4 inches – guard or stair rail openings

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Last Updated: May 4, 2021

4 inches is considered the maximum distance between railings (also called balusters in the trades). This width was chosen as safe for children, so they would not get their heads or bodies through the space. Older homes often have wider spaces between the rails. When this is a safety concern for buyers, some have added additional  rails, Plexiglas, or  installed products like  “balcony shield” or “banister guard,”  from baby product supply stores or websites.


When the uprights, often referred to as “balusters” are missing or damaged, it is wise to repair or replace them. Children may fall though these gaps or weak areas

Building codes are constantly changing and over the years the codes for stairs, railings and steps have changed as well. Home inspectors will often point out that a home’s stairs and railings are not safe or to current codes.

When there are damaged or missing steps or railings, then it is wise to repair or correct these conditions quickly. When the steps, railings or stairs are in good shape and repair, then making changes or upgrades become the decision of the buyer.

Who to consult? Stair and railing contractors, carpenters and qualified handymen.

Home owners will often make either temporary or permanent safety improvements themselves. Stair and railing contractors, carpenters and qualified handymen can usually add safety features or make repairs when necessary.

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Question. Please. We enter a side door to a small platform which also is the top of an open stairwell. I want to provide security like a window security bar across the top of the stairwell so we don’t accidentally fall down the opening. Can you refer to anything like the handrail on the top of a gate. Something that can lift up and lock to the wall when going down the stairs? Much appreciated.

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