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Guardrail at stasir top (C) Daniel Friedman Guardrail FAQs
Questions & answers about guard railing codes, specifications, heights, & construction

  • GUARDRAILS, BALCONY, DECK, LANDING FAQs - CONTENTS: frequently asked questions FAQs about stair, deck, porch & landing guardrailings and guardrailing codes & specifications help clarify hazards, suggest remedies, & reduce risk of falls & injuries
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about stair landing, porch, deck, or balcony guardrail codes, specifications, & design requirements
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Guard railing height & other specification FAQs:

Questions & answers about guidelines for building guardrails on balconies, decks, landings, stair landings. These questions & answers help clarify guardrailing codes & standards and suggest remedies for common guardrail problems.

Our page top photo shows an unsafe stair-top guardrail: it is too low (about 24") and the baluster spacing is too wide (more than 4"). The strength of the connections of the guardrail to the structure may also be inadequate.



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Guardrail Specifications & Defects: requirements for guard railings at stair platforms, landing guard railings & other elevated walkways

Stairway Lighting requirements (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Question: stair landing platform size correction

In your sketch entitled "Handrails and guards" of 2011, the accompanying text (Stair landing minimum size in direction of travel (<=36"))incorrectly uses the "<" ""less than" arrow instead of the ">" "greater than arrow". - David Gillis 9/21/2011

Reply:

David Gillis

Thanks for the careful reading - I have fixed the stair landing platform size indicator you mentioned to show that it should extend equal to or more than 36" in the direction of travel. We really appreciate careful editing. More eyes - always better.

Please see PLATFORMS & LANDINGS, ENTRY & STAIR for complete details about landings and platforms at stairways.

Question: limits of projection of handrailing into the stair walking space

I want to install a hand rail on an exterior staircase. Is there a code that will prevent me from installing the hand rail 6" out side of the staircase? - Joe Garcia 10/28/2011

Reply:

Joe Garcia:

The stair codes limit the distance that a handrailing should project into the walking space.

Railings should not project into the required width of the stairway by more than 4.5" at or below the handrail height above the stairs.

Question: do I need railings on attic stairs or at stair top?

I am trying to find out if rails should be in attics - Anon 8/7/2012

Reply:

Anon:

An attic, that is an area not considered living space, in some jurisdictions has different rules for stairs and rails - depending on the local and higher level code authorities in your area.

But in any case, if there is an attic stairway with actual stairs, that is, not just a pull-down ladder or an open hatch and no stairs, and considering that attic access stairs are often steeper than recommended between occupied floors, for safety it would make perfect sense to be sure there was a railing along the stairway and also on the attic floor, a safety railing & balusters surrounding the stair top so someone in the attic doesn't step backwards and fall down the stair opening.

Question: minimum distance required between the guardrail and wall?

(Apr 5, 2014) Jared said:
On a second floor landing is there a minimum distance required between the guardrail and wall? Is this space considered a "hallway"? For example, the photo of the woman standing next to the 30-1/2" guardrail in the 1935 house - is there a minimum width required for the space she's standing in?

Reply:

Yes there are minimum widths for hallways, in various codes.
Typically 36" (3 feet) will be minimum residential hallway width but local codes may indeed specify a different dimension. [See Section R311.3, in the 2006 IRC]

Landings must be at least as wide as the stair width and typically at least as wide as the door width and typically as well, at least 36" in the direction of travel. Since a landing level may be a corridor those minimums may apply.

There is not a single "right answer" as requirements vary still further.
For example ADA requires a minimum width for wheelchair passage;
Group B Business occupancy requires a minimum 44" corridor width and
for ADA wheelchair turning, a 60" turning radius.

Question: maximum permitted width for a staircase leading off a deck?

(May 25, 2014) Stephen B said:
Is there, in general, a maximum permitted width for a staircase leading off a deck? If it is very wide, is it sufficient to have handrails at both ends, but nothing in the middle? What if the staircase is not made up of parallel straight line steps? For example; I have a deck that is approximately 36" above the yard - hence with handrail - that blocks the view. I am contemplating removing the rail along a corner (three sides of an octagon) and installing five steps down to the yard. There would be handrail at each end of the set of steps, but would I need something in the middle section too?

Reply:

Stephen,

Most building codes specify a maximum allowable distance that the stair user would be from a handrail. E.g. more than 36". That's why on wide stairs you see a center rail.

Question: balcony railings are not to code

(Sept 9, 2014) Patrick said:
We live in a townhouse and our current balcony railings are not to code and when approached our HOA about it they responded saying they do not have to fix them since they were built to code at the time. Is this correct?

Reply:

Not necessarily. I've seen disuptes over just this point. "Legal" does not necessarily mean "safe" and a defense that relies only on that point is not always successful. I'd prefer to solve such arguments by safety concern rather than by a technical-legal argument.

Question: stairway with L turn at top

I have an interior stairway that makes an L turn at the top. At the top is a mini "hallway" leading directly into a bedroom. Currently, there is a door in the "hallway" that separates the last landing from the bedroom (i.e, the landing and bedroom are on the same horizontal plane). Currently, the door is 36" from the edge of this landing; below this landing is another landing which is a 36" square; standard stairs then lead to the ground. The door at the top of the stairs swings inward into the bedroom. I would like to move the door closer to the edge of the landing and away from the bedroom (say 30"). The door would still swing inward toward the bedroom.

My interpretation of the code is that since the door swings into the bedroom, I don't need a landing at all, so I don't need to have 36" from the edge of the landing toward the door. Is my interpretation correct?

Reply:

Meredith

I can't say what your local laws may specify but indeed in many communities building owners are not required to make older buildings meet current codes until there is some other work being done.

That doesn't mean you should not yourself make sure that your railings are safe.

Question:

(Oct 21, 2014) Brian said:
What height must a railing be along the edge of an open stairway?

Reply:

Guardrail heights are given in the article above at

inspectapedia.com/Stairs/Guardrailing_Codes.php#GHeight

Don't confuse handrail height - which is lower to be graspable - with guardrail height which is intended to protect against falls out of the stairway.

Question: California guardrailing code change to 42" in 2008

(May 17, 2015) alfren said:

I own a house and is currently renting it out in Hayward, California which is build on 95, the guardrail inside the house is 40" high, which is satisfy the building code back then, however, California change its law on 2008, that the new building will be require 42", I just want to know if an accident happen, will I be liable to litigation? It is still the original guardrail and it us very strong

Reply:

Alfren

This is a question to ask your attorney. My OPINION (I'm not an attorney) is that in defense of litigation should an accident occur, it's common to hear the argument "it met code at the time of construction" but that argument

1. doesn't prevent someone from being injured and

2. doesn't prevent the cost and aggravation of legal arguing about it.

Adding a top barrier to an existing guardrail is cheaper than being sued, regardless of who wins.

Question: Deteriorated stair guard rail post safety hazards

(May 29, 2015) Hector said:

The office building that I am working at has the base of the guard rail post rusted to the point that you can put a screwdriver tip through it, they added some cheap brackets on the side so that it would help secure it.
At this time they want to fix it buy adding a new section of steel pipe, bondo the seam and paint, all using the same anchor hole (sounds like a big band aide to me)is there a requirement for balcony guard railing inspection every certain number of years. I am in Dade county fl at what point do they need to be replaced.

Its a 9 Story building

Reply:

My opinion is that the components you describe need to be replaced when they no longer meet the safety and structural requirements for guardrailings as given in your state building code. Unfortunately you may need to trouble your local building inspector to actually examine the railing and to give a local opinion as THAT is what carries force of law.

Watch out: You would be wise to also inform your building owner and management both orally and in writing immediately if you believe that there are life-safety hazards at the building. If there is a credible danger that someone may fall off of a nine-story building access to the dangerous area needs to be prevented until repairs can be made.

Question: what does it cost to ask questions at InspectApedia?

(July 3, 2015) Colin said:
Is this a free service Regards Colin

Reply: nothing

Colin, at our home page =- https://InspectAPedia.com/ - you'll see that

InspectAPedia.com - free online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice, including all residential & light commercial building components, materials, & mechanical systems. Illustrated, detailed, in-depth research on finding, diagnosing, testing, correcting, & preventing building defects, energy conservation, & indoor environmental hazards. Research on building failures & education course material on building failures & building environmental inspection testing, diagnosis, & repair. © Copyright 2015 InspectApedia.com

InspectAPedia is supported by ads placed on our pages by Google. InspectAPedia tolerates no conflicts of interest. We have no relationship with advertisers, products, or services discussed at this website.

Reader questions and (sometimes) intelligent replies help us see where additional research and information are needed by our readers.

Question: requirement for guardrails at small gaps between stairway and wall

(July 27, 2015) ed said:
Is there a max. distance a stair stringer can be from the wall be a guard rail is required?

Reply:

Great question, Ed.

My OPINION is that if the opening is big enough for someone to fall into or trip into then it's a hazard and a stair guardrail would be appropriate. With that opinion I'd figure that I'd use the same 4-inch rule that we used for baluster spacing.

What does your local building department say?

Question: obsolete guardrail baluster spacing = child hazard

(Aug 25, 2015) CLW said:
Our apartments used to be a 55+ senior community. Recently they've begun renting to families. The stairways and porch rail are the correct height, but the guards are 10 inches apart. Isn't that illegal?

Reply:

If you mean that vertical balusters along a stair guard are spaced 10" apart, yes that is a child hazard. What is "legal" technically is the decision of your local building code compliance inspector. If this is a public stairwell, even though it's a senior community, children could certainly be expected to use the stairway and so it should be made safe.

Add balusters of sufficient width that the opening meets code - typically 4".

Question: Condo association says decks must be free-standing

(Sept 22, 2015) MKD said:

I live in Upstate NY and have run into a problem where the condominium associations says the deck must be free standing. My son is in a wheelchair full time because he has ALS and I am concerned about the safety of the deck if it is not tied into the building using a ledger board and stringer system. Is there any ADA code that says a residential deck must be tied into the structure for safety reasons? Thank you.

Reply: how to make a free-standing deck wheel-chair accessible from the building

OPINION: making a deck "free standing" may be a way to sneak past building code compliance - I dunno. I've found some building departments will exclude a deck from code-compliance inspections if the deck is not part of the principal structure, even though it's separated from the building by only an inch.

In any event if a deck abuts a building, even if it is free standing, it must be structurally sound enough that it doesn't wobble or move when accessed. That being the case there should be no problem with an access ramp or doorway adapted to give access to the deck from indoors.

Question: inadequate stair top landing space: how can I fix this?

(Sept 30, 2015) D. H. Taylor said:
The stair landing at the top of my stairs to the second (top) floor has only 14" and then ends at a vertical outside wall of 7' (open ceiling). before you turn left into one open room, or right into two other open rooms. There are railings that are 31" back from each side of the stairs, but the landing concerns me. It is far to easy to 'step into space' when going downstairs from either side, especially to the left. The railing starts and continues to the inside wall but the first two steps going down the steps leaves an opening that seems too open to be safe. I've been trying to figure out how to reconfigure the stairs to make it more safe and still be able move furniture up and down when necessary. The second floor contains two open bedrooms and a third bedroom with a door.

Reply:

See PLATFORMS & LANDINGS, ENTRY & STAIR and also see PLATFORMS & LANDINGS FAQs where we will give a detailed reply to the question above.

Question: requirement for a guard railing on flat roofs

(Oct 16, 2015) Richard said:

I have a rental property that has a flat roof with access from one of the units do I need to install a guard rail along the roof line?

Reply:

If the roof is accessible to and used by building occupants IMO it needs a guard.

Question: legal in Tallahassee: porch with no railings

Anna said:

My daughters are renting a duplex in Tallahassee Florida and it has a small back porch that is about 4 feet off the ground. There are 5 steps leading up to it. There is no railing around the porch or down the steps. Is this legal?

Reply:

No. I doubt that any local code official will accept a porch or deck more than 36" above ground level that also sports no guardrails.

Question: stair landing platform size correction

In your sketch entitled "Handrails and guards" of 2011, the accompanying text (Stair landing minimum size in direction of travel (<=36"))incorrectly uses the "<" ""less than" arrow instead of the ">" "greater than arrow". - David Gillis 9/21/2011

Reply:

David Gillis

Thanks for the careful reading - I have fixed the stair landing platform size indicator you mentioned to show that it should extend equal to or more than 36" in the direction of travel. We really appreciate careful editing. More eyes - always better.

Question: limits of projection of handrailing into the stair walking space

I want to install a hand rail on an exterior staircase. Is there a code that will prevent me from installing the hand rail 6" out side of the staircase? - Joe Garcia 10/28/2011

Reply:

Joe Garcia:

The stair codes limit the distance that a handrailing should project into the walking space.

Railings should not project into the required width of the stairway by more than 4.5" at or below the handrail height above the stairs.

Question: do I need railings on attic stairs or at stair top?

I am trying to find out if rails should be in attics - Anon 8/7/2012

Reply:

Anon:

An attic, that is an area not considered living space, in some jurisdictions has different rules for stairs and rails - depending on the local and higher level code authorities in your area.

But in any case, if there is an attic stairway with actual stairs, that is, not just a pull-down ladder or an open hatch and no stairs, and considering that attic access stairs are often steeper than recommended between occupied floors, for safety it would make perfect sense to be sure there was a railing along the stairway and also on the attic floor, a safety railing & balusters surrounding the stair top so someone in the attic doesn't step backwards and fall down the stair opening.

Reader Question: resin panel attached to stair handrail - loading requirements

(June 24, 2014) James Day said:

I have an application where a resin panel is connected to a stair handrail. It satisfies the 50lb load requirement. But the top edge of the panel is 4" above the handrail. Does the top edge of the panel need to be subjected to the 200 lb point load and 50 lb/ft load (separately) since it is raised above the handrail?

Reply:

James you will want to check with your local building department who may have a different opinion and whose final word is "law" in your jurisdiction.

My OPINION is that PROVIDED the extended panel does not interfere with grasping the handrailing nor with other railing clearances, it is not part of the graspable handrail system and is only serving as a guardrail enclosure.

Question:

(May 28, 2014) Star Moore said:
We have recently had a new handrail installed along with new posts. The posts are very wobbly and we are concerned that they are not strong enough. Is there a code that says how much weight or movement is allowed?

Reply:

Star

Sorry if the article above was not clear. Here is an example from it

The 2000 IRC (IRC Table R301.5) and other typical building codes requires that a guardrail or a handdrail be able to resist a 200-pound concentrated load applied along the top in any direction, while some local codes still in effect specify a smaller load of 20 pounds per linear foot.

There are two hazards in your description:

in my OPINION (though it's not anticipated by the codes) MOVEMENT in a handrailing alone is a hazard independent of strength in that a person falling and who grabs onto something that moves may not as easily arrest a fall, or perhaps movement could startle an older or disabled person and initiate a fall

Second, wobbly to me means weak and unsafe.

Question:

(Nov 21, 2014) Austin said:
I am working of a modern single-family renovation of an old rowhouse. The interior stairway from the first to second floor is entirely open on one side. To meet the guardrail requirement, I plan on using several 9' tall x 36" wide panels (made of two 3/4" panels of wood veneer on plywood glued together). These will be attached by multiple L brackets at the floor and ceiling of the lower floor and to the stair stringer. No handrail is needed since there will be a handrail on the opposite wall. Does this construction likely meet the IRC code? How can I test the 200 lb load test and deflection requirements; and if I'm convinced it meets the requirement, how can I convince a local inspector whose never seen this approach that it meets the code requirements? Any advice or opinions appreciated.

Reply:

Austin

Before construction of your own invention to solve the problem at hand you might want to check with the local building inspector - saving yourself from having to re-do the job later. If the inspector is not going to accept your design and you want to pursue it, ask him/her if s/he will accept a design signed-off on by a licensed design professional such as a structural engineer or a registered architect.

Question: how to attach a grab rail at the top of a stairway

2015/12/27 Arlette Rachel Twersky said:

Is there a way to safely install a grab bar on a door frame at the top of a staircase? The hand rail runs out before the person can safely finish the top step and get their balance coming through the doorway from the livingroom, seven stairs below, to the kitchen. Also. Would a wooden grab rail such as those built for out door decks be acceptable? I am an occupational therapist.

Reply:

In my opinion a grab bar, to be safe, should be bolted to structural framing; be sure your grab bar is not bolted just to trim or drywall.

Arlette Rachel Twersky said:
Is a door frame considered to be structural framing or just trim?

Reply: Arlette

I'm not sure as we may not be talking about the same parts.

The rough opening of a door in wood frame construction is made of 2x4's or 2x6's; Into that rough opening a door fame is typically constructed of 1x lumber such as 1x6 pine boards nailed to the rough opening framing but with spacers to align the door frame itself plumb and square - so a screw or bolt that just is into the 1x lumber is not a structural connection; you'd need to connect to the 2x4 or 2x6.

Question: when is 6-inch baluster spacing OK?

(Sept 27, 2012) Eric said:
Can I use a 6" baluster spacing instead of the 4" if the stairwell is closed on both sides? The balusters would be less than 3" off the wall thus a 4" sphere can not even pass though the space between balusters.

Reply:

Eric,

If the stairway is enclosed by a wall on each side to a height at least as high as the hand railing, you do not need to use balusters at all.

Question:

(Nov 20, 2012) Matt said:
Do I need to have a handrail on both sides of interior stairs of 7 stairs

Reply:

Matt, in most jurisdictions the requirement for a second rail depends on the stairway width, not the number of steps.

See RAILING CODES & SPECIFICATIONS

Question:

(Feb 9, 2014) Stephanie said:
Is it a state law to have continual step railings? Or can they have a space between where the stairs turn?

Reply:

Stephanie, model building codes and versions adopted by most states include rules about stair railing and handrail continuity, both for graspability and for safety avoiding snags. There may be reasonable exceptions however - such as at some landings.

See SNAG HAZARDS on STAIRWAYS

or search for "Stair Railing Continuity" to see our articles where there are additional details.

Question:

(July 25, 2014) Linda Williams said:
What is the maximum size of the space that is open at the bottom of the balusters? Is it 6 inches in California.

Reply:

It depends on exactly where and how you measure, but typically 4"

Question: are horizontal "balusters" enclosing an outdoor stair railing / stair guard OK

Nov 12, 2014) Maritza said:
Can outdoor stair railings have balusters that run horizontally as long as it still abides by the 4" spacing rule? Also, do I need to put railings on both sides of the stairs? These stairs are not connected to a deck they just connect my patio to the upper part of my yard. I have a sloped back yard with retaining walls running along side the stairs that hold sloped planting beds on each side of the stairs. In other words, there's no where to fall from the side of the stairs as the retaining walls come up to about the 4th or 5th step and then the slop of the stairs is matched by the planting bed. 9 steps, 4' width. Thank you for your help.

Reply:

Maritza some local building inspectors may approve the horizontal guardrail or stair enclosure you describe but I don't recommend horizontal enclosures in general as they encourage climbing-over by kids.

Question: best way/system to attach my 4x4 posts to the top of my stair tread

(Nov 14, 2014) Maritza said:
Thank you for your help, What is the best way/system to attach my 4x4 posts to the top of my stair tread if I can't attach to the side of my stringers? The stringers are only a couple of inches from my retaining walls.

Reply:

M I don't have a clear idea of the structure - nor where the posts are needed. It's time for an on-site expert to give some help. Weather, space, and materials used for the stair are important determinants in the decision of how to attach posts.

In general, toe nailing down through a 4x4 post into the top of a stair tread is not strong enough to assure that the guardrail won't break away under the load of someone falling, and outdoors there may be rot hazards too. I never rely on a simple surface tack-down of such a post. Depending on the amount of space available in the stair I might cut through the tread and bolt the post to the inside of the stair stringer, or notch the outer edge of the end of the stair tread and through-bolt the post to the stair stringer against its outside surface.

Please see the post attachment details at GUARDRAIL CONSTRUCTION, DECKS & RAMPS

Question: Do I need a banister and railing for the top two stairs

2 April 2015 jeff waterford ont said:
Looking down, I have 2 stairs a landing and then the rest of the stair case take a left down to the lower level, with walls on either. Side. Do I need a Banister / railing for the top 2 stairs?

Reply:

Yes you need a handrail and if the stairs are open, a stair guard railing too.

Question: is rope OK for use as a guardrail or baluster?

(July 8, 2015) Bill said:
Can rope be used horizontally as baluster on a deck?

Reply: no

Rope is not a baluster, horizontally nor vertically. It's rope. Horizontal guards are not child safe as they're climbable even if you could make them so incredibly tight (doubtful) that they would not deflect enough to pass a 4-inch sphere through the opening.

In the topic master index found above at
INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES: ARTICLE INDEX to STAIRS RAILINGS LANDINGS RAMPS

You'll find articles, illustrations & discussion of cable railings on which this "rope" baluster view is based.
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Question: do I need a stair rail for a two-step stair?

(Nov 23, 2015) Howard said:
For a low deck, 18" above ground, do I need a stair rail for the two-step stair? If so, do I have to put in a newel post on the lower end or, since it is so short, can I brace the stair rail off of the upper post - a cantilever truss design? Thanks! - h

Reply:

Howard:

The final authority is your local code inspector; typically you'll be excused from building a stair rail for fewer than 3 risers or accessing a deck or landing less than 3 ft. above ground level.

For safety and especially for elderly or disabled users I'd still recommend a guard and railing; About omitting the newell at landing end of the rail, the design you suggest may be possible though I've not seen that done: the rail has to withstand the required side-loading without bending or breaking; you don't need a really strong rail until you're falling. Then a rail that moves or collapses is worse than nothing.

Question: Can the building inspector force me to fix open spaces between railing balusters?

(Dec 18, 2015) Sandra Nolan said:
My condo was built in 1983 am I grand fathered in for railing spaces? Can I be forced to fix it by a building inspector? What year was the new spacing law go into effect?

Reply:

Sandra,

Your local building department is who can give a legal answer.

Usually building departments do not re-inspect nor require updates to current codes until work or renovations are to be done or sometimes if an updated code-compliance letter is requested during the course of sale of a property.

However nothing your question nor this reply protect against someone being injured or killed nor against what could be your moral or legal responsibility.

Question: guardrail to post connection specifications

2016/09/13 Anon said

Any technical information on guardrail to post connections, testing, etc.

I am well aware of the many articles and testing on guardrail post-to-deck structure connections.

But I have not found similar articles/testing on the guard connection (top rail) to post.

This is the first element in the load path but there seems to be no published information.

Thanks. - Anonymous by private email

Reply:

The FAQs above include a special case specifying bolted rather than welded connection but in general codes don't specify connection hardware.

Instead guardrail and handrail codes & standards address the rail to post connection as well as other connections indirectly by specifying the requirements to withstand loading rather than by attempting to specify specific connection methods themselves. See GUARDRAIL & HANDRAIL STRENGTH & Testing Requirements at https://InspectAPedia.com/Stairs/Guardrailing_Strength.php and do let me know if questions remain and I'll be glad to do further research.

- Editor

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Or see GUARDRAILINGS, BEST PRACTICES

Or see HANDRAIL FAQs

Or see RAILING POST CONNECTIONS

Or see RETAINING WALL GUARDRAIL CODES

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GUARDRAILS, BALCONY, DECK, LANDING FAQs at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES: ARTICLE INDEX to STAIRS RAILINGS LANDINGS RAMPS

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