Handrail Safety

Railings installed in the home today must adhere to modern  staircase and railing codes. These guidelines usually refer to the safety barrier along steps, staircase, landing and 2nd floor hallways.  Guard rails details are also included in a typical home that pertain to safety railings on landings and open hallways usually installed on the 2nd floor level, porches, screened porches, balconies or other horizontal walking surfaces.

A handrail is a horizontal or sloping rail intended for grasping by the hand for guidance or support. The top of handrails and handrail extensions shall not be placed less than 34” and not  more than 38 inches above landings and the nosing of treads. Handrails shall be continuous the full length of the stairs. Ends shall be returned or shall have rounded terminations or bends. Guardrails must be installed with a minimum of 36 inches of height from the floor level.

Even though when purchasing an older house that had used more relaxed stair safety requirements, the need to adhere to up-to-date safety standards using modern codes must not be neglected. As noted during a typical home inspection, this safety requirement is especially true where it  pertains to the spacing and condition of the balusters and newel posts used along the main staircase of the house. The general rule is to firmly install balusters and newel posts between the handrail and flooring materials so that a 4” sphere (the head of an infant in this case) cannot pass through the installation.

Newel posts (usually the 4×4 inch posts) must be installed firmly and able to withstand a lateral force of at least 75 lbs. The balusters (installed between the posts) must be installed with no more than 4 inches between each component.  Loose or damaged balusters must be replaced or repaired immediately for safety purposes. Wood balusters maydevelope defects fairly esily and should not be relied upon for safety unless inspected periodiclly. They have the tendency of drying out and becoming weak and brittle due to either the lack of humidity in a house or just the lack of quality from the manufacturer.

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