General exterior step and railing information

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Published: August 28, 2014 Last Updated: February 21, 2017

Over the years the codes have changed when it comes to steps and railings. Countless stairs and railings have been in service for many years and have served the users well. With that said, the majority of home inspectors point out that the older stairways and railings don’t conform to current standards.

In general many buyers will repair loose or damaged steps or railings but they seldom bring older stairs and railings up to current standards, even though it would improve the homes safety some.

Railings verses hand rails

The term railing often gets confused. There are two basic terms:

  • Hand rails: usually at the side of the step or stairway, which you hold on to when you go up or down the stairs or steps.
  • Railings or guard rails: used to keep people from falling over a drop off. Balconies, raised patios,  porches, stairs and stair landing areas generally have railings.

Hand railings

For some, traversing up and down steps can be a little difficult. Having a solid and well-secured handrail can be of great assistance.

Loose or damaged handrails are considered hazardous but generally are easy to better secure or fix.


Balcony railings, porch railings, and stair railings provide safety and beauty to a home. This safety concept is sometimes ignored by both the young and old.

Gaps in the railings, if too wide, may allow a small child to slip through or get their little head caught. Now days new construction is required to limit the space between uprights and some other areas to a maximum of 4 inches, or six inches at the step side gap areas.

Older homes

Millions of homes do not have railing up to the current standards. The majority of buyers maintain the present railings and just repair damaged or dangerous ones. Much of the time these decisions are based on the seriousness of the issue.


Often a handyman can repair or add a handrail or guard rail with ease. If it is a complicated job, then contacting a stair and railing contractor is wise.

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