We all know the seriousness of ensuring your site is designed with accessibility in mind. Not just to comply with applicable codes but also to make sure your site is accessible to all potential users, whether it is a 500-unit apartment complex, a retail shopping center, or a mom-and-pop restaurant. Although the International Building Code and International Residential Code mostly cover features internal to the building, we civil engineers need to know a few things from these codes for exterior features. One of these being handrails.

When do you need handrails?

If your project falls under the IRC, exterior steps need handrails if you are proposing 4 or more risers, and each riser cannot be higher than 7¾”. If your project falls under the IBC, it is a little more complicated… there is a whole section in the IBC dedicated to handrails. Whether or not you need handrails depends on if you are looking at a ramp or risers. For ramps (which could be a whole separate blog post!), handrails are needed if there is a rise greater than 6” across the ramp. Risers throughout a site, whether it is a long stretch of steps or a few steps here and there, almost always require handrails with few exceptions. The main exception being if you only have one step and proper landing depths, a handrail is not required.

It is important that civil engineers use this information when designing and laying out a site. We review all necessary codes and design our sites to meet all accessibility requirements while doing our best to avoid the need for excess steps, ramps, handrails, etc. Keep in mind that every project, every site, every municipality is different, and this is just a guide based on the currently available International Building Code (IBC, last updated January 2020) and International Residential Code (IRC, last updated September 2019), which are continually changing! Although this is a good summary of when handrails are needed, you still need to take into account local code requirements, which D.L. Howell is always happy to help you with!