View Full Version : handrail code

andrew whicker
10-16-2017, 3:06 PM
I'm reviewing handrail code online and this jumped out at me:

Type I. Handrails with a circular cross section shall have an outside diameter of at least 11/4 inches (32 mm) and not greater than 2 inches (51 mm). If the handrail is not circular, it shall have a perimeter dimension of at least 4 inches (102 mm) and not greater than 61/4 inches (160 mm) with a maximum cross section of dimension of 2 1/4 inches (57 mm). Edges shall have a minimum radius of 0.01 inch (0.25 mm).

Type II. Handrails with a perimeter greater than 6 1/4 inches (160 mm) shall provide a graspable finger recess area on both sides of the profile. The finger recess shall begin within a distance of inch (19 mm) measured vertically from the tallest portion of the profile and achieve a depth of at least 5/16 inch (8 mm) within 7/8 inch (22 mm) below the widest portion of the profile. This required depth shall continue for at least 3/8 inch (10 mm) to a level that is not less than 1 3/4 inches (45 mm) below the tallest portion of the profile. The minimum width of the handrail above the recess shall be 1 inches (32 mm) to a maximum of 2 3/4 inches (70 mm). Edges shall have a minimum radius of 0.01 inches (0.25 mm)

So most handrails in modern houses / expensive houses don't meet code? How do the houses in architecture / interior design magazines meet code?

Anyway, here is a cool railing that definitely doesn't meed the above code. Is there a loop hole? There is someone interested in having me build a railing so I'm looking into the code and trying to figure out what's going on. Clearly, wealthy people are getting a pass. I want to be certain that I understand everything sufficiently so that I am not producing something will cause her problems in the future.




Mel Fulks
10-16-2017, 3:13 PM
Sometimes they actually put up something obviously crude cheap and temporary to get final inspection....then install the real non compliant stuff. I've made some of the easings and rails for jobs of that type.

Jerry Miner
10-16-2017, 5:53 PM
Mel is right. I, too, have seen many high-end projects that met code for inspection, but later changed the railing system to suit the owner's preferences.

Local standards apply, too. Some local building departments allow "non-compliant" railings. I would check with the local inspector to see what "wiggle-room" there is in the local "interpretation" of the code.

And if you are going "non-compliant" I would certainly recommend having the owner sign a waiver, acknowledging that they are aware of the non-compliant aspects and that they take responsibility for ensuing consequences.

johnny means
10-16-2017, 7:00 PM
I don't see any actual rail in the photo.

John TenEyck
10-16-2017, 8:02 PM
What Jerry said, mostly.

To a homeowner: You can do anything you want in your own home. Just recognize that if someone gets hurt you stand a good chance of getting burned if they file suite against you. And if you should decide to sell your house the railings will have to be brought into compliance if the buyer hires an inspector or the local code enforcement folks do an inspection. I've done a couple of balustrades. One was in a new house and the local inspector was a stickler for the railings meeting code. I learned all about the term "graspable" on that job, fortunately before I built anything. The other was for a house being put up for sale. The real estate agent spotted the non-compliant railings and told the sellers they needed to be brought up to code before it could even be listed. I'm sure there are large variances from one locale to another, but they are strict where I live.

To a builder/installer: I would not install a non compliant balustrade. Those codes were developed for good reasons. If someone gets hurt and your balustrade was not code compliant you risk law suite regardless if the owner signed some waiver. Also, I would not blindly accept drawings as code compliant without verifying them myself. On the new build I mentioned above I was given a set of drawings. I noticed that the drawings were done in Canada and when I compared them to NYS codes I found two areas where they were not compliant. I confirmed with the building inspector what the requirements were and adjusted the design accordingly.


Jim Andrew
10-16-2017, 9:51 PM
When I was building homes, the inspector went over the new codes with me, including handrails, and I had to get my rails exactly the right height, length past the steps, starting point of the stair etc, and one day I went down the street and checked out the house the competitors were building, and the railing height didn't look quite right, so I pulled out my tape and checked it. Did not meet code. So next time I saw the inspector, I asked why my handrails had to be dead on, and did not apply down the street? He replied "you have the ability".

andrew whicker
10-16-2017, 10:45 PM
Thanks for the replies. Potential customer wants a metal railing with wood top. I can make the rails, but nervous about code and install.

I don't even have the job locked down. I need to get a quote together. Here in Utah, I'm limited to $3k in work thru a handyman license. Which is fine, I don't want to get in over my head.

I'd honestly like to just really be the railing builder and let someone else install with their gc license and insurance. She is putting in wood floors and I'd need to mount on those.

Sounds like she a got a quote from railing pros and sort of came across a price reality check. I'm not sure I'll come across any cheaper.

Mel Fulks
10-16-2017, 10:54 PM
I don't think the rail codes are good evolution, they are economical compromise. Some places really need hand rail and guard rail ...but to keep costs down for the builders ,they just make you put the rail too high. Then you can't lean on it ,and that's what older people really need. I still remember my elementary school trip to DC and how impressed I was to see hand rail and guard rail in the Capitol steps. Codes are bare minimum and his big brother whipping quality.

Julie Moriarty
10-17-2017, 8:10 AM
Sometimes they actually put up something obviously crude cheap and temporary to get final inspection....then install the real non compliant stuff. I've made some of the easings and rails for jobs of that type.

Mel, when I built my house, I installed construction grade 2x4 railings to get the occupancy permit. I was never required to get a second inspection after the permanent railing went up... which took a few years. :o

Al Launier
10-17-2017, 9:46 AM
I realize this is aside the point, but I gotta say that is the ugliest railing that I could ever imagine. Butt ugly! They could have chosen a less expensive alternative to get by inspection. If that is permanent, what are they thinkin? Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

Mel Fulks
10-17-2017, 12:47 PM
Andrew,if you like that rail ,just remind the inspector that it's "used on all the escalators". That might actually de escalate tension.

James Pallas
10-17-2017, 3:33 PM
Make sure you know the exact year for the code. Make sure that you are under the building code or the residential code. Make sure you read the footnotes and exceptions. Check to see that the authority having jurisdiction has not made any modifications to the code. There is also a supplement book published by the code authors that gives interpretation or the justification of the codes. The building official of the Authority Having Jurisdiction has the final say on code administration unless that has been excluded in the code adoption process.

andrew whicker
10-23-2017, 12:11 PM
Another thought:

When a new home owner / inspector finds these out of spec rails, are they only inspecting questionable rails? In other words, these really nice houses with out of spec rails must never get questioned. I can understand an inspector using the code as a means to an end (remove the safety problem). I wonder if I make a railing and the only thing out of spec is the actual hand rail part, will anyone ever notice? My intuition tells me no.

David Helm
10-23-2017, 6:38 PM
Having spent thirty years as a builder and another ten as a licensed home inspector I can safely say that, in my state, out of spec railings are caught all the time.

Mel Fulks
10-24-2017, 12:28 AM
Andrew, as stated earlier new houses sometimes get a rail change out after inspection. I know the inspectors in those cases are aware that the rail they are inspecting is temporary. But I have no knowledge of any legal consequences from that practice. If I understand your photo ,the "rail" is really a "wall cap". So you could have that wall cap and a legal handrail.

roger wiegand
10-24-2017, 8:42 AM
"So most handrails in modern houses / expensive houses don't meet code?"

Is this true? We live in the land of pretty expensive, nice houses and I don't recall seeing a newly constructed one that I thought didn't meet code. Happens all the time in old houses, of course, but the architects in our part of the world don't seem to have too much difficulty complying.

William Hodge
10-28-2017, 7:55 PM
It seems like aesthetics are often more important than personal injury.

I read once that architects who design stairs should be forced to hang from their railing over a vat of something awful for 10 minutes.