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Handrails & Guardrails

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78-1 PhotoGuardrails

Guardrails are required on unenclosed floor and roof openings, open and glazed sides of stairways, aisles, landings and ramps, and balconies and porches that are more than 30 inches above grade or floor below. Roofs used for other than service of the building shall be protected by a guardrail.

Guardrails shall form a protective barrier not less than 42 inches high, measured vertically above the leading edge of the tread, adjacent walking surface, or adjacent seat board.


  • For occupancies in Group R-3, and within individual dwelling units in Group R-2, guards whose top rail also serves as a handrail shall have a height not less than 34 inches and not more than 38 inches measured vertically from the leading edge of the stair tread nosing.

Openings: Open guardrails shall have intermediate rails or an ornamental pattern such that a sphere 4 inches in diameter cannot pass through.


  1. The open space between the intermediate rails or ornamental pattern of guardrails in areas of commercial and industrial-type occupancies that are not accessible to the public may be such that a sphere twelve inches in diameter cannot pass through.
  2. The triangular openings formed by the riser, tread, and bottom element of a guardrail at the open side of a stairway may be of such size that a sphere 6 inches in diameter cannot pass through.
  3. Within individual dwelling units and sleeping units in group R-2 and R-3 occupancies, openings for required guards on the sides of stair treads shall not allow a sphere of 4.375 inches to pass through.

78-2 Photo


All stairways shall have handrails. Handrails shall meet the following requirements:

  1. Handrail height, measured above stair tread nosings, or finish surface of ramp slope, shall be uniform, not less than 34 inches and not more than 38 inches.
  2. Handrails with a circular cross-section shall have an outside diameter of at least 1.25 inches and not greater than 2 inches or shall provide equivalent graspability. If the handrail is not circular, it shall have a perimeter dimension of at least 4 inches and not greater than 6.25 inches with a maximum cross-section of 2.25 inches. Edges shall have a minimum radius of 0.01 inch.
  3. Handrail-gripping surfaces shall be continuous, without interruption by newel posts or other obstructions.


    • Handrails within dwelling units are permitted to be interrupted by a newel post at a stair or ramp landing.
    • Within a dwelling unit, the use of a volute, turnout or starting easing is allowed on the lowest tread.
    • Handrail brackets or balusters attached to the bottom surface of the handrail that do not project horizontally beyond the sides of the handrail within 1.5 inches of the bottom of the handrail shall not be considered obstructions. For each 0.5 inch of additional handrail perimeter dimension above 4 inches, the vertical clearance dimension of 1.5 inches shall be permitted to be reduced by 0.125 inch.

  1. Handrails shall return to a wall, guard or the walking surface or shall be continuous to the handrail of an adjacent stair flight or ramp run. At stairways where handrails are not continuous between flights, the handrails shall extend horizontally at least 12 inches beyond the top riser and continue to slope for the depth of one tread beyond the bottom riser. At ramps where handrails are not continuous between runs, the handrails shall extend horizontally above the landing 12 inches minimum beyond the top and bottom of ramp runs.


    • Handrails within a dwelling unit that is not required to be accessible need extend only from the top riser to the bottom riser.
    • Aisle handrails in Group A occupancies in accordance with Section 1025.13 of the California Building Code.

  1. Clear space between a handrail and a wall or other surface shall be a minimum of 1.5 inches. A handrail and a wall or other surface adjacent to the handrail shall be free of any sharp or abrasive elements.

  1. On ramps, the clear width between handrails shall be 36 inches minimum. Projections into the required width of stairways and ramps at each handrail shall not exceed 4.5 inches at or below the handrail height. Projections into the required width shall not be limited above the minimum headroom height required in Section 1009.2 of the California Building Code.

Stairways shall have intermediate handrails located in such a manner that all portions of the stairway width required for egress capacity are within 30 inches of a handrail. On monumental stairs, handrails shall be located along the most direct path of egress travel.