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Understanding Railing Height Requirements for Multi-Family Properties

Just as their name indicates, multi-family homes are specifically built for more than one family. In other words, each family has its own separate living quarters. Some of the most common examples of multi-family properties include those, such as two-story apartments, condos and duplexes with two dwellings within one building. When buying railings for multi-family homes, it's important to know the right railing height requirements for handrails, porch railings and exterior staircase railings. Here's a quick guide, regarding the railing heights in multi-family properties, along with some considerations and warnings.




Handrails, which are horizontally shaped or slopped, are used to guide and support people to prevent them from falling. Most handrails, also known as hand railings, are found along ramps, stairways and above-ground walkways and balconies. They're also commonly used for buildings in which people need guidance when walking, such as those used for the elderly or vision-impaired people. Handrails should be easy to grip. Therefore, they need a diameter that's at least 1.24 inches but no more than 2.24 inches.


Porch Railings


The general height for porch railings is at least 36 inches from the porch floor. However, contact your local building department to ensure you're compliant with local building codes.

If you have a deck or porch that's more than nine feet above the ground, you might be required to install balusters that are 42 inches long or even longer. Again, check your local building codes to find out the specific local requirements.

What's more, you may need a middle rail for support if the balusters are more than 36 inches. Balusters can be no more than four inches apart. This is to prevent a four-inch round object from passing through them.


Exterior Staircase Railings


These railings are needed for multi-family dwellings so that residents who live on the top level can access their living quarters without disturbing the family on the bottom floor. The height requirements for exterior staircase railings are the same as those for handrails.

Although the terms "stair railings" and "stair guards" are often used interchangeably, they aren't the same. While stair railings run up and down on a stairway, stair guards run along a flat area or horizontally. Stair guards don't protect stairs even though they're often used along with stairs. They're also used on elevated walking areas that lead to stairs.


Different Circumstances When Different Railing Heights Are Required


In some cases, handrails can be more than 38 inches high. These include circumstances, such as a transition from a handrail to a stair guard. Another exception to the rule is a continuous transition between flights of stairs.


Considerations and Warnings


  • There are some building codes that require porch railings for porches that are 15 or 24 inches above the ground.
  • Don't measure at a different area of the stair tread other than the stair nosing or a different spot other than the top. If you do, you'll won't get a correct measurement, which can lead to a code violation.
  • There are a few large, decorative handrails that are allowable. But they need to be designed in such way so that a finger has enough room for secure grasping.
  • Ramps having a rise that's more than six inches are required to have handrails.
  • Don't push a railing out too far.  You don't want to be at risk for the code violation that provides a walking width of 27 inches between the railings of a staircase with double rails.
  • Exterior stairways can be used as a fire exit. Just be just to install a guardrail around your stair top balcony to avoid scared users from falling.