A Handy Guide on Railings

Posted on Posted in Stair and Railing

Here is a handy guide on what you need to know about railings. There are three types of railings: guardrail, stair rail, and hand rail. A guardrail is a barrier located along a horizontal surface such as a balcony, deck or porch. A stair rail is a barrier located along the open sides of a stairway. A hand rail is installed along one or both sides of a stairway providing a safe grasping surface to reduce fall injuries or to prevent falls off the side of the stairs. The primary task of railings is to provide safety and security to its users. Railings also provide aesthetic value in that they complement the overall design of a house or a building.

Most building codes have specific requirements for railings for people’s safety and to minimize injuries should falls occur.

Guardrail. All open-sided walking surfaces, stairways, ramps, and landings that are more than two and a half feet above the floor should have guardrails that are not less than three and a half feet. It should be designed to withstand a force of 200 pounds pushing either downward or against it.

Stair rail. Building code requirement for stair railings typically requires stair rails on stairs that have a total rise of three feet or more. Balusters can only be a maximum of four inches apart.

Hand rail. Hand rails are required on stairs that have a total rise of three feet or more. Hand rails should be continuous – it is present from the first step of the stairs to the last and may only be interrupted at a newel post. The hand rail size, shape, and surface characteristics must be graspable so that someone losing his/her balance or beginning a fall can easily grab on to it.

Some common railing defects that you need to watch out for are:

  • Guardrail with wrong height-may be too low or too high to grasp or may be too low to prevent falling off
  • Guardrail balusters improperly spaced-if spaced too far apart, it may be a falling hazard or a head trap
  • Guardrail balusters damaged, missing or loose
  • Newels or posts at ends of guard railing not secure
  • Loose or missing railings
  • Railings with wrong dimensions
  • Hand rail is too wide too be graspable

As far as design goes, there certainly are trends that are worth checking out. Modern stair railing designs use a host of different materials apart from wood that has been a classic railing material.

Wrought iron railing is perhaps the most popular these days. It is the simplest, inexpensive, and can be used in any staircase type.

(from homeredesigncenter.com)
(from homeredesigncenter.com)

Stainless steel is also becoming increasingly popular. Stainless steel has a long service life. It’s quite resistant to environmental effects as well as relatively inexpensive. It has also been shown to successfully combine with other staircase materials.

(from accufabinc.com)
(from accufabinc.com)

Metal staircase railings are also gaining popularity. It is currently made from a wide variety of materials such as aluminum and its alloys. This type of material is light and looks very attractive. Brass is very pleasing to the eye but is used less frequently as it requires constant maintenance because it oxidizes faster than aluminum. Stamped metal is the cheapest option and modern methods of stamping create eye-catching rail designs.

(from kalsialuminum.com)
(from kalsialuminum.com)

Cable railing is wonderful as an outdoor railing as it can provide unobstructed panoramic views and for your deck or balcony. It looks sleek and modern making it suitable for contemporary buildings. In addition to that, maintenance is really easy.

(from keuka-studios.com)
(from keuka-studios.com)

Another contemporary railing design material gaining popularity is glass. Glass provides a sensation of lightness to the whole staircase. Aside from the usual flat transparent glass, it is also manufactured as patterned, embossed, and colored making the stair railings a visual center of the home.

(from robertbrown.com)
(from robertbrown.com)

It is worthwhile to remember though that safety is the primary function of railings and it must not be put at risk in favor of attractiveness. Whatever material your railings may be, it should follow building code requirements. It cannot be said enough that most home accidents happen at the stairs and safety should always be put ahead of design.

Are you sure your railings are up to standards? If you’re not and you’re located at Southern California, get in touch with Westside Company. We can conduct a free inspection of your staircase and railings and provide you with solutions that will keep you and your family safe. Call us at 310 994 4626 or email us at westsidecompany@gmail.com. We service the Los Angeles area as well as surrounding areas. We also provide maintenance services that will keep those railings safe and gorgeous for many, many years.

Don’t forget to do regular check-ups on your railings to make sure that you are able to resolve small problems immediately before they result to an accident.

  • Ensure that existing railings are well secured and not deteriorated. Check for rust or rot. Grab the railing and shake it gently. If it appears loose or unsecured, this could be a safety hazard.
  • Make sure that the railings are at least 42 inches high if it’s more than six feet off the ground and 36 inches if it’s below six feet.
  • Balusters or spindles of the railings should be spaced so that a ball with a four-inch diameter cannot pass through. This is to ensure that toddlers cannot squeeze through or get their heads caught between the balusters.
  • Balusters’ design should not create a “ladder effect” that may make it easy for a child to climb.
  • Check for damaged, missing or loose balusters or spindles.
  • Check for unsecured newels or posts.
  • Check for unsecured fasteners.

Aside from regular check-ups, here are some everyday tips that will keep your railings in good shape:

  • Don’t use the top of the railing as a seat.
  • Don’t lean heavy objects against the railing.
  • Don’t pressure wash deck railings.
  • Remove debris as soon as you notice it.
  • Be careful not to knock objects into glass railings.