By Dave and Mary

Porch Railing Codes

Porch railing codes provide a measure of safety for you and your family.

Always check with your local codes department to ensure you know the codes for your specific area. The following is for general guidance only and should not be used for construction purposes.

Railing Codes: Why Are They Important?

beautiful wrought iron metal railings
Know Your Local Railing Codes
Railing codes are designed to ensure the safety of those who use the stairs or deck. In other words, they are meant to prevent accidents and injuries.
  • The overarching reason for railings is to prevent falls on stairs and decks, especially elevated decks. The railing codes dictate certain heights and spacing between the balusters to keep small children from falling through.
  • Railing codes are often established by local building codes, so not complying could result in fines or other penalties.
  • Peace of mind is probably the greatest reason to comply with railing codes along with protecting yourself from liability as a homeowner. If someone gets injured on your property due to inadequate railing, you may have legal ramifications.



Porch Railing Installation Overview

porch railings being installed on new front porch remodel
Porch Railing Installation
  • Basically, railing height must be at least a minimum of 36 inches from the floor of your porch floor. If your porch or deck is above a certain distance from the ground (over 9 feet for example) you may be required to install 42 inch balusters or longer.
  • It's extremely important to check with your local building codes department to determine your local requirements. You may have to add a middle rail to support the balusters if you exceed 36 inches.
  • Balusters can only be a maximum of 4 inches apart (so that a 4" spherical object cannot pass through them. See our porch railings calculations guide.
  • In most cases, you are required to have a railing when the floor of your porch is 30 inches or more above grade. However, 30 inches can be a long to fall; therefore some codes may require railings if your porch is 15 or 24 inches above grade.
  • If you are concerned about safety, consider these lower distances for railings. You can install railing no matter the distance.



  • porch railings being spaced for balustrade construction
  • Railings should be designed to withstand a force of 200 pounds pushing either downward or against it.
  • Some railing codes specify types of fasteners that can be used and some restrict notched posts on the outside joists.
  • Horizontal railings are allowed in some geographical areas but exercise caution as horizontal railings invite children to easily climb on them posing a potential safety hazard.



  • steel cable railings installed on deck


  • There may also be specific handrail requirements (width dimensions).


Some Railing Codes That May Surprise You

Building codes and regulations will vary depending on your location and other circumstances. Always check your local building department to learn the details for your locale.

Here are some guidelines outlined by the International Building Code (IBC) current as of this writing. We are providing these only for you to realize that railing codes are very specific.

These measurements and principles will give you some idea of the importance of railing codes, but always (yes, always) check with your local building department for the specifics where YOU live.
    - Handrails must be circular, or the shape shall provide an equivalent grasping surface. Non-circular handrails shall have a perimeter dimension of at least 4 inches and not greater than 6.25 inches, with a maximum cross-section dimension of 2.25 inches.

    - Guard rails and handrails must be made of materials that can withstand a certain amount of force.

    - Guard rails and handrails must be designed to withstand a certain load per linear foot without excessive deflection.

    Be absolutely sure to check with your local building department for any specific requirements in your area.


Why Do Railing Codes Vary from One Location to the Next?

That's a great question and there are several good reasons.
  • Climate and environmental factors vary from one place to another. For example, regions with earthquakes or high winds may have tighter requirements for railings.
  • Local areas historically more prone to falls or accidents may have stricter requirements for railings to prevent such incidents.
  • Region to region may have different building practices based on local architecture, types of materials available, and construction methods they use.
  • One local may interpret liability and risks differently from another local area.


Wheelchair Ramp Railing Codes

Refer to our Wheelchair Ramp section if you are building a wheel chair ramp. There are specific requirements that you must satisfy.




Again, you must always check with your local building codes department to determine the specific requirements for your location as they vary from place to place.




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At no extra cost to you, we earn a commission by referring you to some products on merchant sites. See our disclosure policy.
We, Front Porch Ideas and More, confirm, as stated on our privacy policy, that we do not sell personal information.

All content here is solely for presenting ideas. We recommend consulting with a licensed, experienced contractor before you begin your project.
We make no guarantees of accuracy or completeness of information on our site or any links to other websites contained here.


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