Continuous handrailing on a stairway and around a landing in New York City (C) Daniel FriedmanHandrailing Continuity
Where are breaks permitted in handrailings?

  • HANDRAIL CONTINUITY - CONTENTS: what are the code & safety requirements for continuity of handrailings at stair landings & other locations. Where is it ok to interrupt the grip on a handrailing?
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs on the continuous graspability or hand-hold capability of building handrails
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Handrailing continuity:

This article explains and illustrates the requirements for continuously graspable handrails on steps and stairs, at landings, and at other locations inside or outside buildings. We show examples of breaks in the handrail and discuss when the local building inspector is likely to permit such interruptions - or not. The aricle also discusses the effect of handrail support brackets on the continuity of grip along the railing. Our page top photograph illustrates a continuous handrail along the inside of a stairway and landing in a New York City business stairwell.

This article series explains and illustrate the requirements for graspable handrails & railings used inside or outside buildings, including guardrails, hand railings on steps and stairs, and stair rails or stair guards for both interior and exterior stairways. used on stairs, balconies, decks, ramps, walks. We include descriptions & definitions of graspability for handrailings, and we illustrate safe and unsafe, graspable and not-graspable handrailings in sketches, photographs, and building code citations. These stair and railing articles provide building code specifications, sketches, photographs, and examples of stair & railing safety defects used in inspecting indoor or outdoor stair railings or handrails and related conditions for safety and proper construction.

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Handrail Continuity: In What Locations Must Handrailings Must Be Continuous to Be Considered Fully Graspable?

Stairway handrailings should be continuously graspable along the run of the stair and in most situations the railing should continue around intermediate stairway landings. But there are exceptions to these general handrail continuity rules that may be permitted by the local building code inspector, such as interrupting the handrail at long landings.

Article Contents:

Continuous stairway handrailing in London U.K. (C) Daniel Friedman

Click to enlarge any image]

The continuous stair handrailing along the left side of the stairs shown above, photographed in a London U.K. building in a beautiful example of a continuous handrailing up a stair and through the landing. The wider handrail atop the guardrail along the open or right side of this stairway might be a bit too large for easy grasping.

Continuous handrailings at the CIA Institute, Hyde Park NY (C) Daniel Friedman

Above: a more modern continuous handrailing on location in the CIA in Hyde Park, New York.

Example handrail code on continuity

505.6 Gripping Surface. Handrail gripping surfaces shall be continuous along their length and shall not be obstructed along their tops or sides. The bottoms of handrail gripping surfaces shall not be obstructed for more than 20 percent of their length. Where provided, horizontal projections shall occur 11/ 2 inches (38 mm) minimum below the bottom of the handrail gripping surface.


1. Where handrails are provided along walking surfaces with slopes not steeper than 1:20, the bottoms of handrail gripping surfaces shall be permitted to be obstructed along their entire length where they are integral to crash rails or bumper guards.

2. The distance between horizontal projections and the bottom of the gripping surface shall be permitted to be reduced by 1/ 8 inch (3.2 mm) for each 1/ 2 inch (13 mm) of additional handrail perimeter dimension that exceeds 4 inches (100 mm).

Reader Question: Do stair railings need to be continuous?

Stairway and stair rails (C) D Friedman Eric Galow

If I live in a 3 stories home having an internal stair of 3'-0" wide.
The handrail is not continuous throughout:

From ground floor to first floor the wall mounted handrail is on the LEFT,
From first floor to second floor the handrail with the balustrade is on the RIGHT.

Is this fully complied with Building Regulation and Code of Practice of Canada ?
Please advise, many thanks ! - Simon

[This question was originally posted at BALUSTERS, STAIR & RAILING ]

Reply: Yes handrails should be continuous. And should return to the walls too. But between floors, depending on landing conditions, railings may be interrupted by doors, floors, etc.

As we stated more succinctly at GRASPABILITY of HANDRAILINGS, guard railings should be continuous, but the railing can stop or be interrupted at a newell post or return at the railing ends at the bottom or top of the stairs. Railings should not be interrupted by posts within the "run" of the railing.

And where there is no newell post (railings are attached to the building wall) most jurisdictions will also require a handrail "return" that connects the end of the hand railing to the interior wall so that someone who grasps the railing during a fall won't have their hand slip off of the railing end. Our stair rail photo (above left) is from a stairwell that we just completed at a home in New York (courtesy of Eric Galow Homes, Lagrangeville, New York).

Of course if your landing also has handrails (as would be required at least on a landing that had an open side (that is, no building wall), then we'd expect the stair rail to connect to the landing or balcony railing except where interrupted say by a doorway or an open floor on that level.

What I mean to say is that there may be practical reasons for a railing to change sides from one stairwell to another in a building. In the stairwell shown above, safest would have been a stair railing on both sides of the stairway but we didn't want to give up the passage space to a second rail. The building

Handrailing Continuity at Intermediate Stair Landings & at Stair Tops

Stairway handrail stops at landing (C)

Stairways that end at a landing surrounded by walls or at a building floor are likely to have their handrails stop too at each level. Then the rail along stairs to the next floor will begin anew. In our photo above, perhaps because this intermediate stair landing is more than 3 ft. long in the direction of travel, New York City building code inspectors who (presumably) have inspected this concert hall may have approved this installation.

Stairway handrail stops at landing (C)

But in my opinion, the interruption shown in the handrailing at the top of these same stairs is unsafe. The user climbing the stairs has no continuous grasp up onto the next floor level.

Handrailing Continuity Along the Run of the Stairway & at Railing Support Brackets

Handrailing continuity also means that the user's hand should be able to slide or move along the handrailign without meeting an obstruction between newell posts. Below, in a photograph sent to us by reader D.G., the handrailing is interrupted by a capped bolt sticking up in the center of the railing along the stair passage.

Bolt interrupts handrail continuity (C) DG

I live in Berlin and often see rather old handrails here which have these large bolts sticking out of it every few feet or so. It makes the handrail-holding experience quite un-smooth and uncomfortable and I always wondered why they were designed so. I've examined them and I don't think they serve any structural purpose. Could it be to prevent people from sliding down them? Do you have any ideas as to why this is? - D.G., Berlin, Germany, 20 Feb 2016

We speculated that some knuckle head thought that kids would slide down this stairway railing and that the bolts would put an end to that. But a stair user who needs to keep continuous grasp of the handrail along these stairs has to let go and re-position her hand, reducing the handrailing's help in protecting against a fall.

Handrailing Support Bracket Options vs. Hand Clearance

Below we illustrate a stair handrailing support bracket design that affords extra depth to allow comfortable sliding of the hand along the handrail. This handrailing, installed in a Minneapolis home, permits the hand to slide on the railing with minimal contact with the supporting bracket.

Deep clearance stair handrailing support bracket (C) Daniel Friedman

But not everyone wants their hand to slide without interruption down or up the handrailing.

Stair bracket as handrail obstruction (C) Daniel Friedman

Why is there a rag tied around the handrail support bracket shown above? This example is useful to broaden our understanding of how people use stairs and railings. In this case the user does not want to depend solely on the strength of her grip around the handrailing.

The occupant of this Two Harbors Minnesota home relies heavily on a firm grip on the handrail when she descends or ascends the stairway. While normally we want the hand to be able to slide past the supporting bracket beneath the railing, this occupant depends on being able to slide her hand against this bracket to slow her descent in the stairwell. But the impact of hand to bracket was painful. She added this rag as padding.

Handrailing Interruptions May Be Unsafe

Single wall metal flue interrupted by handrailing (C) Daniel Friedman Oxaca Mexico

Above: at this outdoor stairway built along the wall of a restaurant in Oxaca, Mexico, we noticed that the chimney installer, venting a gas heating appliance, and the handrail installer building along an outdoor stairway wall, simply could not find an accord. Shown below in a closer look, the handrailing passes right through the chimney. There are other stair hazards here including the open wall along the right side of the stairs. Both the handrail and the chimney are unsafe.

Single wall metal flue interrupted by handrailing (C) Daniel Friedman Oxaca Mexico

For more about metal chimneys and flues start at SINGLE WALL METAL VENTS & CHIMNEYS.

Article Series Contents


Continue reading at HANDRAIL GRASPABILITY DEFECT PHOTOS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see GUARDRAILS on BALCONIES, DECKS, LANDINGS where we describe details about railings on landings and open hallways or other horizontal walking surfaces.

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HANDRAIL CONTINUITY at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.


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