HANDRAILS vs GUARDRAILS
the International Building Codes require
The building code defines a HANDRAIL
“ 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 1003.3.3.3.11 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
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
1003.3.3.3.11.3 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.
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
Code information taken from the 2000 International Building Code and the
2000 International Residential Code