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Stair, railing, guardrail, handrail, landing & platform building codes & design specifications: provides citations of stair and railing code & design specifications quoted from model building codes. For each stair specification & code citation we include links to in-depth articles providing more details.
This article series lists all major building code specifications for stairs, railings, landings, and guardrails - information useful for constructing or inspecting indoor or outdoor stairs, railings, landings, & treads, and for evaluating stairways and railings for safety and proper construction. We compare stair and railing code requirements for various model, national, state and local building codes and we include explicit text & specifications from those building codes.
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Model Building Code Citations for Stairs & Railings: BOCA, International Building Code 2000 (BOCA, ICBO, SBCCI), California, Florida, New York, other States
[Click to enlarge any image] Sketch at above left provided courtresy of Carson Dunlop Associates.
BOCA National Property Maintenance Code 1993
PM-305.5 Stairs and Railings in Good Condition
all interior stairs and railings shall be maintained in sound condition and good repair.
Commentary: Handrails, treads and risers must be structurally sound, firmly attached to the structure, and properly maintained to perform their intended function safely. During an inspection the code official should inspect all stringers, risers, treads, and handrails.
PM-305.6 Handrails and guards
Every handrail and guard shall be firmly fastened and capable of supporting normally imposed loads and shall be maintained in good condition.
Commentary: This section provides for the safety and maintenance of handrails and guards. See Section PM-702.9 for additional requirements.
PM-702.9 Stairways, handrails and guards
Every exterior and interior flight of stairs having more than four risers, and every open portion of a stair, landing or balcony which is more than 30 inches (762mm) high, nor more than 42 inches (1067mm) high, measured vertically above the nosing of the tread or above the finished floor of the landing or walking surfaces. Guards shall be not less than 30 inches (762mm) high above the floor of the landing or balcony.
Commentary: Handrails are required on all stairs more than four risers in height. Handrails cannot be less than 30 inches nor more than 42 inches above the nosing of the treads (see Figure PM-702.9).
Guards are required on the open side of stairs and on landings and balconies which are more than 30 inches above the floor or grade below. The guard must be at least 30 inches above the floor of the landing or balcony. Guards are to contain intermediate rails, balusters or other construction to reduce the chance of an adult or child from falling through the guard. If the guard is missing some intermediate rails or balustrades, it is recommended that the guard be repaired to its original condition if it will provide protection equivalent to the protection it provided when originally constructed.
1003.3.3.4 Stairway Landing Codes
There shall be a floor or landing at the top and bottom of each stairway. The width of landings shall not be less than the width of stairways they serve. Every landing shall have a minimum dimension measured in the direction of travel equal to the width of the stairway. Such dimension need not exceed 48 inches (1219 mm) where the stairway has a straight run.
1003.3.3.11.3 Handrail Grasp Ability (Graspability) Requirements
Our photo (left) illustrates the author (DF) holding on to a secure, graspable handrail in a building in Bar Harbor, Maine. Also see
Handrails with a circular cross section shall have an outside diameter of at least 1.25 inches (32 mm) and not greater than 2 inches (51 mm) or shall provide equivalent grasp ability.
If the handrail is not circular, it shall have a perimeter dimension of at least 4 inches (102 mm) and not greater than 6.25 inches (159 mm) with a maximum cross-section dimension of 2.25 inches (57 mm). Edges shall have a minimum radius of 0.125 inch (3.2 mm).
100333.11.4 Handrail or Guardrail Continuity
Handrail-gripping surfaces shall be continuous, without interruption by newel posts or other obstructions.
1607.7 Loads on Handrails, guards, grab bars and vehicle barriers
1607.7.1.1 Concentrated Load on Railings
Handrail assemblies and guards shall be able to resist a single concentrated load of 200 pounds (0.89kN), applied in any direction at any point along the top, and have attachment devices and supporting structure to transfer this loading to appropriate structural elements of the building.
1607.7.1.2 Component of Railings and Guardrails
Intermediate rails (all those except the handrail), balusters and panel fillers shall be designed to withstand a horizontally applied normal load of 50 pounds (0.22 kN) on an area not to exceed one square foot (305mm2) including openings and space between rails.
This building code update for stairway design specifications was provided courtesy Arlene Puentes.
R3184.108.40.206 Stair Riser Height Codes
The maximum riser height shall be 8 1 / 4 inches (209 mm). The riser shall be measured vertically between leading edges of the adjacent treads. The greatest riser height within any flight of stairs shall not exceed the smallest by more than 3 / 8 inch (9.5 mm).
R3220.127.116.11 Stair Tread Depth Code Requirements
The minimum tread depth shall be 9 inches (229 mm). The tread depth shall be measured horizontally between the vertical planes of the foremost projection of adjacent treads and at a right angle to the tread's leading edge.
The greatest tread depth within any flight of stairs shall not exceed the smallest by more than 3 / 8 inch (9.5 mm). Winder treads shall have a minimum tread depth of 10 inches (254 mm) measured as above at a point 12 inches (305) mm from the side where the treads are narrower.
Winder treads shall have a minimum tread depth of 6 inches (152 mm) at any point. Within any flight of stairs, the greatest winder tread depth at the 12 inch (305 mm) walk line shall not exceed the smallest by more than 3 / 8 inch (9.5 mm).
R318.104.22.168 Stair Tread Nose Profile Code Requirements
The radius of curvature at the leading edge of the tread shall be no greater than 9 / 16 inch (14.3 mm). A nosing not less than 3 / 4 inch (19 mm) but not more than 1 1 / 4 inch (32 mm) shall be provided on stairways with solid risers.
The greatest nosing projection shall not exceed the smallest nosing projection by more than 3 / 8 inch (9.5 mm) between two stories, including the nosing at the level of floors and landings.
Beveling of nosing shall not exceed 1 / 2 inch (12.7 mm). Risers shall be vertical or sloped from the underside of the leading edge of the tread above at an angle not more than 30 (0.51 rad) degrees from the vertical. Open risers are permitted, provided that the opening between treads does not permit the passage of a 4-inch diameter (102 mm) sphere.
Exceptions to Stair Tread Nose Requirements:
1. A nosing is not required where the tread depth is a minimum of 11 inches (279 mm).
2. The opening between adjacent treads is not limited on stairs with a total rise of 30 inches (762 mm) or less
Stair Tread Anti-Slip or Coefficient of Friction Recommendations for Safe Walking Surfaces
[Not found in NYS Code]
A walking-surface that provides a coefficient of friction of 1.02 dry and 0.98 wet will comply with ADA, OSHA, and most local building codes and insurance requirements. Other sources (cited in the two articles listed just below) cite a coefficient of friction of 0.5 (OSHA) or 0.6 (ADA) as the minimum recommended COF to avoid slippery walking surfaces and stairways.
See Algae, Ice, Fungus, Wet Surfaces & Other Stair Slip, Trip & Fall Hazards for details. Also see EXTERIOR STAIR FALLS for a catalog of causes of falls on stairs that includes surface conditions and other defects.
R322.214.171.124 Spiral Stairway Building Codes
Spiral stairways are permitted for interior use as a component of the means of egress from a habitable room, a basement or an attic, provided the minimum width shall be 26 inches (660 mm) with each tread having a 7 1 / 2 -inch (190 mm) minimum tread depth at 12 inches from the narrower edge.
All treads shall be identical, and the rise shall be no more than 9 1 / 2 inches (241 mm).
A minimum headroom of 6 feet 6 inches (1982 mm) shall be provided. A spiral stair is not permitted to be the only means of egress from a story of a building.
STAIRWAYS - see OSHA at references
STAIRRAILS AND HANDRAILS
Is there an exception to the riser height variation for the very first step of the staircase? Let me attempt to clarify the question. I have a deck (exterior porch) for which the distance from the top of the deck to the slab which forms the footing for the set of stairs is just shy of the 5 steps within a pre-fabricated 5 step stair stringer which can be purchased at a Home Depot or Lowes, for example.
If I attach the pre-made stringer from the deck to the slab, ensuring that the top of the deck to the next stair down is the same height as the rest, then the riser height from the slab to the first stair is greater than a 3/8" variation from the rest of the riser heights by 1/8th of an inch (ie. it's 1/2 inch shorter than the rest of the stairs - I actually need to remove a half inch from the bottom most stair of the stringer to fit). If this is a violation of code, than it means I need to cut my own customer stringer. Just verifying. Any feedback is appreciated. - Dan
Dan we answered this question previously in detail at STAIR RISER SPECIFICATIONS - please take a look at that article. In short, because your step riser height variation at the first step is 1/2" shorter than the rest of the stairs, you can trim the top and bottom of the stair stringer to split that difference, making sure that the variation in step riser height is 1/4" or less - which meets code.
Is there a minimum weight capacity for wooden stairs? - Hendrick
Hendrick: regarding stair load capacity, the best answer is to start by asking your local building department - the local code officials are the final authority on stair load capacity requirements.
Based on the 1997 Uniform Building Code (TM), the 2000 International Building Code (R), and the 2000 International Residential code (R) IRC, and looking at a popular stair construction bracket (the EZ-stair bracket), the allowable download on the bracket is 610-640 pounds (including snow loads on exterior stairs). Typical deck & post load numbers range from 650 to 1050 lbs/sqft.
Naturally all of the stair structural and other weight bearing components have to be constructed to handle the live and dead loads involved. And you can increase the load bearing capacity or weight carrying capacity of your stairs by increasing the size of the stair stringers.
Watch out: we have seen amateur-built stairs at which the stair stringers were cut so deeply to prepare notches for the treads and risers that the entire stairway was being supported by what amounted to a 2x3!!
I purchased a cabin recently, the cabin was built in 1979, at that time the building code for stairs was different than the code today. I do rent the cabin. Do I need to remodeled the stair to be conform to the new building codes? - Mike Jones
Mike, re: requirement to update stairs to meet current building codes:
While the final answer to your question is in the hands of your local building department, usually building owners are not required to change or update their building to keep up with building code updates.
But often a building owner can indeed find themselves obligated to update certain portions of the building or its mechanical systems to current building codes
In my OPINION, because stair falls are the greatest source of injuries and hospitalizations in North America after automobile accidents, it is worth making stairs, railings, landings, and guardrails as safe as possible. You didn't mention anything specific about your cabin stairs, but certainly as a landlord, renting the property, you have an extra level of responsibility to your tenants to make the building safe, and you certainly don't want someone to be injured. I'd be sure to pay attention to basic trip and fall hazards such as uneven risers or treads, and inadequate railings.
Is it against building code that electrail boxes mounted inches above top step at roof hatch on commercial building before entering roof? - Jimmy Johnson, 8 June 2012
Jimmy: the question is unclear, but if the electrical boxes are an obstruction, trip hazard, or are going to be used as a walking surface, any of those would be an objectionable hazard.
I'd need to see some photos to have a more accurate opinion, but in general, if the boxes are a trip hazard in the walking path or if they are going to be stepped on I'm sure it'd be a bad practice.
Here are some photos, trying to find out these boxes are mounted is a building code. Thanks - Jimmy
Photo 1 - above, shows a steep roof access stair with a handrailing that ends well below the final step out over a hatch and onto the roof surface.
We can also see two electrical boxes protruding into the walking path at the top riser, and a very large opening between the topmost tread and the vertical riser formed by the roof access hatch wall.
Mr. Johnson's second photo (immediately at left) shows the opening between the last stair tread and the open riser space, as well as two electrical boxes installed on the face of the roof framing above the last step.
This photo (left) also suggests that there is a considerable variation in riser height from the top tread to step over the access hatch and onto the roof.
The third stair-injury photo (at left) gives additional view of the height of the roof access hatch. It appears again that this is a high step from the last or uppermost stair tread.
We can also see that there is no grab rail, nor handle for use by someone climbing up out of or down into the stairwell. Naturally the requirement for a closable roof access hatch cover precludes a permanent railing exctending the standard height above the stair walking surface.
These steps were most likely designed only for use by building maintenance personnel. As such, while there are OSHA rules governing workplace stairways, the requirements governing stairway pitch and tread design and handrails are different from those expressed in building codes pertaining to stairs intended for general or public use.
Jimmy in my OPINION, regardless of a possible third party interpretation of OSHA regulations or building codes, the stairway in your photos is unsafe for several reasons including
Also in my OPINION, even if a local code official OK's the stair, if, heaven forbid, someone should be injured, you should not count on the code department to come to your defense, and an expert may agree with me that the stairs were a hazard, independent of any approvals.
Thanks for your help, I did fall, my pants leg got caught on the electrial box. [I have ] already had surgery on both shoulders and hadn'd even started on my back problems, Thanks again an I'll let you know what I find out
Jimmy I am so sorry to read of your injuries, though not surprised. While I don't like being asked questions in any mysterious way, in this case, by astutely avoiding telling me anything about what happened to you when you asked my opinion, my answers form an unbiased and unimpeachible opinion that the stairs were a hazard. And if they have not been amended, the are still a hazard to others.
Particularly because of other details at that stairwell, the hazard is above average: there is no handrailing that one might grab onto at the point of entry to or exit from the stair - I alluded to that earlier, and also the stairs look to be steeper than those used for normal stairways (steeper stairs, even ladders are permitted by some codes for accessing certain areas not normally used by normal building occupants).
Unless you ask me to keep this information offline, I'd like to add the photos and comments to our stairfall articles, keeping your identity and such details totally private of course. Showing the hazard to others may help prevent other injuries. However if you are in the midst of legal actions I imagine that your attorney might prefer that we wait.
... as for the photos you can use them in any way cause I don't want anyone else to go through that I'm going through it's not worth it and I will let you know the outcome.
Since the doctors told me that I wouldn't be able to continue to work in my field, I was needing help to find something? Thanks again.
Questions & answers or comments about the design requirements and code specifications for building stairs, landings, railings, and guard railings.
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OSHA estimates that there are 24,882 injuries and as many as 36 fatalities per year due to falls from stairways and ladders used in construction. Nearly half of these injuries are serious enough to require time off the job--11,570 lost workday injuries and 13,312 non-lost workday injuries occur annually due to falls from stairways and ladders used in construction. These data demonstrate that work on and around ladders and stairways is hazardous. More importantly, they show that compliance with OSHA's requirements for the safe use of ladders and stairways could have prevented many of these injuries. -osha.gov/doc/outreachtraining/htmlfiles/stairlad.html