There isn't a person alive that hasn't experienced that heart stopping moment when you think you're about to slip or fall on a staircase. Without thinking, your hands automatically fly out to grab hold to something--anything--to stop the fall. If you're lucky, you'll find a smooth, sturdy handrail in just the right place.
When Do You Need One?
According to most building codes, you should have a handrail where there are more than four steps and when a landing or deck height is more than 30 inches. This applies to all locations--inside, outside, commercial or residential.
Sizing is Important
It seems so obvious but a handrail needs to be easy to grasp. If it is too fat or too skinny, you may not be able to catch hold of it quickly when you need it most. The recommended circumference is 4 inches (102mm) and 6.25 inches (159mm) with a maximum cross-section dimension of 2.25 inches (57mm).
Location is Important
Place it at least 1.5 inches from the wall so your fingers can wrap around the handrail, but don't let it intrude into the stairway more than 4.5 inches. The end of the handrail should return to the wall. The recommended height varies from 27 to 38 inches depending on whether you're locating the handrail against a wall or on the open side of the stairs--and on the building code where you live.
Keep it Flowing
Your hand should be able to slide along the handrail without interruption the full length of the stair. There is an exception for newell post placement.
One More Thing
When selecting your handrail, be sure that the spindles or balusters are spaced no more than 4 inches apart. Anything spaced wider than that may allow small children to fall through.