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