Code & Design Assistance

Basic American Residential Stairway Requirements
Residential Code

  • Height of the handrail. For a rake is typically between 34 and 38 inches (864 and 965 mm), measured to the nose of the tread. The ideal rake height is 36 inches. The minimum height of a balcony handrail is 36 inches (914 mm) and no more than 42 inches tall.

  • Maximum space between the balusters of the handrail. This is typically 4 inches (102 mm).

  • Handrails for stairways shall be continuous for the full length of the flight, from a point directly above the top riser of the flight to a point directly above lowest riser of the flight. Handrail ends shall be returned or shall terminate in newel posts or safety terminals. Handrails adjacent to a wall shall have a space of not less than 1 1/2 inch (38 mm) between the wall and the handrails.

  • Handrails shall be provided on at least one side of each continuous run of treads or flight with four or more risers.

  • Mandate handrails if there is more than a certain number of steps (typically 2 risers).

  • Minimum tread length, typically 9 inches (229 mm) excluding the nosing for private residences. Some building codes also specify a minimum riser height, often 7 1/4 inches (127 mm).

  • Variance on riser height and tread depth between steps on the same flight should be very low (<3/8")". The reason is that on a continuous flight of stairs, people get used to a regular step and may trip if there is a step that is different, especially at night. The general rule is that all steps on the same flight must be identical.

  • Maximum nosing protrusion, typically 1.25 inches (32 mm) to prevent people from tripping on the nosing.

  • Headroom: At least 6' 8" (211 cm).


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