What Is The Required Height For Porch Railings (7 Things You Should Know)

People fall off raised unguarded platforms all the time; children, the old, people afraid of heights, and even those not paying attention to their surroundings. It could be a minor or a significant fall, but a fall all the same. That’s why people need a handrail to hold onto.

Any porch or platform 30 inches or more above grade should have a railing guard at least 36 inches high from the platform’s base. Hand railings protect people against accidental falls. Even if your porch is only 15-24 inches above grade, it may be worth installing a railing for additional safety.

The average height of a person is 5½ feet, which is 66”, which means that the handrail falls around the abdomen of the average person allowing them to lean on the rail and not topple over.

Do I Need Railings On My Porch?

Porch railings are mainly installed to give your porch a fine finish in terms of design and glamour, but above all else, porch railings are needed for safety purposes.

Do you need to have railings on your porch?

Does the landing of your porch stand 30” above grade? The grade is the construction term that means ground. What you need to know is that the height of your patio determines whether there is a need for your porch to be installed with guard rails or not.

In many instances, platforms that exceed the height of 15”-24” should be guarded, although it is not a must unless your area code building requirements dictate so.

In general and at the end of the day, the safety of every individual in your household takes precedence. The following questions will help you determine how many inches above grade needs to be guarded against accidental fall:

  • Do you have young children in your family who are overly playful and curious?
  • What about older people whose sight and grace have become falter?
  • Is anyone in your household living with a disability?
  • Is anyone an immense fear of heights? 

The railings of a porch are about height and the spacing between rail posts and the vertical or horizontal spaces of the balusters. 

The spacing on the balusters has a recommendation of 4” in wideness which is enough to limit objects or bodies bigger than that to pass through it. In the practical world, the 4” spaces are maintained to deter young children and pets from going through.

The standard height being 36” and a minimum height of 34” is recommended in residential buildings and a height of 42” on commercial buildings, which is a comfortable height for most people to use without toppling over.

What Is the Code for Deck Railing Posts?

Two organizations regulate and decide on the regulations and designs for buildings and their accessories, whether commercial or residential. These are the International Residential and Building Codes.

The railing posts are the most critical parts of the entire railing system. That is because the posts translate to the strength of the railing system.

There are two primary specifications for deck railing posts:

  1. Height
  2. Spacing

Height

No construction stands firm without pillars. The posts are the pillars that shoot straight from below grade to the height of 66” and above.

The housing code dictates the recommended height of all raised platforms, including the deck and the porch. In their recommendations, any platform that stands 30” above grade should be fenced with a railing.  

They further recommend that from the base of the landing, the minimum height should not drop below the size of 34”, but a 36” would be more suitable.

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That makes the posts that shoot below more than 66” in height which translates to 5½ feet tall.

Spacing

The strength and stability of the deck and railing depend on the posts. As such, it is recommended that the poles be placed more than 6 or 8 feet apart.

There are two sizes of railing posts commonly used: 4×4 and 6×6.

Now, if you are using the 4*4 posts that are smaller in size, the spacing between rails should be a maximum of 6 feet, and those that use 6*6 posts should be spaced 8 feet apart.

This calculated measurement will help the railing to be strong as it distributes weight across the divide.

How to Calculate Railing Post Spacing

The first step to installing a railing on your deck or porch is determining the space between the posts. In return, the spaces between the railing will dictate the spacing of the pickets or balusters you will install.

In other words, it ensures the structural integrity of the railing.

If you want to void costly reinstallations later in your remodeling project, it’s ideal for calculating the post spacing before installing your railing.

Here are the steps to calculating your post spacing.

Step 1

The first step is to measure the distance between the corner posts of your deck with a measuring tape. If you plan on installing railing on both sides of the decks, don’t forget to measure the length of each section.

Step 2

Split the length of the railing to come up with sections of equal lengths between five and seven feet.

Sometimes it can be challenging to divide the length of your deck. An online spacing calculator can be helpful in this venture. It allows you to calculate the spacing of your posts using the width of the posts, the length of the area to rail, and the size of the balustrades.

Step 3

Mark the placement of the posts on the deck. Center a post on each of these marks, and mark the deck on each side of the post.

Step 4

Drill two 1/4inch holes through the base of each of your posts using a drill, then attach the posts to the deck with bolts or screws using a screwdriver.

Do Outside Steps Need A Handrail?

Outside steps need a handrail if the people climbing those steps are vulnerable to accidents such as falling off.

Climbing up the stairs is an activity on its own, just like jogging is, and it is easier and fun for those who are young and physically fit. But, what about:

  • the disabled,
  • the sick
  • children
  • the old
  • and people suffering from arthritis?

Some homeowners go the extra mile in incorporating flair and beautiful designs into the details of the porch and its railings. This makes passers-by and guests of the homestand stop for a minute to admire.

But aesthetics are just the tip of the iceberg because the most important reason for rails on the staircase is to provide something to hold on to and balance your weight with.

Two essential aspects determine whether the outside stairway need a guard or not:

  1. Height of the stairs
  2. How wide is the stair

Height

It is almost automatic that an elevated platform needs a railing guard to protect people from falling over.

As common sense prevails for most homeowners, others have to contend with the rules laid out by the housing code to mitigate such catastrophes.

While the International Housing Code plus the International Building Code recommend railings as long as the landing of the stairs is 30+”, cautious people will install one from as little as a foot off the ground.

The Wideness Of The Stairs

Some staircases are wide, while some are narrow depending on the availability of space and its usefulness.

Narrow stairs may need a handrail while wider ones may not and vice versa. It all boils down to the people who frequently use it and their activities.

If heavy lifting of luggage is involved, then installing rails might be practical.

Essential Tips to Consider When Installing a Handrail 

Handrails can be life-saving devices. They can prevent dangerous falls down the stairs. And since correct handrails installation is critical for safety purposes, it can be challenging, mainly if you’re not used to DIYs projects at home.

Here are some tips to consider when thinking of installing handrails.

  1. The strength of the handrail should withstand a forceful weight of around 200 pounds that is placed on it or pushed against it.
  1. Any landing that stands 30” above ground should be fitted with a guard that allows people to hold while walking or standing, acting as a guide and a guard against accidental falls.
  1. The recommended height of 30” and 36” respectively should not hinder one from installing railing guards if and when they are concerned about their safety or the safety of family dwelling in the said premises.
  1. Balusters, the many decorated short vertical pillars forming the basis of the handrail and the supporting cast, should have a strict spacing of 4” apart. To measure this, get a spherical object 4” in diameter and try stuffing it through the baluster. It is for security reasons as far as children and pets are concerned.
  1. Balusters are not recommended to be installed horizontally. They will invite children to step and stand on, which might eventually break, or a child might climb up the balusters and fall over.
  1. The importance of the 36” height from the base of the raised platform is to ensure that people of minimum height and even taller are thought of. If a medium height of an individual is 5.5 feet which is around 66”, then the handrail will fall around the mid-waist.

If you think of porch rails, it’s essential to check with municipal authorities about the building codes. Instead of restoring an older home, you might want to consider replacing the railing to avoid an unbalanced look. Safety should be your primary concern.

Furthermore, most local communities call for inspection of new balconies. The inspectors will review the type of material used, fasteners, and the patio construction.

However, it’s wise for homeowners to consider inspecting their balconies. Some of the suggestions from IRC include watching for loose railings, rotting or split wood, loose or missing fasteners, and damaged or loose support beams.

Advantages of Porch Railings

A porches’ handrail has several advantages for the household, which will help you decide if your porch needs it or not:

  1. Curb appeal
  2. Support
  3. Safety

1. Curb Appeal

It is no secret that the porch welcomes people into your home. Many homes today do not concentrate so much on the front as much as the back. The backyard runs the show as far as entertainment and comfort are concerned.

But the front porch has never lost its taste and glory. It’s the difference that a warm, inviting home holds over the rest.

It gives your home the illusion of hugeness, just like what wall mirrors do to a room, while giving it the embodiment of trust and safety.

Will potential buyers be attracted to a home with a front porch that is guarded with rails? Most definitely yes.

2. Support

Most homes whose porches have a handrail have their stairs guarded as well. The availability of something to hold onto as you climb up or down the stairs at home is very comforting and assuring.

Imagine coming home from work tired and feeling frail, and you have to climb stairs that do not have support.

Handrails provide support and guidance when feeling tired, sickly, and your sight is wanting. It’s like an old friend whose hand you can always trust to hold in times of turbulence and uncertainty.

3. Safety

Safety is the main reason that porch railings are required in the first place. People fall off platforms all the time; bruises and injuries from falls differ, but why risk them when you can prevent them?

The front porch is a place to breathe in the fresh air, bask in the sun while relaxing alone or with family. You can predict where accidental falls are likely to happen, and handrails are there to provide safety for when:

  • Nosy, hyper, and curious children are playing on the porch – Children will always want to access places and spaces that they are restricted from. They will want to climb over or squeeze through spaces. And they topple over so often. One is that railings protect them from falling over as children are primarily unaware when they are in danger of falling over a steep edge.
  • Older people are part of many households – Older people, just like children alike, are fragile and can quickly lose a footing because of instability brought about by the fragility of old age; for this reason, you would not want them standing closer to an edge that is not guarded.
  • The tiled floor is wet and slippery – Cases have been reported of people slipping off and banging on the floor after mopping and when it is raining. It is dangerous for everyone in the house, and a handrail will help people to balance as they walk carefully.
  • Family members with disabilities and those afraid of heights benefit the most from handrails to alleviate fear and risks of unprecedented falls – These scenarios are just a few of the many that homes without rails on their porches and other raised platforms or outdoor spaces endure all the time. 

Final Thoughts

Any platform 30” above grade should be fenced with a railing guard at least 36” in measurement starting from the platform’s base.

The organizations that regulate and dictate the building codes might have universal rules that run across the country and beyond the borders. Still, every state has slight variations of the same.

If you happen to shift residence from one state to another, you might want to check with the area codes on what is expected of you before embarking on a building project. 

This is to avoid getting into unnecessary trouble with authorities in the future when the time for home inspection arrives, and you run into the unfortunate troublesome possibility of having to demolish what you have to replace with railings bearing required heights and measurements.

Sources

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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