:44:59.888345 by Rick

What year did the building Codes adopt the 4" ball criteria on baluster spacing?

On 2017-06-14 19:10:39.566161 by (mod) -


Actually the requirements for guardrail vary depending on the jurisdiction that is where you live. It is also the case that you are a local Building Code Compliance inspector is the final legal Authority. However being deemed legal does not mean that a falling Hazard or injury risk are not present.

On 2017-06-14 17:53:05.378978 by Steve B

I was just told by a Va inspector I need a guard rail for deck less than 30" I'm thinking a guardrail is a few 4x4s bolted to deck and 2x4s attached across middle and top. I am not going overboard because I had a building inspector sign off on the height

On 2016-12-20 00:21:18.338069 by (mod) -

Steve I don't quite understand the question. But if you're asking about acceptable spacing between the vertical balusters, where 4" is a common standard, check with your building department about what they'll accept.

On 2016-12-19 16:46:33.447251 by Steve Mccoy

Can i add on to existing iron porch hand rail with 6"between the posts instead of 4"?

On 2016-10-02 20:30:28.739634 by Ann

If porch is 26 inches from ground is it required to have railing?

On 2016-09-15 19:00:47.171808 by (mod) - Currently, we have steel railings and was told that wood is code


While your local code inspector is by law the final authority, I'm stunned by your note.

I would not expect to find any building code stating that steel handrails or guardrails are not permitted and that only wood guards and rails are permitted. That sounds more to me like arm-waving by someone who just wants to work with familiar materials.

Guardrail width, meaning thickness? It's not specified unless part of the railing is serving as a handrail. Then handrail graspability rules apply.

Shrubs may cushion the fall but they're not a substitute for a guardrail. The requirement for guardrails or handrails does vary by height above ground; at 2 ft. your local code inspector MIGHT not require railings. Ask your local inspector; let us know what you're told and where you live.

Barbara: What sort of fencing? Barbed wire? No. Other fencing that meets the strength, spacing, height specifications can be used. I'd avoid horizontal fencing as it's climbable and may not be accepted by your local officials.

On 2016-09-15 16:46:49.294466 by ConnieJohns

We are upgrading our front steps and have to replace E erything. Currently, we have steel railings and was told that wood is code now. Can we combine both materials?

On 2016-07-09 00:43:10.840925 by Anonymous

What is the legal width of guard rail

On 2016-05-22 18:13:46.518504 by Porch with shrubs around it but 2 ft off ground. Do we need to provide railings

How msmy ft off ground do we provide spindles

On 2016-04-24 03:48:55.349913 by Barbara

Can fencing be used as guard rail on a deck?

On 2016-04-13 11:22:45.177700 by (mod) -


Typically most jurisdictions require a handrail at 3 risers or base the requirement on height above grade. However depending on who is using the stairs, a handrail may be recommended even for a single step. For a stairway used by the elderly or people who have trouble climbing stairs, a handrail is suggested for even one step.

On 2016-04-12 23:55:45.238303 by jim burroughs

exterior stair how few risers before handrail required mi. code

On 2016-02-25 19:06:08.082267 by Anonymous

Question can I use wood for upper balcony railings

On 2015-12-10 07:47:47.266846 by (mod) -


Without knowing anything about your building nor deck I can't suggest an exact repair.

In general one does not need a building permit simply to repair a loose railing connection. Your rsil, to be safe, indeed must meet the loading requirements discussed in these articles.

And yes connecting a rail through siding to building framing is ideal. We don't know what's under your stucco nor stucco thickness. Structural fasteners need to be long enough to pass 1.5" or more into a stud.

A stud finder should work if the stucco is not on metal lath.

On 2015-12-10 04:22:06.565703 by JEFF

Balcony railing wiggles a little bit. We would like to reinforce it where it is next to the wall. Do we need a permit in Hayward Ca? How do we find a stud location under stucco. I have a stud finder but I don't think it will work well on stucco. If we find the stud in the wall we can just bolt the railing upright to the stud in the wall?


(May 9, 2015) Kate Hauserman said:

The question you have answered at DECK & PORCH GUARDRAILINGS about the seating vs. a guard rail doesn't appear to answer the question posted in the sketch.

The question as I understand it, if there is a landscaped area adjacent to the retaining wall, can the guard rail be eliminated? You post a picture of dense planting alleviating the need for a guard rail-does the planting area have to be a specific width?



As as you are asking about guardrailings at retaining walls you'll want to see the specifics about codes, standards, accidents and some suggestions found at


and don't hesitate to ask if questions remain.


Question: maximum height of a deck before rails are required

(June 8, 2015) Anonymous said:
what is the max. height of a deck before rails are required?


The maximum deck height before a railing is required varies by jurisdiction, typically 24-30" from ground level; some jurisdictions state the height as three step risers or more.

Keep in mind however that someone can be injured falling off a deck that's only a few inches high.

See the article series beginning at GUARDRAIL CONSTRUCTION, DECKS & RAMPS for railing height and other specifications.


Continue reading at DECK & PORCH GUARDRAILINGS for guardrailing specifications & codes, or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.


Or see BALUSTERS, STAIR & RAILING for additional examples of stair and railing designs and problems.


Or see DECK DESIGN & BUILD - home

Or see these

Guardrail / Railing Articles

Suggested citation for this web page

DECK & PORCH GUARDRAILINGS FAQs at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.


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