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Deck Railing Codes

All decks higher than 30" above grade must have a guardrail. If you choose to install a guardrail on a deck lower than 30" you must still meet code requirements. Decks attached to single family detached homes are regulated under the rules of the International Residential Code (IRC). The IRC requires guardrails to be at lest 36" in height measured from the deck surface to the top of the rail. Commercial decks attached to multifamily buildings such as apartment buildings or businesses are regulated under the International Building Code (IBC). The IBC requires 42" high guardrails. In either case you are allowed to build taller guardrails as long as they conform to all other requirements stated in the code.

A variety of styles are allowed as long as the interior sections of the rail don’t possess any openings large enough to pass a 4” diameter sphere through.Inthe case of guardrails for stairs there is an exception that allows up to a 6”diameter sphere through the triangle opening formed by the stair riser, stairtread, and bottom rail.The guardrails must be strong enough to withstand aconcentrated 200 lb force anywhere along the top of the rail.To achieve thisyou should space rail posts no greater than 6' apart.

Handrails are required for stairs and must meet standards as specified by R311.5.6.3 in the IRC code.The top edge of the handrail must be placed between 34” and 38” above the nosing of the stair treads.  Handrail ends must be returnedand terminated at rail posts.The handgrips must allow a minimum of 1-1/2” spacebetween the handrail and the guardrail or wall. A variety of gripping surfacesmay be acceptable but must meet requirements for gripping surface.Flat 2x4 and 2x6 handrails are not acceptable.A circular cross section of a handrail musthave an outside diameter of between 1-1/4” and 2”.

Engineered railing systems must be tested to meet IRC and IBC building codes. The tests include:

Infill Load Test: The strength of the balusters are tested so that a 1 square foot area must resist 125 lbs of force.

Uniform Load Test: The top rail must be able to sustain 125 lbs of force applied horizontally or vertically.

Concentrated Load Test: The top rail must be capable of holding a point load of 200 lbs of force applied to the mid span, on the side of a post, and on top of a post.

A safety factor of 2.5 is usually added to the testing.

These tests are performed by an accredited third party testing agency.

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Comments, Questions and Reviews

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I understand that all decks higher than 30" above grade must have a guardrail. My question is: How is grade defined? I currently have a deck that does not have railing and the surface varies from 27" to 36" above grade. If I were to bring the grade up to code, using either dirt or concrete, how far out from the side of the deck would the material need to extend? Thank you.

posted by Elaine at 6/26/2015 11:35:48 PM


Is a steel wire infill allowed when 4" or less aprt? I heard something about that hozizontal railings creat a ladder for kids to climb. Thanks, Jim

posted by jimroscoe at 6/8/2015 7:52:38 PM


I am replacing a deck that was built by the home builder, very poorly designed and built. What is an executable slope or angle, according to code, for deck stairs. This deck surface is around 80" above grade. Also, Is LVL or trusses considered acceptable for joists?

posted by Wolfpatch at 5/26/2015 1:22:44 AM


Hi, we are installing a deck - it has two sets of steps. The first set will put both hand rails up going up/down. But, on the 2nd set I currently have one set of hand rails and would like to leave the other side open to the yard. That side of the deck is approx. 38-40inch off the ground. Do I need that 2nd side up to pass code? thanks

posted by scarlips63 at 4/28/2015 3:37:29 PM


Hi, never mind--I called our local city hall and they answered me. They required 30" from ground to floor of deck (must have 2 rails). Thank You

posted by scarlips63 at 4/28/2015 4:47:08 PM


Hi, I installed a patio with some areas more than 30" above "grade". I do not want to install a railing. I would rather fill in those areas and bring it below 30 inches. What is considered "grade"? Is it directly below the patio as opposed to a certain distance from the patio? Appreciate the help.

posted by Rick De at 4/17/2015 8:42:09 AM


can I use 5/4 boards as handrail for deck stairs

posted by joedap at 2/11/2015 11:35:38 AM


You should check with your local building inspector. The hand rail needs to be gripable.

posted by mike at 2/12/2015 8:39:34 AM


If you have a deck 48" above grade with steps along 20 ft. length on on side. Do the step rails meet code (2012 IBC) if we have a rail on each end of the 20 ft. length of steps? If not what is the maximum spacing for the rails?

posted by Storey 1177 at 1/24/2015 9:21:34 AM


That should work. I would ask your local building department before building.

posted by mike at 1/26/2015 9:02:41 AM


DI need a rail if I have stairs all the way around

posted by cy at 10/30/2014 4:29:55 PM


How high is the deck? If it is less than 30" you probably don''t need a guard rail. However you will probably need a hand rail.

posted by mike at 10/31/2014 9:01:25 AM


Do decks under 30" in height have to have steps?

posted by barneyd at 10/17/2014 11:48:40 AM


Check with your local building department. It is usually a good idea to have stairs even for low decks.

posted by mike at 10/20/2014 9:18:08 AM


In your intro information you state the posts "should" be 6 feet apart. Is that required by code? We plan to put a rail on our deck that is 22 feet long. The center section is the only part that requires railing. We plan to put in a six foot section there with eight foot sections joining each end of the six foot section. Is this a good plan?

posted by Jdpatton848 at 8/22/2014 10:24:59 AM


This should work. The building code requires that the guard rail must be able to withstand 250 lbs of force applied to the top of the rail from any direction. Make sure the rail post isn''t notched and is bolted to the rim with (2) 1/2" bolts.

posted by mike at 8/22/2014 12:10:23 PM


I have a deck base that is less than 30" above the grade. I would like to add benches. If the benches are attached to the deck, is that included in the the height (therfore requiring a railing)? I am trying to avoid adding a railing.

posted by smith12345 at 8/11/2014 3:40:44 PM


I would check with your local building department.

posted by mike at 8/12/2014 9:06:02 AM


i am attaching a railing to a deck that is 8 feet off the ground. will blocking be enough or do i need to use any type of special bracket to secure the railing posts to the rim joist

posted by jamesmonk at 7/1/2014 8:56:47 AM


You can use blocking or a decklok bracket to secure the guard rail posts.

posted by mike at 7/1/2014 9:03:50 AM


I have built a deck that is for the most part 30" or below grade. I do have some areas that is an inch above that depends on where you measure. Can I still have a rail lower that 32"? I want a rail but I would like to have it at 24" Thanks

posted by cpowers at 6/22/2014 3:19:08 PM


If the deck is over 30" at any point you will probably need a 36" high guard rail. I would recommend checking with your local building department.

posted by mike at 6/23/2014 9:03:53 AM


What are the general code requirements for location of railing to outside if deck? I want to locate my railing 16" in from the outside of the deck.

posted by jerry mcelroy at 6/21/2014 2:04:44 PM


I don''t think the code addresses this issue. I don''t think it should be a problem. How high is the deck?

posted by mike at 6/22/2014 11:45:53 AM


Question! I have a set of steps that are 3 boards deep for each step, they are deeper than most. Will these need a railing in PA?

posted by Gaddessj at 3/27/2014 6:49:37 AM


You should check with your local building department. Generally you will need a handrail if you have more than 2 stairs. You only need a guard rail if the deck is higher than 30".

posted by mike at 3/27/2014 8:38:45 AM