Gulf Coast Railings

Handrails vs Guardrails

what the International Building Codes require   
The building code defines a HANDRAIL as follows: 
“ A horizontal or sloping rail intended for grasping by the hand for guidance or support “.
In other words, a handrail is provided to help support a person requiring something to hold on to as they use steps or a ramp. Code sections 1003. and 1003.3.4.7 of the IBC and section R315.1 and R313.2 of the of the IRC contain the requirements for where a handrail is required on stairs and ramps, respectively. Handrails are required on all stairs and ramps, with the exception of a residence, in which a handrail is required when there are 3 or more risers.  Handrails are required to be provided on both sides of the stairs. There is an exception to this on stairs serving a residence, which allows the handrail to be provided on only one side. Ramps require handrails on both sides unless the ramp rise is under 6", with the exception of a residence, where handrails are required if the slope of the ramp exceeds one unit vertical in 12 inches horizontal. Other information on ramps can be found in section 1003.3.4.6 ofthe IBC and section R313 of the RBC.
Handrails must also be graspable and be positioned so that they protrude out from the wall, providing a clear space of at least 1 ½". Handrail grasp ability is addressed on the opposite side ofthis sheet, with more information available in section 1003. of the IBC and R315.2 of the IRC. Handrails are required to be mounted between 34" and 38" measured vertically from the nose of the tread. The handrail is required to begin at the bottom riser and run continuously to the top stair riser, with no interruptions, with the exception of a newel post that may be required for support. Handrails are required to return to the wall at the ends.   
The building code defines a GUARDRAIL system as follows:
“ A system of building components located near the open sides of elevated walking surfaces for the purpose of minimizing the possibility of an accidental fall from the walking surface to the lower level.”  
In other words, the guardrail system is provided to prevent people from injuring themselves if they were to fall on a walking surface. The guardrail would prevent them from falling to a lower level below. Walking surfaces include decks, steps, ramps, porches, etc. A guardrail is required by code section 1003.2.12 of the IBC and section R316 of the RBC. These code sections also list the requirements for guardrail systems. Guards are required along open sided walking surfaces that are located more than 30" above a floor or grade below. There are some exceptions to this rule though. These exceptions are for loading docks and stages such as those found in auditoriums.
The minimum height requirement in the IBC for guardrails is 42" measured vertically above the nose of the tread of the steps. The RBC allows the guardrail system to be 36"high in residential construction. A guardrail used in a residence along the open side of a stair system allows a minimum of 34" high when measured vertically from the nose of the treads. Guardrails must be constructed in such a manner so that a 4" diameter sphere can not pass thru any opening within the guardrail system. One exception to this rule allows an opening of 6" in the triangular opening formed by the riser and tread in an open-sided stair system.                          

Code information taken from the 2000 International Building Code and the 2000 International Residential Code

As codes are continually updated, be sure to check for updates.

32934 Decker Prairie Rd Magnolia, Tx 77355
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