Bad Stair Top Railing (C) Daniel Friedman Stair, Landing, Railing Code FAQs #2

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Stair, railing, guardrail, handrail, landing & platform building code & specification FAQs set 2:

More Q&A on stair and railing code & design specifications & relations to model building codes.

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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. Page top sketch of stair dimensions courtesy Carson Dunlop Associates.

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Questions & Answers about Building Codes for Stairs & Railings, Stair Landings & Guardrails

sketch of a proper handrail along a stairway - Canadian OSHASet #2 of frequently-asked questions and answers about stair & railing codes & build specifications. These questions and replies were posted originally at CODES for STAIRS & RAILINGS the home page for this topic.

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In-depth stair design articles listed at the "More Reading" links at the bottom of this article provide detailed descriptions of each stair feature, building codes, photographs and sketches of defects and requirements. Text comparing key provisions of several building code sections on stairs and rails is given at the end of this document. We provide sketches and photographs of stair, railing, landing, and construction details and hazards

On 2017-05-04 21:08:46.950260 by (mod) - re: requirement for handrails and stair guards when walls are nearby


I don't quite understand your stair layout nor what is meant by "small section of floor" - in general if someone could fall off of a stair into even a small space, particularly in a commercial environment, it would make sense to have a guardrail and handrails along the sides of the stair - not on a wall that is some distance away from the stair and separated by an open space.


It's reasonable to be concerned about people not noticing even a single step down - in particular if the two surfaces look alike. Usually we address this - when there's a single step and thus no handrails as keys - by marking a color change on the two different surfaces. A yellow edge is a good indicator in my OPINION. Be sure it's highly visible from both directions of travel.

On 2017-05-04 17:55:30.791113 by Alicia

I have an interior three step staircase in a commercial space that leads to the ground floor. The staircase has two small section of floor on either side of the staircase that is 33" of the entrance from where the stairs begin. Do I legally need to put a railing on the sides of the walls where it drops down to the floor?

On 2017-05-04 21:08:46.950260 by (mod) - re: color code at step edges reduces fall hazards


It's reasonable to be concerned about people not noticing even a single step down - in particular if the two surfaces look alike. Usually we address this - when there's a single step and thus no handrails as keys - by marking a color change on the two different surfaces. A yellow edge is a good indicator in my OPINION. Be sure it's highly visible from both directions of travel.

On 2017-05-02 20:13:47.019327 by Randy Young

What is required for a safe egrees and agrees from a sidewalk to a patio that leads into a commercial building (a place of worship). It now has a large patio from the entrance, exit door which is path level and extends about 15 feet by 30 feet.

Then their is a drop off that is not marked in anyway which goes down to the sidewalk. The riser from the patio to the sidewalk goes from 8.5 inches and decreases to zero at the end towards the parking lot. I'm concerned about someone coming out of building and not noticing that their is a step sown to the sidewalk.

Thank You. I was thinking about painting the edge yellow to warn of a change or installing benches to direct the people to the area where their is no step. What does the code say for a commercial setting. Thanks. Randy

On 2017-04-24 18:56:01.278415 by (mod)


I can't give a legal answer but my OPINION is that when a building is shut down and sealed you ought to be ok. The hazard will occur when you open the building and have workers or contractors going through it. I suspect that if you asked an attorney she might also review with you steps to take to be sure that the building isn't in some way an "attractive nuisance" as I've seen property owners sued for injuries that occurred to trespassers.

On 2017-04-24 18:41:53.937514 by bill

does railing,banister have to be installed in building that are vacant and sealed. I want to remodel an older home but do not have money at this time.I want to purchase and seal.The building is in poor condition and no railing around any of the stairs or landings?

On 2017-04-01 15:16:14.987194 by (mod)

I appreciate the conversation, Steve, but I'm still a confused guy. Please use the page top or bottom contact link to send me a sketch or two of what you're describing.

On 2017-04-01 15:01:56.266711 by SteveO

@danjoefriedman, - Oh, now I understand your confusion. I'm not moving one stair tread, I'm moving the mount point of the stringers at the top only. So the stringers pivot like a teeter totter is ever so slight. The effect is to pivot all the treads in unison, 1.5" at the top graduating down to zero at the bottom. The rise between the patio and the first step and between the individual steps within the stringer do not change. The only thing that changes is the rise between last tread on the top of the stringer and the cement landing.

On 2017-03-31 22:53:35.986175 by (mod)

Sorry Steve I'm confused. In an existing flight of stairs if you attempt to move one stair tread up to correct a problem of excessive arrives at that step, all you're doing is moving the problem one step down. The hazard will remain.

On 2017-03-31 12:54:29.333087 by SteveO

@danjoefriedman, Only the top move up, not the bottom, it's height remains the same and the effect is that the steps are more level. There are no attachments at the bottom to the cement patio, that will change once I move up the mount point on the cement wall. In preparation for selling the house my attempt is to fix someone's prior effort so it will pass inspection. I am confident the steps will support well over 300 pounds. Correction, web site changes indicate that the city has adopted IBC, not UCC. I inquired with the city on their web site but so far they are MIA. Thanks!

On 2017-03-30 19:07:39.016609 by (mod)

Gee I don't quite get the situation here, Steve.

If "last" means topmost, I'm not clear what you're changing: if you mean you want to re-connect the whole stair set, raising it up 1.5" so that the top step becomes 7" that can work, provided
1. you note that you've now made a high step at the first (bottom) step up
2. you fix that by building a landing platform that makes the bottom step 7" up, and that the platform is at least the width of the stairway and extends at least 36" in the direction of travel (or different if IBC says otherwise)

On 2017-03-30 18:03:39.811444 by SteveO

@SteveO, - it's actually IBC

On 2017-03-30 02:24:58.432520 by SteveO


Oh yeah, I'm in Bozeman, MT and the city uses UCC for their code.

On 2017-03-30 02:20:52.358535 by SteveO

My 2nd question is about an attempt to fix step heights. The prior intent was to use Trex for the treads which are 1.25" thick. Factoring this in the first four steps vary in height from 7 to 7.125" but the last step is 8.5." The question is, can I just raise the wall mount point at the top 1.5" to even out the stairs? Nothing attaches the bottom of the stringers to the patio.

On 2017-03-30 02:20:12.874712 by SteveO

Fixing prior work for outdoor steps going from patio cement slab to cement landing. 41.5" run, 36.25" rise. There a 3 stringers from treated 2X10s evenly spaced for 43" wide stairs.

My 1st question is about the 1-? measurement shown in the picture just below "Stair Stringer Codes & Specs." For these stringers that measurement is between 3 to 3.25" - Does that conform to UCC? Is it sufficient?

On 2017-02-25 18:13:28.542754 by (mod)

Thanks for posting, Jonah.

On 2017-02-23 17:16:26.081673 by Jonah Hex

@Doug C,
@Doug C,

You are not required to do anything to your private property. If you do make modifications you will need to get a permit and follow building codes. Contact the county and municipality for specifications. If you are going to rent then I would advise it to be fixed. Since you know of 2 occurrences it could be argued negligence and neglect if you did not repair the issue. In addition check with you need to call your insurance company about additional coverage umbrella/general liability. Unless you want your renter moving into your home permanently as a form of payment from a costly slip & fall claim.

On 2017-02-23 17:09:38.321637 by Jonah Hex

@Ann F,
Ground______| 1

Riser is the vertical part of a stair.
If you have 4 steps then you would have 5 risers that is why they count risers and not steps. People will argue the ground and the landing are not steps.

I hope this helps

On 2017-02-23 04:14:47.153022 by Ann F

My city is now applying IPMC 307.1 for existing structure handrail requirements, which states for "more than four risers." What is a riser? We have four steps (not more than four). City is trying to say my porch landing is my fifth riser. Is this defined anywhere in the IBC?

On 2017-01-25 00:23:36.102332 by Doug C

Sorry, this is for Utah County, in Utah.

On 2017-01-25 00:22:36.231044 by Doug C

I was wondering if there is a code requirement for outside stairs? I have a basement that has an entrance in the back, and the only way to get to it is through the side yard. There are stone steps, but they are very difficult to use, and have no rails. There has been 2 falls on them, so far. If I was renting the basement out, would I be required to meet a certain code for the stairs to be safe? If so, what code?

On 2016-12-11 03:53:47.597044 by (mod)

If by

Quite a step
You mean tall, that sounds like a trip hazard

On 2016-12-10 21:14:20.144454 by mee

I have L shape deck stair and on the landing there is a step. so when coming up the steps you could trip on it and coming do it is quite a step! is that okay

On 2016-12-02 05:24:02.753866 by Steve f

In my house I have an elevated wet bar under the stairwell which is 14 inches higher than the living room floor below. Does the UBC allow such a height differential of 14 inches or don't need to add a step of 7 inches from the floor so you would walk up two steps . Thanks...worried

On 2016-11-22 23:16:15.906111 by (mod)


I've not seen that requirement in model codes. However if someone has installed a particularly slippery surfaced-tread, then a non-slip pad would make sense to avoid a stair fall injury.

On 2016-11-22 18:05:30.615053 by Mike

Do residential stairtreads need non slip pads by code

On 2016-10-27 22:34:50.183838 by (mod)


"Should" vs. "required by local building codes" are two different situations. Your local building code inspector is the final code authority on what's required. But many jurisdictions require railings on steps that include 3 or more risers or 36" (2" more than yours") total rise above ground. I recommend guard and handrails for stair safety. I'd want rails on both sides of the stairs if they are open - that is not against a wall.


a 12 ft. wide stair needs handrails and guards on both sides and should have IMO a center handrailing.

Also a 24" landing? We need at least 36" in the direction of travel.

On 2016-10-27 18:21:50.982758 by Joann

My porch is 34 inches high from top to bottom of ground. There are 3, 12 inch wide steps with a landing of 24 inches in between the twelve inch steps.
should there be handrails leading up to the top of the porch? and should there be a rail on each side of the steps?

On 2016-10-07 20:05:12.091099 by sam

if I have a 12' wide 3 or 4 step stair case on a commerical property, do I have to have a railing in the center of the stair case for code (or two railings)?

On 2016-08-07 16:08:03.205042 by (mod)

Thank you Mark, indeed we cite a number of building codes from various countries as well as of various years. Building codes do change and worse, some codes re-number code sections. What all of that means is that while good stair design and specifications for stair tread and riser design and handrail and guardrail design have not changed substantially, some details such as acceptable handrailing height above the walking surface may be slightly different in different jurisdictions and may be found to be different within the same code depending on the code-year.

Where this leaves us is to note that while good stair design has not changed substantially, if you are looking to determine if a specific stairway or rail or guardrail is code-compliant, the only sure way to do so is to check with your *local* building code official, as his or her word is law where you live.

On 2016-08-06 23:10:49.593724 by Mark

You might check the national building code on stairs. I believe your data is outdated

On 2016-07-30 23:02:59.156244 by (mod)

Great question, Anon and not one I've encountered; I think your local fire inspector might have an opinion IF the dimensions of your circular stair were small.

On 2016-07-30 15:49:26.260619 by Anonymous

If I build a circular staircase to reach a new second floor bedroom . Do I need also need to provide a non circular staircase for firefighter access ?

On 2016-07-03 21:42:20.151003 by (mod)

Anon please see WINDOW IN STAIRWELL at

- found by using the page top or near bottom search box to search for WINDOW IN STAIRWELL

On 2016-07-03 18:46:43.806986 by Anonymous

windows in a stairwell

On 2016-05-01 16:03:16.919001 by Tom G.

I cannot find the code reference that allows for hand rails to be installed at a height of 30"-38" for staircases in the us that have at least one side against the wall as listed here. Can you please provide the code reference? Greatly appreciated, as I have installed railings throughout my home at this height per the information here and I am now worried that I have installed them too low.

Thank you

On 2016-04-22 21:44:35.876980 by (mod)


"Have to" is under the legal authority of your local building code inspector whose word is law.

But in general, a space in a home that is not intended for normal human habitation (sleeping, reading, etc.) may not be required to have handrails, though a code inspector might have a different view depending on the nature of the space.

I suggest that a handrailing is a good idea on ANY stairway as it can significantly reduce the chances of a fall & injury, and as the cost is close to trivial for the handrail and mounting brackets.

A pre-shaped and attractive oak (fancier than you need) 8-foot handrail section is less than $70. at a typical building supplier. A 16 ft. handrail is less than $150. It is also possible to fabricate an acceptable handrail out of other materials that may be cheaper.

Handrail brackets to attach a wood hand rail to the wall (mount at wall studs with screws of adequate size & length) are about $3.00 each.

On 2016-04-22 20:59:11.201416 by TAMMI FARNSWORTH

Does my unfinished third floor/attic have to have a handrail installed?


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