I’m often surprised by how many homes I inspect that have handrails that are missing, loose, or improperly sized. In this short post, I will review when handrails are required and what constitutes a safe handrail.
First of all, handrails are required when there are more than three stairs. Contrary to what many people would think, landings are considered stairs because you “step” up onto them. So, three stairs and a landing is actually considered four stairs. Another rule is that handrails should be present when the total height of the stairway is 24 inches or greater, but the three or more steps rule more commonly comes into play.
It goes without saying, but handrails should be secure if they are going to serve their purpose of providing safety. Often times, handrails are either improperly installed (for example, into drywall with anchors instead of directly into wood studs), or they have simply come loose over time. In any case, giving the handrail a firm wiggle will confirm if it is stable enough to take a blow if someone falls into it or has to quickly grasp it.
In addition to being secure, handrails should be graspable. That is, they should be easy to grasp with as much of the hand as possible. 2×4 boards are commonly used for handrails – especially for exterior and deck stairs – but a better option is a cylindrical rod (tube shape) because it can be more fully and easily grasped.
The height of the handrail should be 34 – 38 inches from the stairs. This height is comfortable for adults and low enough for most children to reach. If the handrail is dividing the stairs from an open space, the spindles (vertical pieces) should be close enough that a 4-3/4″ sphere cannot pass between them. An easy way to test this is to make a fist, which is about the right size for most adult hands.
If handrails need installed, repaired or replaced at your home, follow these guidelines to ensure that they are properly installed and that your family is safe. While this is a fairly easy DIY job for many homeowners, it is recommended that a reputable and qualified carpenter performs this job since several important safety factors need to be observed.
Take some time to thoroughly check your handrails and make sure they meet the guidelines listed in this article. Doing so just might save someone from an unfortunate accident in your home.
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