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Pipe handrail with pipe picket railing illustrates code compliant handrail design for a code discussion

Do You Know your Code? Part Three

  •   Posted on February 13, 2019

It's time to take another deep look at building codes! Do manufacturers just use whatever size material they have laying around to build handrails? Is it just screwed into the wall? There are handrail codes that deal with these questions and it is time to explore them. 

Everyone suit up, it’s time to take another dive into building codes! When we last took a trip into the realm of code requirements, we introduced two basic requirements associated with handrails. This time, we are going to dive a bit deeper and uncover a couple more handrail restrictions. Section 1014 of the International Building Code has a full listing of codes related to handrails within a project. If you aren’t sure what a building code is or want to learn more about the construction industry as a whole, you can find additional information here.

Like any good trilogy, we kicked it off with an exciting start. Our first look at the railing/handrail codes dove into some basic guardrail codes!

Disclaimer: All code discussed in this article is the national code. Some states/cities/townships have more specific code requirements which supersede the national code. Always check for additional requirements in your project area. 


As a matter of fact, the size of the handrail DOES matter. The code council has outlined restrictions on the size of both round and otherwise shaped handrail in commercial applications. As round handrail is what we are used to using, and makes up an overwhelming majority of all handrail utilized, we will focus on that.

All circular handrail must fall in the range of no less than 1.25”, and no more than 2” in total diameter. Sometimes, this size restriction is referred to as providing equal “graspability” to all users of the stairway or ramp in question.

Detail of the code-compliant width of typical pipe handrail

Why such a restriction on size? Let’s answer in terms of the maximum size first. A toddler taking the first of numerous trips up and down stairways in their lives naturally will still have very small hands (estimates average them somewhere around 2-4 inches when first starting to walk). By limiting the diameter of a handrail, these tiniest of travelers can still grip a majority of the handrail in order to make their journey safely. Minimum sizes serve the same purpose for the opposite demographic, protecting those larger in stature by making the handrail easier to grasp firmly. Additionally, these restrictions prevent manufacturers from making handrails as small as they can in order to save costs.


Absolutely not! The codes make it clear that the space between a handrail and a wall, guardrail, or other barriers must be at least 1.5”. This is pretty self-explanatory, as this restriction leaves plenty of room for hands to securely grip the handrail no matter what size they are.

Pipe picket railing featuring pipe handrail on an Ohio church staircase

While ultimately the installer will have the final say in how handrails are situated, manufacturers can help customers more easily meet this requirement by creating handrail brackets that default to this size. This is the case with the Superior Aluminum railing seen above.

(This portion of the code also specifies that the space between handrail and barrier should be free of sharp objects… we hope we don’t need to explain this one, nor do we think it’s even necessary to specify!)


As with most aspects of a building project, there are numerous codes associated with handrail, and we have only touched on a few of them. Many of these codes are self-explanatory and obvious, while others will have to be for a different day. Safety is always a priority at Superior Aluminum, and each railing system that leaves our facility meets all code requirements, including those discussed here. If you have more in-depth questions about railing codes or would like to learn more about how Superior Aluminum meets code requirements, feel free to contact us or explore our website for more information.


Do You Know Your Code?

Do You Know Your Code? Part Two

Understanding 12 Key Construction Terms

How Does Railing Go From an Idea to an Installation?