How To Choose The Stair Railing Height So Your Design Is Up To Code

When designing or building a staircase we focus mostly on the big things, more exactly the actual staircase and we tend to ignore the details such as the railing, forgetting that there’s a building code which we need to respect. In this article we’ll talk about the specificities of these regulations, we’ll offer answers to a few common questions and we’ll also have a look at some stair railing ideas which could inspire your future projects.

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The building code dictates that the handrail height should be between 34 and 38 inches. The height is calculated in relation to the stairs and is measured from the very end of the stair tread in a completely vertical line. Some staircase designs, like the one in this house from Belgium by AUXAU and MAMOUT architects are classical and easy to work with in every way. 

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In some cases staircases one have one railing, as exemplified here by studio Rimartus. The important detail here is the minimum railing distance which represents the walking space between the handrail and the wall. This distance needs to be at least 31 1/2 inches.

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It’s quite common for modern staircases to only have one railing. This design strategy helps to keep their design simple and in tone with the minimalism of the decor which surrounds them. A nice example is the staircase designed by NA3 Studio di Architettura.

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When the staircase has two railings, like the one designed by Luigi Rosselli and Raffaello Rosselli, there’s a minimum distance which needs to be respected between them. The distance between the two railings must be at least 27”. This ensures that there’s enough space for a person to walk and carry items up and down the stairs.

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The landings have to be taken into consideration too. They represent intermediary sections within a staircase or terminal sections at the top of the stairs. When the drop-off is more than 30” down a guard must be installed. The minimum height for that is 36”. There are many ways to make guard rails look stylish, one example being this design created by AMBi studio.

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It’s absolutely necessary to install rails on the top sections of a staircase, for safety reasons. The treads at the very bottom of the stairs, however, could do without a guard rail. Be sure to check the building code and the regulations to make sure everything is in order. As far as the aesthetic part of the project is concerned, perhaps this design by Kresings Architektur can inspire you. 

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Another detail that needs to be taken into consideration when designing a staircase is the projection of the railing from the wall. This represents how far the railing is away from the wall that it’s mounted on. The building code dictates that the railing shouldn’t project more than 4 1/2” from the wall. This rule applies to all types of railings, including the one designed here by ES-arch.

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A pretty common scenario in modern and contemporary residences is wanting to maximize the views and natural light as much as possible. As far as the staircase design is concerned, one idea is to opt for transparent glass rails and sleek guards. Check out this design by Chan Architecture as reference. 

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There’s one one more detail to think about when choosing and installing staircase rails: the minimum hand clearance from the wall. It’s the distance between the handrail and the wall that the rail is mounted on. It needs to be at least 1 1/2” so the rail can be easily grasped by the hand. Also, the brackets shouldn’t interfere with hand movement. Simple designs like this one chosen by depA show a perfect blend of style and function.