Residential Railing Requirements - What You Need To Know

Back Yard Railing with Waterfront

Your home needs a handrail.

This could be because you’re selling your house. Or, you may have insurance requirements. Another reason for needing railing is that you are renovating your home and will need an inspection.

However, you don’t know where you need this required railing or what that railing should look like.

The International Residential Code (IRC) details when a handrail or guardrail is needed and how to design it. You’re welcome to check out the website for yourself, but I will break it down into easy sections for you below.

Important Note: Check with your local code for specifics to your area. Most codes adopt the IRC with slight changes, if any.

Also, don’t be scared away by the price tag if you follow the link to the IRC. All you need to do is use the chapter navigation on the left to access the free version on the website.

When is Railing Required in My Home?

Front Stair Railing

There are 3 separate locations that need to have railing: stairs, ramps, and open edges.

To understand what is needed, you’ll first need to understand the difference between a handrail and a guardrail. A handrail is used as a support and a guardrail to prevent someone from falling to a lower level.

A handrail is needed on any stair that has 4 or more risers (steps). A ramp that has a slope great that is 1 inch high over 12 inches long also needs a handrail.

In either case, the handrail is required on at least one side.

A guardrail is needed on any open-sided surfaces that are at least 30 inches in height or more. This could be stairs, a ramp, or a split level from your kitchen to your living room.

What Handrail Dimensions are Required in My Home?

Railing for Porch with Ramp

Here are some basic dimensions any of your handrails should follow when you install one.

Any handrail should be 34 to 38 inches in height. You will measure this from the nose (front edge) of the stair or walking surface of the ramp to the top edge of the handrail.

Handrails should not stick out more than 4-½ inches on either side of the stair. There should also be at least 1-½ inches of space between the handrail and any wall the handrail may be installed next to.

There should be no breaks in the handrail for the full length of the stairs or ramp. When you end the railing, it should terminate into a wall or post.

Round rails should have a diameter of 1.25 to 2 inches. If the railing is not round, then its perimeter should be between 4 and 6.25 inches. No cross section should be thicker than 2.25 inches.

There’s more information on the IRC website if you have a handrail that is greater than 6.25 inches. Check out Chapter 3 – Section 311.7.8.5.

What Guardrail Dimensions are Required in My Home?

Loft Railing

Guardrails share a lot of similarities with handrails with a few exceptions.

Before that, a guardrail can act as a handrail if you follow both requirements at the same time.

Guardrails need to be at least 36 inches in height. The only exception to this is if you are using the guardrail as a handrail for a stair or ramp. In this instance, the minimum height is 34 inches.

Guardrails in your home should not allow a sphere of 4 inches to pass through at any point between the top edge of the guardrail and the walking surface. This is why you see a lot of railings with pickets or lattices.

After all, what good is a guardrail if a toddler can walk right underneath the railing?

Wrapping It All Up

These are the requirements for handrails and guardrails for your home.

Take the time to do an inspection and see what areas should have a railing installed. Check out the design and measurements of any existing railing to make sure it meets these requirements.

Remember, you’re not alone. We are here to help you find the right railing for your home. Contact one of our experts if you need help figuring out which railing would be best for you.

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