Porch Hand Rails

From Code Requirements to Building Options

Porch hand rails have strict construction requirements to ensure safety and integrity. Knowing the basic requirements and options for building porch hand rails or deck hand rails will save you both time and money.

If looking for design ideas for outdoor stair rails, we have information along with a picture showing different design options in our stair hand rails section.

Many hand rail systems, some pre-assembled, are designed to ensure these requirements are met. Choosing the right system can make building your porch hand rails easy.

Front Porch Hand Rails - what you should know

Outdoor Hand Rails - General Code Requirements

It is imperative you check with your local building codes department to obtain the specific requirements for hand rails in your community before you build. Please do that.

Here's a list of general building codes you can use to check with your local codes department.
  • check mark Round hand rails must have a minimum width of 1 1/4 and a maximum of 2 inches in diameter. Rectangular shaped handrails must measure between 4 inches and 6.25 inches. Oblong handrails must measure no more than 2 1/4 inches across the widest part of the rail.

  • check mark Must be able to bear at least 200 pounds of weight. This applies to your entire railing system to include the stair hand rails.

  • check mark Must be at least 30 inches but not more than 37 inches to the top of the hand rail as measured from vertically from the nose(front)of the stair tread. NOTE: In Nashville, TN., the building code is a "grip able" handrail that is not less than 34 inches and not more than 38 inches.

  • check mark Stairways with four or more risers or stairs that rise more than 30 inches in height must have at least one handrail. We recommend you install hand rails no matter how many steps you have.

  • check mark A minimum of 1.5 inches is usually required between the handrail and another object like a post or wall.

  • check mark Handrails should be continuous for the full length of the stairs.

  • check mark Stair stringers must be secured at the landing.

Again, check with your local building codes department to obtain specific requirements for your area.

Porch Hand Rail Options

Outdoor hand rails can be made from materials such as wood, composites, wrought iron, metal, and aluminum.

Metal Hand Rails

Aluminum Stair Hand Rails You can find steel railing at most home improvement stores and it does not require any welding. You can cut it with a hacksaw; it is bendable so it makes it easy to install for porch hand rails.

PVC or Vinyl Hand Rails

PVC Stair Hand Rails If you want low maintenance and durability consider PVC or vinyl hand rail systems. They are very popular and fairly easy to install. Most PVC railing systems have wood or metal inserts. Vinyl railings usually do not.

Most kits come with everything you need, top and bottom rails, pickets, and mounting brackets.

Often times they are pre cut to save time and for easier installation like this one from L.B. Plastics, Inc. They advertise their kits are designed for standard sized steps (7” to 11” rise to run) and include adjustable step adapters which are used to adjust for various angles.

Another system I like is from Southern Vinyl Manufacturing. They have an extensive library of installation videos (like the one below) for their products along with a seemingly great product line. It's worth checking out.

How a Middle Hand Rail Can Help

classic front porch with American flag

This beautiful porch in Cape May, New Jersey has wide porch steps and the homeowners like to decorate with seasonal potted flowers. But they told us that it was difficult for their neighbors to navigate the steps. So they decided to add a middle handrail.

the homeowner added a middle handrail

They hired a carpenter and asked that he make the middle handrail look as it if belonged there. What a wonderful job he did.

Do you agree that it looks like it's always been a part of these porch steps? And what a help for visitors. Now the plants can be kept on the steps and guests can safely navigate too.

the homeowner added a middle handrail and here you see it straight on

To give you a view of the steps straight on - looks absolutely perfect. We thank John and his wife for sharing their photos and story with us.

Composite Hand Rails

Composites are another option you might want to consider. Composite materials last longer than wood and are maintenance free. They have the look and feel of wood, never need painting, and are resistant to fading.


diagonal porch railings on front porch

Still the most popular front porch and deck hand rail system, wood can be as simple or as ornate as you would like. I've constructed several wood hand rails and can attest the trickiest part is finding the correct angle for cuts.

Once that's done, assembly is fairly easy given you can use prefabricated wooden top and bottom rails (available at home supply stores). Pickets fit into pre-cut holes making it a simple job.

Wrought Iron Hand Rails

Wrought Iron Stair Hand Rails on southern home

Although there aren't too many true wrought iron railings (most are made from other metals), wrought iron does add an element of elegance to a home as shown above.

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