Stair Handrails and the minimum standards of the building codes.

I have done posts in the past about stairs, and how as a component of the home, they are perhaps one of the most difficult things to get right.

There is tread width, riser height, riser/tread ratios, consistency of riser height, nosings,  stair width, slope of treads and many other factors.

Side barriers and hand railings are more things to take into account.

On a recent new townhouse I found a hand rail that was not parallel to the run of stairs.  As in this next picture “A” and “B” should be equal.  Due to “perspective” they may actually even look parallel.

Stair handrails

Stair handrail that is not parallel to the run of the stairs


In this case the handrail at the top of the stairs, from a point at the stair nosing vertical to the handrail, measured over 41.”

At the bottom the height was 37.”

This meant that “A” and “B” could not be equal.

Current regulations require the handrail to be between 34” and 38” from the nosing vertical to the handrail.  Because the highest point of the handrail is more than 38,” it will need to be corrected, but the fact that it is not parallel would not, in itself, require repairs.  As long as one end is above 34″ and the other end is below 38,” the handrail would “technically meet current regulations.


Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector

If you enjoyed this post, and would like to get notices of new posts to my blog, please subscribe via email in the little box to the right. I promise NO spamming of your email :-D


I often get requests for information and help with specific reader questions.  I enjoy doing what I can to offer my opinion or help.  If you find the information was useful and care to send a monetary donation of appreciation, I would really appreciate it.  I will leave the amount up to you, and of course not donating will always be OK.

Thanks, Charlie

Select Payment Method
Personal Info

Donation Total: $0


  1. Daniel Rogers says:

    So you’re one of those “nit-picky” home inspectors. I mention these things too, including missing returns, improper length, etc, especially on new construction. It’s a CYA safety thing.

  2. Daniel Rogers says:

    I love it when they through the nit-picky card. Last week a buyer asked my what are the purpose of soil vents as we pondered the toilet sink and shower all being vented inside the bathroom. When I said it could expose you to dangerous methane gas and adverse odors, the agent snapped and said you’re being nit-picky and using inflammatory language. The buyer told me later he was shocked and disappointed with his agent. Of course, I wasn’t surprised.

  3. How wide can stairs be resedenioial front entrance

    • Charles Buell says:

      Terry, I am not sure exactly what your question is but generally speaking regarding interior stairs there are minimum widths of stairs but no maximum that I am aware of. When you get more than 44 inches wide you run into additional handrail requirements however.

  4. Roberta Fujioka says:

    I’m a visiting realtor from Hawaii and shocked and the lack of missing hand rails to the basements and the uneven heights of the stairs, some as high as 10 inches. What is the building code on this? Sellers would have to correct prior to the sale of a home if was not to code. If a home has issues that were up to code at the time the home was built but the code has changed, then it is sold “as built” but when any new addittion is built, it must be brought up to code. I’m curious as it is so dangerous to not have any railings.

    • Charles Buell says:

      You have to keep in mind the codes are relatively new and not every older home is going to get improved.

  5. michael mccarthy says:

    from what im reading you measure from the end of the stair outside part and you have to be 34 to 38 inches you also measure straight up you do not measure from the 1 x6

  6. Can you offer any insight as to regulations pertaining to this type of stair for a space saving solution in a smaller room?
    It’s I believe known as an alternating tread staircase. I’d like to consider one for a loft space in my home. Any thoughts?

    • Charles Buell says:

      Jon, it might get approved as access to storage space but would not likely ever be approved for access to habitable spaces.

  7. greg winger says:

    Maybe the handrail was installed like that to make the stairwell appear longer. You know, like the castle at Disney Land that looks taller because the ‘stones’ at the top are smaller.

    Please help me settle a debate regarding guardrail/handrail requirements under the Seattle Residential code.
    1) I am being told by others that there are different requirements for exterior vs. interior handrails. I assert there are no differences.
    2) I am being told that a steel exterior guardrail (meeting requirements for a grasp-able surface) cannot also act as the handrail. I assert it can.
    Your thoughts?

Speak Your Mind

* logo

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!