Basic Interior Handrail Codes and Regulations

If you are getting ready to build a new home or renovate a old one and have handrails you want to incorporate then you need to get up to date on basic interior handrail code requirements.

Before we begin discussing basic handrail codes we need to make a clear distinction between handrails and top rails. A top rail is a barrier that keeps people from falling over. The handrail is the part you physically hold on as you climb the stirs. In this article we will be discussing handrails and not top rails unless the top rail is also the handrail.

When it come to handrails there are three code requirements that need to be followed:

Handrail hight
Handrail size
Baluster spacing
Handrail hights are simple. OSHA states that the handrail hight shall be no less than 30 inches to a maximum of 37 inches high. This may seem low for some locations but remember you can also have a higher top rail if the site is intimidating. IBC or the International Building Code requires handrails to be no less than 42 inches unless it is a 3 story building then your minimum hight is 36 inches. As a fabricator of metal handrails I typically make mine 36 inches high for most residential projects.
Handrail size is another issue and as a rule of thumb they should not exceed 2 inches wide and you should leave at least 1.5 inches of space between the handrail and the wall or top rail to allow easy grabbing without getting your hand stuck between the rail and wall.

Baluster spacing is a major safety issue when it comes to young children. The baluster is the picket or spindle of the handrail and spacing needs to be tight enough that a toddler cannot slip through the spaces. The spacing rule says that a 4 3/8 inch ball shall not pass through the spaces. What this means is a building inspector will have a 4 3/8 inch ball with them and if it passes through any baluster then your handrails are not up to code. Many people think the rule is a 4 inch ball but it is actually a 4 3/8 inch ball that cannot pass through the spaces.

Finally if you are planing to upgrade your home or build a new one you really need to check with your local building inspector. Some cities and counties might have different requirements. As a rule of thumb stick to a handrail hight of 36 to 37 inches, allow at least 1 1/2 inches of space for your hand to fit between the handrail and wall or top rail and keep your buluster spacing to 4 inches or less.