Safe Railings & Stairs at Porches & Decks

Most DIY homeowners (and a surprising number of contractors) aren’t aware that the railings and stairs at decks and porches should follow certain measurements for safety.  This is especially important for households with children and/or visitors with children.
Here are some basic rules for steps:
  • Most deck stairs have open risers (the vertical space between stairs) that are not safe for children, as well as adults who may step too far into the tread or surface of the step.  Risers may be open but should not allow the passage of a sphere 4 inches in diameter.  Another way to make an open-riser stairway safer is to increase the depth of the tread.
  • It’s typical for steps or risers in the same stairway to be of slightly unequal heights, but the difference between the shortest and tallest (including the very bottom step) should not exceed 3/8-inch.  This is to ensure that a person’s natural stride is not interrupted, which can otherwise lead to tripping.
  • A smooth and graspable handrail should be provided on at least one side of a stairway having four or more steps.  A handrail is considered graspable if the average person can hold onto it using a natural grip for balance and support.  It should also be between 34 and 38 inches high.
  • Outdoor lighting at steps is essential for night-time safety.  Solar-powered stake units are a low-cost and energy-efficient option.
Here are some rules for railings:
  • The guardrail surrounding a deck or porch should be supported by posts at least every 6 feet.  This includes most decks that are higher than 12 inches above adjacent areas.
  • The spindles or balusters between the posts should be less than 4 inches apart to prevent children from slipping through or becoming stuck between them.
  • Balusters should be vertical rather than horizontal or ladder-type to prevent anyone from climbing on them and damaging them or hurting themselves.
If you suspect that your deck or porch doesn’t meet these guidelines, a tape measure will help ensure your family’s and guests’ safety.  Check with your local building department for code compliance and other requirements.

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