code for stair railings?

graceshanNovember 29, 2011

We've been designing the staircase in our custom home and when I've showed the builder and carpenter what I've liked both of them said they weren't sure if the railing would be to code because it doesn't go down to the bottom step. I've tried to do some research and I'm not sure of what the code really is for interior staircases. Here are some of the pictures I showed them. Does anyone know what the rule is for where the handrail must start or where I can find it?

The first pic is my favorite and I want the built in bench too!

The last one looks like it should be OK... but I'm not positive. Any thoughts?

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Assuming the IRC is the applicable building code:

"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."

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."

So, if the newel post in "on" the lowest tread and the handrail terminates at it you should be OK but it will be up to the inspector since the code is so vague. Only one handrail is required so if there is one that complies, the other can do anything you want it to.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2011 at 7:18PM
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Thanks so much for your clarification. Very helpful.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2011 at 7:43PM
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Try and show plans to the AHJ and get at least a reading if THEY think it will comply.

They can always change their mind, but the more you have shown them and asked about the better.

Anything "vague" is open to local interpretation, and they end up with the final say.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 10:32AM
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First off, I love all of the designs!

Code can vary significantly state to state, so that is something to consider.

If you can comply with a handrail, I would design the stairs the way you want them, & install a handrail. If the handrail mysteriously disappeared some night during a sleepwalking/home remodeling spell, the handrail could be reinstalled on the day you put the house on the market.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 8:52PM
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I love your point eliza! ;)

    Bookmark   December 2, 2011 at 2:27PM
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And you can put it back when you have elderly guests or when someone in your family is on crutches.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2011 at 3:54PM
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The building code in Edmonds, Washington is the 2099 IRC which I quoted from earlier.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2011 at 5:25PM
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Having been on crutches more than once in my lifetime (two broken legs, knee surgery once, and uncountable sprained ankles), I can assure you that a handrail was of ZERO use to me when attempting to navigate a staircase on crutches. Both of my hands were otherwise totally occupied with holding onto the crutches and bearing my weight.

(Yes, I know some people advocate the "tuck both crutches under one arm and hang onto the railing with the other" method but, in my experience trying to hang onto two crutches with one hand is a sure recipe for disaster!)

And now, although I am not YET in my dottage, I do have enough knee problems that I generally hang onto the handrail when navigating stairs.

That said, every code I have ever seen allows for staircases with only one or two risers to forego having a handrail at all. In fact many jurisdictions don't require a handrail unless the staircase had more than four risers.

I for one can't see any particular difference in safety or ease of climbing (or going down) a two-step staircase without a handrail and doing the same thing without a handrails for the bottom two steps of a longer staircase. Anyone who is so decrepit that they cannot manage the bottom two steps without a handrail is not going to be able to safely ascend or descend the entire staircase anyway.

The bigger problem I would have with a staircase whose railing did not go clear to the bottom riser, is that a person walking PAST the staircase and not watching his/her feet might misjudge just how far out the staircase extends and trip over the bottom riser. Because the newel and handrail stick up higher into one's field of vision, having the newel post attached to the bottom riser tends to alert you to move a little further away from the staircase when walking past it.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2011 at 6:09PM
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I guess there is always this sort of option too (for safety):

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 12:25PM
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