How High Should a Handrail Be

Written by gwen chance
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How High Should a Handrail Be
Note the easy to grasp metal rail. (stairs image by Penny Williams from

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.

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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.

Small children can fall through this handrail.
Small children can fall through this handrail. (deck image by Albert Lozano from

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.

Handrails are supported by newel posts.
Handrails are supported by newel posts. (stairs image by Svetlana Tikhonova from

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.

Handrails are supported by newel posts.
Handrails are supported by newel posts. (alhambra stairs image by Albo from

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.

How High Should a Handrail Be
This handrail spacing is too wide for optimum safety. (seagull sitting on a railing during sunset image by Elnur from

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