Before the 1980s most stairways had a handrail and to this day, most stair handrails are not considered guard rails. Well things have changed and now most stairways require a guard rail and it gripable handrail.
What's the difference between a stair handrailing and a stair guard rail, quite frankly about 6 inches. Your stair guard rails have a minimum requirement of 42 inches where stair handrails built before the 1980s had a handrailing for protection with a minimum requirement of 36 inches.
This does not mean that older stair handrails that are 36 inches tall will need to be removed and replaced, because the new building codes have changed. If you were to rebuild the stair handrail or do any work on the stairway that required a building permit, they could have you change your stair handrailing to meet current building codes.
I was helping another guy frame a new house in 2005 and while I was on the job I would mention to the owner, certain concerns of mine with other parts of the job. After a while he realized, that I knew what I'll was talking about and started to pay attention when ever I mentioned anything related to home building.
He asked me if I would be interested in building the stair handrailing system and at the time I was too busy. I reminded him of the minimum requirements for the stair guard rail, it was no longer referred to as a stair handrail and would need to be at least 42 inches in height and include a gripable handrail.
Well as you guessed it, the next time I walked into the home, I noticed a 36 inch high stair handrail. I reminded him and he wasn't too concerned, because he hired someone that knew all about building stair handrails.
The building inspector made him remove and replace the stair handrail, before he would approve the home for final inspection. Don't make the same mistakes, learn a little more about stair handrail safety and don't become another statistic in the home building industry.
Always check with your local building department, whether you're reading articles like this or asking questions to experienced contractors. Everybody makes mistakes and sometimes their information is out of date, according to new home building practices or building codes.
Greg Vanden Berge is working on the internet to promote the education for creating simple to follow guides and home building books to help professional building contractors as well as the weekend warriors
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