Do I Need Handrails on Porch Stairs?

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Safety is the first concern for handrails on stairs.
Safety is the first concern for handrails on stairs. (Image: Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

Handrails protect individuals ascending and descending steps on high porches, but they also add visual appeal. By reviewing the porch design and safety issues, you can decide whether or not handrails are needed. All porches with standard railing around the porch perimeter areas don’t necessarily need handrails on steps descending to the ground level. Many factors come into play, including the ages of family members.

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Review Several Issues

Measure the height of porch decking. If the decking is 30 inches or more above ground level, most local building codes will require railing around the walking area of the porch. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you will need railings for steps leading off the porch. You will need to consider the width of the steps and other issues.

Check Visual Appeal

A drawing of the porch will help determine the visual appeal of handrails. For instance, if the porch will have railings around the walking deck, the porch steps may look better with handrails, even if the porch decking is just 24 inches high, for example. Adding handrails provides the opportunity to add well-made posts at the bottom of the steps on each side. These support posts can enhance the look of the house significantly from the curbside.

Consider Safety Concerns

Evaluate how your family will use the porch steps. If you have small children under the age of five, the handrails will provide boundaries to keep the children from toppling off the side of the steps. Even if they can’t reach the handrail tops, children gain protection from balusters in place under the handrails at the stairs.

Plan for Privacy

A public sidewalk in front of the house may dictate extra boundaries that are needed. For example, you can extend handrails along stairs coming off the porch to flank your own sidewalk that intersects with the public sidewalk. By extending railing beside the steps on toward the curb, you can install a security gate right where your sidewalk ends.

Review Step Dimensions

Extremely wide front steps may not require handrails. For example, if the porch decking is less than 30 inches high, the steps coming down from the porch are relatively easy to navigate. Just two or three steps are not a risk factor for most adults, and steps that are wider than 4 feet pose no real risk to falling off the sides of the steps. Narrow steps might require a handrail on just one side.

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