Stair Railing Height

Does My Stair Railing Have to be a Specific Height?

Cable Railing

Guard and Stair Railing Height are dictated by the 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 mores 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 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 (ADASAD), the I-Codes (International Building Code and International Residential Code), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In Canada, it would be based on the National Building Code (NBC).

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

Residential Commercial  General  Where children are primary users (recommended, not required)  General  Stair Rail System Residential Commercial
Handrail  Height 34″ to 38″ 34″ to 38″ 28″ with a minimum of 9″ clearance between the child and adult handrail  30″ to 38″ 36″ to 38″ — may also serve as guard  34″ and 42″  34″ and 42″
Guard Height 36″ minimum  42″ minimum not specified  42″ — plus or minus 3″  36 to 38″ 36″ minimum  42″ minimum

Need more clarification, contact Wagner with any additional questions.

Building on a 165-year legacy, Wagner is the go-to resource for metal fabricating and architectural railing expertise. More than just a manufacturer and worldwide supplier, our niche focus and local market knowledge enable us to innovate so we can better adapt to customer needs.

Accommodating to work with, Wagner lives to collaborate. Our customers rely on us to provide the best possible solution for any installation. Responsive to answering calls and quick to solve problems, we remain an active partner throughout projects and in building long-lasting relationships. As proud and knowledgeable metal workers, we’re passionate about helping our customers find a better, faster, and higher overall value solution. As the experts in code requirements, we work with you to help ensure your specifications and installations meet or exceed them, worldwide.


  • My house was built in 1987. The stairway wraps around a wall to a 2nd floor balcony. I’m replacing the wooden balusters with iron newels and balusters. I only want to modify the oak handrail to meet code height requirements. Am I restricted to 34″ to 38″ heights or can I go down to 30″ and up to 40″?

    • As a renovation project, you will likely not need to meet a code requirement. You should confirm with your local authorities as to what they would require but if your renovation is not subject to inspection, you should be okay. Be aware that there are some locations that require a home to be brought up to code prior to sale.

  • Hi Tony Nice info we are also in the same industry in canada our codes are stair riser heights shall be 7 inches (178 mm) maximum and 4 inches (102 mm) minimum. Stair tread depths shall be 11 inches (279 mm) minimum.

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