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Thread: Handrail requirement for "diagonal" staircase

  1. #1

    Handrail requirement for "diagonal" staircase

    I have an entryway that has a set of wide steps that are set at a 45-degree angle to the adjacent walls. See attached sketch.

    There is an obvious need for a guard rail along the red lines (to keep someone from falling), but because there are 4 or more risers in the staircase, local code also requires a handrail for the steps.

    This is vexing me. The handrail would have to be mounted to the adjacent walls, meaning if you were holding it, you'd have to be approaching the steps at a 45-degree angle, which is very awkward and feels unsafe. There is no way to approach the stairs at a normal angle while holding the handrail.

    Any thoughts on this? I could put in the handrail to meet the letter of the code, but no one would use a handrail that required you to awkwardly step up stairs at a 45-degree angle. Am I missing something?
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
    I would put rail on both sides square to the steps . Set vases and such on the unusable side . Wood or metal brackets to
    go back to wall.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    McKean, PA
    You could satisfy code with one railing right up the centerline of the steps. It would not need to be attached to the house.
    Lee Schierer
    Captain USN(Ret)

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  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Lee Schierer View Post
    You could satisfy code with one railing right up the centerline of the steps. It would not need to be attached to the house.
    That might work well if that space is big enough. Often the front door is the widest, and only way in for the big stuff. If the door is centered ,a centered rail might not work.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Issaquah, Washington
    Most people will not use a handrail for a 5 riser stair, those that need to will typically be significantly more deliberate in their passage and not really bothered by the angled rail. If your sketch is to scale, a centered handrail will reduce the entry width feel, quite possibly in an adverse way (at the bottom it appears that there will be two 3' "lanes" which will limit the ability to assist those in need of a handrail) Also. the visual effect of reduced access to the entry stands a high probability of be less inviting.
    Regards - Bill

  6. #6
    Dan Friedrichs,

    The oblique angle may seem to be difficult to negotiate, but in use, the diagonal of the tread is longer and the tread depth feels more generous. Using free standing railings perpendicular to the treads might be considered, but if the diagram is proportional, not only is more than a third of the width lost into useless residual areas, the right hand ascending railing would be pointing almost at the center of the door and the visitor must make an S-shaped path to get around to the opening. In my view, the door is swinging the wrong way; it should swing in unless it's a required fire exit for a commercial building, plus it should be hinged on the other side. In the diagram, on approach, one has to go towards the interior corner and the path bends around the door is it's not open 90 degrees.

    For these reasons, consider mounting the handrails on the adjacent walls, taking care to set the height (typically measured from the nosing), the dimensions of the handrail, distance from the wall, and the required extension beyond the top and bottom tread according to code. And, if it's a house entry, consider having an in swinging door that is right hand opening from the exterior.

    Last edited by Alan Caro; 08-01-2019 at 8:08 PM.

  7. #7
    Take your pictures and measurements and visit the local building inspector / permits office. Then you will know you are doing what they want the first time.

  8. #8
    Thanks for the thoughts!

    To be clear, this stair is existing, and I'm just re-evaluating where/if to use handrails as I replace the flooring and modernize the existing handrails and balusters.

    Bill, I agree that a centered handrail would not be visually appealing. I've totally rejected that idea. And I think you're right that for 5 steps, most people wouldn't use a handrail at all.

    Alan, good catch on the front door - I drew it the wrong direction by mistake I tried walking up the steps at an angle (as though I was holding a handrail mounted to the side walls), and found it INCREDIBLY awkward and unsafe-feeling, though. If someone needed a handrail for support, it feels to me like they would be very unstable approaching the stair at such an angle. I do realize that the tread depth is technically greater, but needing to navigate your toe over the stair nosing at an angle seems like a recipe for tripping.

    I'm leaning towards not including a handrail at all, but was just curious if anyone would say, "Yeah, that's a typical case where we build a 2x4 handrail to satisfy the building inspector then take it down later because it looks terrible and no one would use it".

  9. #9
    Dan Friedrichs,

    The handrail or not decision depends on a number of factors. If there is an open permit and ongoing inspections, there's a high probability it won't get signed off without a compliant handrail. In that event, given the potential delay, consider going ahead with a good quality, permanent, code compliant railing attached to both side walls. Even if a handrail were not required, there are other factors, such as the possibility of elderly or disavantaged visitors that need a handrail and the potential liability if someone fell on a stair that was not code-compliant. People are very litigious today. Inquire if a handrail is only necessary on one side, but I assume if the UBC is in force and given the width at the widest point it will need to be on both sides.


    PS: A project of mine in Malibu, CA overlooking the Pacific:

    O'Connors_Photo 8_5.29.15.jpg

    That's 18,000 square feet and a lot of handrails,...
    Last edited by Alan Caro; 08-02-2019 at 12:21 PM. Reason: splelling! spa c i ng?

  10. #10
    Good advice, Alan - and, wow, what a house! You're the builder?

    I think I may add the handrail to both sides, as you suggest. Thanks.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Clinton Township, MI, United States
    Speaking as someone who is "temporarily able", there have been two times in my life, each for almost a year, that I have been on crutches/walker/wheelchair and handrails can make the difference between getting somewhere and having to go around or elsewhere. The fact that they might be 45 degrees to the direction of travel is immaterial, do they exist or not is the question. Put them on both sides so whichever side is favored, the disabled can still use the appropriate side.
    I am an adamant/advocate for this having been there.
    From the workshop under the staircase, Clinton Township, MI
    Semper Audere!

  12. #12
    Why not just one handrail llike this, don't need two of 'em..
    ELEVEN - rotary cutter tool machines
    FOUR - CO2 lasers
    THREE- make that FOUR now - fiber lasers
    ONE - vinyl cutter
    CASmate, Corel, Gravostyle

  13. #13
    Dan Freidrichs,

    Yes, I'm convinced the upsides of the dual handrail outweigh the downsides.

    I was the designer of the Malibu house. That's on 16 acres with a 240 degree view of the Pacific. There is an 1,800 sq. ft, gate lodge, 4,000 sq ft guest house, 10 garages, tennis court and a three hole golf course.

    It was built by a fantastic builder from Thousand Oaks, CA who build a number of my larger houses in the Los Angeles area: Malibu, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Pacific Palisades, and etc. The Malibu house's entire right side of the entry is one story with an 18' curved barrel vault ceiling. The framing of that was a work of art as was the elliptical dome over the 1,200 fq. ft. entry hall. All the doors and windows were custom solid Mahogany which would be impossible today.

    There are quite impressive 24'(2X 12') X 13' 4" thick Oak gates at the entry. They were built by a furniture maker who also did all the forgings. I can't find photos of those at the moment.

    For a 13,000 sq.ft. house in the Brentwood area he also made the entry gates. That house had a separate tower for the entry and the gates were under that tower, leading to stairs - with two handrails!- up into a courtyard entry:

    Moyer Res_entry_entry crtyd.jpg

    I designed the gate and were made the same furniture maker in 2-1/2" Walnut:

    Moyer Res_front_entry gate.jpg

    I also can't at the moment find photos of the dining table he made for that same house: 12' X 4' X 3" thick and a single piece of Walnut. He picked the tree in Oregon, had it cut and sawn, air dried it 8 years and made table tops. The one in this house had more than 150 inlay fillets. He also made all the doors and windows for a large house in Hawaii in solid Mahogany. He'd had a seven year apprenticeship in Spain and is a fantastic wood carver as well, but these days living in Hawaii has taken up making ukeleles.

    Last edited by Alan Caro; 08-02-2019 at 10:39 PM.

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