Cable tensioning devices for residential cable or wire guardrail, Tivolin NY (C) Daniel Friedman RA Building Codes for Cable-type Guardrails
Wire Rope Railings & Ladder Effect Codes, Standards, Installation Manuals

  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about Building Code Rules & Installation Specifications for Guardrail Cables: Wire Rope Railings, spacing, tensioning, support, cable diameters, inspection, safety hazards, applications, & code approvals

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Model Building Code citations for cable railings or wire rope guardrails:

This article lists historical and current model building codes regulating guardrail openings, cable railings, and railings where the ladder-effect, climbable guardrails, may be present. We give the allowable opening size between guardrail or stair guard openings including the 4" sphere and 6" sphere passage through openings guidelines.

This article series describes and includes illustrations of cable or wire rope railings or guardrails used along decks, balconies, walkways and stairways. We include definitions of guardrail, a handrailing or stairway handrail, and other terms that assist in understanding the building code, construction, and safety requirements that wire cable type railings must meet.

Where the presence of children argues against any sort of horizontally-run guard railing member, cable railing manufacturers can provide vertical cable railing designs.

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.

Model Building Code Citations on Allowable Openings Code Citations pertinent to Cable Railings

Guardrail unsafe (C) Daniel FriedmanWatch out: because local state or provincial building codes adopt model codes from different years and because the final legal authority always rests with local building officials, you should check with your local building department about what guardrailing specifications are required where you live.

[Click to enlarge any image]

History of Model Building Code Specifications for Opening Size & Ladder Effect in Guardrails

Exceptions to the spacing rules given above:

Triangular openings formed by the riser, tread and bottom rail of a guard at the open side of a stairway should be such that a sphere 6 inches (152 mm) cannot pass through.

Openings for required guards on the sides of stair treads shall not allow a sphere 4 3/8 inches (107mm) to pass through.

Cable railing tension demonstration (C) Daniel Friedman

Exceptions: 21" sphere for elevated walk for electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems and Group I-3, F, H, or S occupancies, balusters, horizontal intermediate rails or other construction.


2016/08/28 Steve Anzelc Dove Inspections said:

This Feeney Inc. article has great history on removal of ladder effect from IRC in 2001

[See an expanded citation at Feeney, Inc., found in this article at CABLE RAILING SAFETY RESEARCH - Ed. ]


Thanks Steve,

A brief history of the IRC's position on horizontal "ladder effect" railings (including cable railings) is given in our own article CABLE RAILINGS & GUARDRAILS in section: LADDER EFFECT at GUARDRAILS and that history is indeed repeated for IRC editions in 2000, 2001, and 2012 in the in the article you suggested and whose citation we have expanded.

Indeed it's both significant and interesting that guidance regarding an obvious child hazard: climbable guardrails, was amended to remove what experts previously agreed was a concern.

Perhaps this was a concession to cable railing manufacturers and architects who like horizontal cabling either aesthetically or because the longer horizontal cable-pull runs are manifestly easier and more economical to install.

We might both also look for research comparing hazard levels of vertical vs. horizontal cable guardrails that lack adequate tension to prevent deformation and openings that form safety hazards.


Other Cable Guardrail & Stair Guard Codes & Standards

Watch out: In addition to the requirement to comply with all local zoning and building codes, or safety and durability cable type guardrailings and stair rails, their posts, connections, and tensioning devices must be installed following the specifications provided by the cable railing manufacturer. We give some examples and cable railing or cable guardrail installation standards and manuals here.

Some cable railing system manufacturers provide a cable tensioning gauge intended for use with their cable system. For example Fortress Railing System instructions specify that the cable tension be set to between 10 and 16 on the tension gauge provided by the manufacturer. (We don't have a translation of that into psi.)

In other cases you may find that there are often no quantitative tensioning instructions nor measurements in other instructions for cable rail systems, perhaps in part because of the difficulty of making precise, accurate and objective field measurements.

Cable Railing Systems & Installation Manuals, Specifications

Full Text of IRC Building Codes 2006, 2012

The ICC has free, limited, live, online access to some of the latest codes, but I couldn't find the free link for IRC immediately.

Question: mandatory inspection for cable handrails?

Just have a question. Do you know if it’s mandatory by the USA to have cable inspected, tested, have specifications or be certified prior to selling? Cable that will be used for handrails. - Anonymous by private email, 2017/08/28



As we discuss in this article series starting at CABLE RAILINGS & GUARDRAILS - home, you will see that

Cable infill used in guard railings and stair guards is regulated by some state building codes, and the system would be inspected as part of the permit and inspections and final building code authority approval for the construction of stairs, balconies, etc. where such guards are installed.

National model building codes discuss railing security, strength, graspability, and safe opening widths in terms that would apply to cable type guardails.

Beyond those general guides I add that it will be essential to obtain and follow the installation specifications including for all connectors, posts, cable tensioning, and top railing that are set by the manufacturer of the specific cable railing system you are installing.

Watch out: regarding the details of your questin, there is no cable railing system that intends that you use a cable as the handrailing.


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Guardrail / Railing Articles

Suggested citation for this web page

CABLE RAILING CODES, OPENINGS, LADDER EFFECT at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.


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