How To Building Stairs And Installing Handrails To Code Standards

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    A friend is asking about a rental property he just purchased from a VA Auction and is intending to rent out for a few years until he retires and moves to this location when he is older.

    Right now he is using it as a vacation home and is in the process of preparing it for rental. When he moved in the home was inspected and found compliant with Veterans Administration Standards but he is having issues with his stairs and handrails from his first to second floor in the home.

    After an initial review the largest problem he is having is that the balusters that are on an exposed wall are not close enough to meet proper code. Balusters should be close enough together that no opening is larger than 4 inches wide.

    He is asking about what other things might be necessary to repair or review so lets take a look at the basic standards for building stairs. Remember that local codes can and always do change but National Codes set the basic rules for how things are built in homes and businesses.

    Home Building Codes For Stairs And Handrails

    Stairs are built of three basic parts. The Stringer which is attached to the wall and the floor to hold the Steps and the Risers.

    The Risers in your home set the height of the stairs and should fall in a height between 7-3/4″ and a 4 inch minimum height and the difference in the heights of all of the stairs can only be a maximum of 3/8ths of an inch.

    The minimum depth of a tread is 10 inches however that code was recently updated and previously it was 9 inches so keep that in mind for older stairs.

    The minimum width of a stairway must be 36″ inches. This includes the distance between the handrails which might make the space smaller.

    Handrails are installed at 31 inches above the tread of the stair.

    The minimum headroom height for stairs is 6 feet 8inches.

    Hand Railing that is on an open wall can be at 36 inches but guardrail on a landing has to be 42 inches high. If the landing height to the floor below it is less than 30 inches then you can use handrail heights 36″ on that landing instead of increasing the height of the landing rail.

    Balusters must be installed with no opening larger that 4-3/8″ however I suggest you use a smaller distance of 3-1/2″ for that opening. Below the baluster there will be a corner gap so you can extend the balusters to close it  to an opening no more than 6″. These distances are suppose to be measured with a ball to represent a child’s head.

    Final Note

    Building stairs to code is not difficult if you have updated code information available at the time you are building. Some locations may have different standards for indoor and outdoor stairs and some may not be using the most recent national codes so before you build you must submit your plans for review and get a permit where necessary. If you fail to do this you may build a stair system that is out of code and then you will be fined.

    Code departments are often very generous to home owners that are doing the work themselves but they won’t let you skimp where standards are being broke. A good plan and reviewing codes that are current is important because they can change at any time.


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