Handrails—what you need to know

Understanding the requirements for proper handrails can be complicated.  The brand new deck in the picture to the right, with no proper handrails, demonstrates the issue.

Handrails missing

The hazards associated with stairs is well documented. As a result, the requirements for proper handrails are very specific in the building codes.  In this article I am not going to attempt to cover all aspects of handrail requirements, but will instead focus on “graspability” requirements.

It would be easier if there was only minimum and maximum widths and thickness requirements, but it is not so simple.  There are those requirements for sure, and there are different requirements based on shapes and types as well.  There are basically three types of handrails, although the codes group them into two types.

A Type I handrail covers the round/oval shapes, as well as square/rectangular shapes, where the total perimeter measures less than 6-1/4.”  (In the 2015 IRC and earlier, this measurement was 6″–I suspect it was changed to align with the requirements of Type II handrails).  

A Type II handrail is for handrails where the total perimeter measures more than 6-1/4.”

Type I, Handrails with Circular Cross Section: 

Handrails with a circular cross section shall have an outside diameter of not less than 1-1/4 inches and not greater than 2 inches.

Type I, Handrails with Non-Circular Cross Section: 

If the handrail is not circular, it shall have a perimeter of not less than 4 inches and not greater than 6-1/4 inches and a cross section of not more than 2-1/4 inches. Edges shall have a radius of not less than 1/64.”

Type II, Handrails with Irregular Cross Section:

Handrails with a perimeter greater than 6-1/4 inches shall have a graspable finger recess area on both sides of the profile. The finger recess shall begin within 3/4 inch measured vertically from the tallest portion of the profile and have a depth of not less than 5/16 inch within 7/8 inch below the widest portion of the profile. This required depth shall continue for not less than 3/8 inch (10 mm) to a level that is not less than 1-3/4 inches below the tallest portion of the profile. The width of the handrail above the recess shall be not less than 1-1/4 inches (32 mm) and not more than 2-3/4 inches. Edges shall have a radius of not
less than 1/64.”

Type II handrails seem an exception to allow for older handrail installations that could not meet the requirements of Type I handrails.  2-3/4″ is exceptionally wide, but being that wide is not inconsistent with many older buildings.  I personally think, in new construction, most Type II handrails should be avoided when the total width is more than 2.” 

Keep in mind, the code is a minimum standard.

Here is a picture of the different types and some guidelines as to the requirements.

handrail requirements

Various shapes of handrails per 2018 IRC, R311.7.8.5

Charles Buell, Real estate Inspections in Seattle

Planters for Head Plants—don’t need no stinking barriers!

With the exception of a missing handrail for the stairs, this installation meets “code” requirements.

Missing stair barrier railings

Missing stair barrier/railings

 

The platform outside of the door is 29-3/4” above the patio surface.  If it was over 30” a guard rail would be required to prevent falls from the platform.

This is one example of how the building codes should be considered “minimum standards.”  Some times, for safety, we must go beyond the codes.

To me this installation represents a serious safety hazard and improvements are warranted.  Besides the fact that most people would not want to walk off this platform in the dark and fall head-long into one of the planters, imagine trying to negotiate the stairs and wrestle the door open at the same time—-with no hand railing or barrier railing.  Of course closing the door represents the same difficulty.

Another thing to consider is wind.

Imagine opening the door from the inside and having it be caught by the wind.  Would you let go of the door and allow it to slam against the outside wall of the house?  Envisioning the expense of broken glass, some would attempt to hang onto the door, and be dragged screaming into one of the waiting planters?

At the very least lets move the planters. 🙂

 

 

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Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector

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Stair Handrails—are yours safe?

One of the most common home inspection issues  that I find is found even before I get inside the house.

Stairs with no handrail

Stairs with no handrail

Missing handrails on the front entryway stairs.

While there can be dozens of issues with stairs—today I want to focus on handrails because some of the other defects, such as different riser heights and improper tread width can be better negotiated by the user if there is a proper handrail present.

All too often there simply is none present, or it is too wide, or it is not continuous over the entire run of the stairs, or it is too low, or it isn’t graspable. Of course it makes a difference in terms of how old the home is as to what would have been required when the stairs were built—but I don’t care too much about that.  If it wasn’t required—it is a good safety upgrade—a pretty much standard recommendation of this Seattle Home Inspector.

Here are the current “minimum” standards for the installation of handrails on stairs from the 2006 IRC—are your handrails safe?

1. Handrails shall be provided on at least one side of each continuous run of treads or flight with four or more risers.

2. Handrail height, measured vertically from the sloped plane adjoining the tread nosing, or finish surface of ramp slope, shall be not less than 34 inches (864 mm) and not more than 38 inches (965 mm).

3. Handrails for stairways shall be continuous for the full length of the flight, from a point directly above the top riser of the flight to a point directly above the lowest riser of the flight. Handrail ends shall be returned or shall terminate in newel posts or safety terminals. Handrails adjacent to a wall shall have a space of not less than 1½ inch (38 mm) between the wall and the handrails.

Exceptions:

1.  Handrails shall be permitted to be interrupted by a newel post at the turn.

2.  The use of a volute, turnout, starting easing or starting newel shall be allowed over the lowest tread.

4. All required handrails shall be of one of the following types or provide equivalent graspability.

Type I. Handrails with a circular cross section shall have an outside diameter of at least 1¼ 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 6¼ inches (160 mm) with a maximum cross section of dimension of 2¼ inches(57 mm).

Type II. Handrails with a perimeter greater than 6¼ 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 ¾ 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 1¾ inches (45 mm) below the tallest portion of the profile. The minimum width of the handrail above the recess shall be 1¼ inches (32 mm) to a maximum of 2¾inches (70 mm). Edges shall have a minimum radius of 0.01 inch (0.25 mm).

Stairs with no handrail

Stairs with no handrail

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