Does My Stair Railing Have to Be a Specific Height?

Guard and stair railing heights are dictated by building codes.

First, determine whether you are dealing with a handrail or a guard.

A handrail is in place to provide guidance on a stair. It is required when you have two or more risers on ramps with a rise greater than 6 inches. A guard is in place to prevent an accidental fall. In the U.S., The International Codes (I-Codes) require a guard if there is a 30″ drop, while in Canada a guard is required once there is a 24″ drop.

In the U.S., handrail height is based on either the Americans With Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design, the I-Codes (International Building Code and International Residential Code), or the  Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In Canada, it would be based on the National Building Code.

This table provides an overview of the various code bodies and their railing height requirements:


ResidentialCommercialGeneralWhere children are primary users (recommended, not required)GeneralStair Rail SystemResidentialCommercial
Handrail Height34″ to 38″34″ to 38″28″ with a minimum of 9″ clearance between the child and adult handrail30″ to 38″36″ to 38″ — may also serve as guard34″ and 42″34″ and 42″
Guard Height36″ minimum42″ minimumnot specified42″ — plus or minus 3″36 to 38″36″ minimum42″ minimum


Need more clarification, contact Wagner with any additional questions.