Railing Specifications – Difference between Handrails and Guardrails

Railing Specifications – Difference between Handrails and Guardrails

Most people don’t pay much attention to the handrails or guardrails that line the stairs. When people build stairs, they forget the importance of these elements or consider it safe to forgo them. However, inspectors will tell you that ignoring railings is never a good idea.  At Boston Ironworks, we always encourage our clients to invest in railings, whether they feel like they need it or not. Let’s see the key difference between different types of railings.

Defining Handrails and Guardrails

  • Handrails – According to building code, this is a horizontal, sloping rail that’s intended for a person to grasp by their hand, and is used for guidance and support. In essence, this structure is used to support you as you climb up and down the stairs.
  • Guardrails – According to building code, guardrails are a building component that stands near the open sides of walking surfaces that are elevated. They help prevent accidents where a person might fall from a higher level to a lower level. Essentially, guard railings keep you safe so you will not trip or slip off the side of the stairs and fall from a considerable height.
  • Graspability – One of the most common mistakes people make when they install handrails is that they forget to make them graspable. Your fingers should be able to wrap around the railing and be able to grip it tightly in case you take a fall. According to the codes, the handrails should be at least 1 ½ inches away from the wall.
  • Height – If the guard railing is too low, it fails to provide adequate protection to the climber. According to experts, the minimum height for railings in commercial or public buildings needs to be at least 42” above the stairs. Inside residences, it can be about 36” high.

Most people don’t use them, but hand railings are useful when you’re injured, tired, wearing troublesome heels, or for the elderly who need that support. In such cases, it can be difficult to navigate the stairs without assistance.


Guardrails can come with attached hand railings. However, there are some things that you need to keep in mind.

These structures are important for the overall safety of anyone who climbs stairs. Their presence can be the difference between a light stumble and a dangerous fall. For questions and enquires, you can call Boston Ironworks at 617 657 3117. You can also fill in this contact us form. We’ll get in touch with you as soon as possible.

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