Height of stair railings and banister, for loft and stairways

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Posted by: from Orleans
10/4/2011 at 12:16:51 PM

We have a cottage with a stairway to a loft that looks out over the living room and have several questions:

1. How high do the railings have to be, by code? 36" or 42"?

2. What are the requirements for spacings between the vertical posts? 4 inch gaps or less?

3. Do we require BOTH a stair handrail/banister/posts *and* a mounted handrail on the solid wall on the other side of the stairway?

4. Same question for stairway to the basement: is a handrail required on both sides?

thank you kindly!

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Date/Time10/4/2011 at 1:27:25 PM

Hi Orleans,

The height is often determined by local building codes (which can vary from locale to locale). However, I would play it safe with a loft and go for the 42". As for the spacing, no more than 2" between. A trick I use is to take a 24" level and make the baulister plumb. Then, I put the next bauluster beside the level (so the level is between them). This is generally 2". This is a safety precaution so that children can't get their arm or leg stuck.

As for the railing going up and down the stairs, it depends again on local codes. Generally, if the stairs are wider than 48", it is best to have a railing on both sides.

I hope this helps. Call the local municiple office for particulars re: specif codes.

Brett Barager, MSW, CHI

Lone-Wolf Contracting

(A Division of Lone-Wolf Enterprises)


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Dave in Oshawa
Date/Time10/25/2011 at 3:04:07 PM

Hi Mary,

Brett's only partially right, the Ontario Building Code stipulates the required railing height, fastening and spacing between pickets. It's not generally, and it's province-wide not up to the municipality. You would be looking at a 42 guard height and the spacing of pickets should be such that you can't get a sphere or ball 4 in diameter between them (so 3 7/8 is fine). Currently, the Building Code doesn't require a handrail on the solid wall, but you do require a handrail and guard on the open side of the stairs. If the basement is unfinished, you can get away with just a handrail on one side. If the basement is finished, then you have to protect any open side of the stairs with a handrail and guard.

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Paul in Chatham
Date/Time2/8/2013 at 2:54:44 PM

I was checking out the 2006 OBC (Ontario Building Code). If your stair is 3'-7" in width or greater, you need two rails, one on each wall (or one on the wall opposite your open railing).

Handrails on sides of stairs can be between 2'-7" and 3'-2" measured vertically from the line of flight.

Rail heights on 'guards' (horizontal railings, not sloping) need to be 3'-6" high but there are times when 2'-11" is OK.

Consult a building professional or call your local building official to confirm the proper height required for your situation.

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