Do I Need To Install Railings On Deck Stairs?

If you’re building a new deck you might be considering adding stairs and thinking about what type of railing to install, if any. One question our team is regularly asked is, “Do my deck stairs need to have a railing installed?”. The answer can be complicated. 

Residential and Commercial Deck Building Codes 

There are several organizations that set deck building codes for both residential and commercial properties. These codes also include standards for any railing on the stairs. 

The International Code Council (ICC) is made up of two divisions, the International Building Code (IBC) which regulates commercial properties and multi-family dwellings, and the International Residential Code (IRC) which regulates residential properties. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also sets safety standards for commercial properties. Typically, the standards set by OSHA are less stringent than those put into place by the IBC. 

Railing Requirements For Residential Properties With Deck Stairs

Per the IRC, deck stairs on residential properties must have at least one set of railings and a handrail must be installed on stairs that have four or more risers.

A riser is the vertical portion of the stair. The height of the handrail must be at least 34 inches and no higher than 38 inches when measured from the sloped plane that adjoins the nose treading. 

The size of the actual handrail must be between 1 ¼ inch and 2 inches in diameter, providing a firm place for someone to grasp. 

While “Type II” style handrails made from traditional wood are allowed in a residential setting, the required upkeep and potential for splintering make this a poor choice. 

The railing must be continuous along the entire staircase, beginning and ending over the top and bottom riser. 

Railing Requirements For Commercial Deck Stairs

Commercial properties have slightly different requirements. 

Per the IBC, deck stairs on commercial properties must have a handrail on both sides of the staircase. Like a residential handrail, a minimum height of 34 inches and a maximum of 38 inches is required. The actual handrail must be at least 1 ¼ inch in diameter. The railings on both sides must run continuously the entire length of the staircase, beginning over the top riser and ending over the bottom riser.

A commercial railing must be able to withstand a load of 200 pounds applied in a downward or outward manner. 

Should I Install Railings Even If It’s Not Required By Code?

Every one has personal preferences but the simple fact is that handrails can safe a life. 

Each year, more than 1 million Americans visit the emergency room to be treated for injuries that were sustained in a fall. Although many simply suffer from scrapes and sprains, thousands sustain serious brain and spinal damage that can be life-threatening. The fall that causes the injuries doesn’t have to be from a great height to cause significant damage. 

The simple installation of even a short railing could keep family and friends safe. 

Why Should I Choose Vinyl Stair Railings For My Deck?

Vinyl railings are a wonderful addition to any deck. 

Vinyl is a hearty material, able to withstand sun, rain, snow, and ice. It can be installed in all climates. Vinyl doesn’t absorb any liquids or oils so it will never be weakened by rot. Aluminum inserts are available to further strengthen the railing. 

Plastic Lumber Yard offers a wide range of vinyl railings in several colors, suitable for both residential and commercial installations. Contact our team with any questions you have or order online.