Standard handrail height: Where it should start & stop

An open staircase may be the latest fad in interior design, but it’s highly impractical. Without handrails to secure the stairway, every climb is an adventure. Unfortunately, such an experience doesn’t become a memory you reminisce about. But it threatens your safety and well-being. And you don’t have to be deadly scared of heights to realize just how unsuitable it is for your home. 

Article summary

The standard handrail height is between 30 and 38 inches above the ground, according to the ADA code. Ideally, the handrail should start at the pitch line. In this article, we’ll also take a look at the following:

  • The different types
  • How to measure the height


aluminum handrail against red background

While the choice to install a handrail is pretty straightforward, the specifics can be a bit tricky. For example, there are certain height restrictions that you need to consider before you finalize a design. Similarly, there is a wide range of styles to choose from. 

Just so you don’t have to struggle to pick the height and type that works best for your staircase, we’ve gathered everything you would need to know about handrails. Learn more about the standard handrail height, where it should start & stop, and the code that regulates it. 

Table of Contents

Where should a handrail start and stop?

Ideally, it starts at the pitch line of the stairs and continues along the length of the stairs. However, it must cover the entire distance of the staircase and stop right at the nosing point of the bottom stair to ensure safety. 

Standard height according to ADA building

metal handrail

Specific rules are set in place to govern our infrastructure. Without these regulations, we’d have skyscrapers in the airport zone and traffic signals that are always green. Similarly, the ADA has created handrail height requirements to ensure the safety of everyone involved. In addition, the code goes as far as setting different rules for buildings occupied by adults and those housing children.

Some places are only designed for adults, such as banks and pharmacies. When these places are concerned, the ADA specifies the minimum standard handrail height above the ground to be 30 inches. The maximum to be around 38 inches. The height specification ensures an average person doesn’t have to go out of his way to hold on to the rail while climbing the stairs.

beautiful handrail

But the rules are different regarding places like schools and daycares that primarily include children. The ADA requires a second handrail to be added. In addition to the 30 to 38-inch handrail, a children-friendly option of a maximum of 28 inches is a must. There also must be at least 9 inches of space between the lower and the upper handrail. 

The code is specific for a reason. It ensures the safety and prevents any accidents that an improper arrangement may cause.  

Residential code

new oak handrail

Your home is supposed to be a place of utmost comfort and safety. It is why the International Residential Code (IRC) specifies strict requirements regarding stairways and handrails. 

Firstly, the code requires every residential building with a staircase to have a handrail at least on one side. However, the requirement isn’t necessary if less than four stairs constitute a stairway. Measuring from the base of the stair, the lower part of the rail should measure no more than 34 inches. The top part should be around 38 inches.  


steel handrail

The IRC inspects all components of a home to ensure maximum safety. It sets rules to eliminate any situation that could harm the residents. For example, you’re required to put up a guardrail if you have a deck installed on your property and it measures above 30 inches. But to make things even more straightforward for you, the code specifies the height needed. The same designs can also be applied to a balcony outlay or a ramp’s side. 

For single-family homes, the IRC specifies the top of the rail to measure at least 36 inches from the deck. As for residential buildings and apartments, the minimum height requirement is about 42 inches.  

Handrail MaterialProsCons
AluminumLightweight and low maintenanceNot as strong as steel. It can have a cheaper look
BrassAdds a classic and elegant lookRequires regular cleaning. It can tarnish over time
CompositeLow maintenance and customizableMore expensive than wood. It may not have a natural look
GlassModern and elegant lookFragile and expensive to install
Stainless SteelDurable and easy to cleanExpensive and has a cold feel
VinylLow maintenance and affordableNot as durable as metal options and can look like plastic
WoodWarm and traditional lookRequires regular maintenance. It can rot or warp
Wrought IronStrong and durableExpensive and can rust

How to measure the height

By now, you’ve understood the relevance of a strict height code. Therefore, it’s essential to follow the measurements to the last digit. To help you achieve the best results, here is how you can measure the height with guaranteed precision and accuracy:

Step 1: Identify the rules that apply to you

Though all the measurements differ by a few inches, you must precisely obey the regulatory requirements. First, identify what applies to your property. For example, the height requirements linger between 30 to 38 inches if the space is allocated for adult use. However, the maximum requirement lowers to 28 inches if children are the primary users of the property. Similarly, the measurement for residential property is between 34 to 38 inches. 

Step 2: Make the initial markings.

Now that you’ve got a guide, all you need to do is mark the relevant points. Using an inch’s tape, start from the ground on each step and mark a height in your allowed range. If you already have a handrail setup, make relevant marks according to it.   

Step 3: Repeat the marking process

Once you’ve decided on a number within the range, repeat the measurement for each stair. For instance, if you decide on a height of 34 inches, then make sure you make the same mark on every stair point. As an additional measure of accuracy, use a ruler to see if all the points form to make a straight line.  

Step 4: Leave room for error

The height you’ve marked represents the maximum point of a handrail, so make sure to install it with this measure in mind. Additionally, leave about 3 inches between the rail and the wall. This ensures installation goes over smoothly. 

Types of handrails

aluminum handrail

There are multiple ways to customize the design. For example, you can add a touch of metal or a sheet of glass. Or you can incorporate a stylish newel post to take the entire design up a notch. But when it comes to categorizing the different ones, there are only two major types. 

These categories form the foundation of design. So before you add style and glamor to your staircase, here are the different types. It’s no different from considering the different shower or dog fence ideas when you’re on the market for those.

  • Integrated
  • Grooved
  • Ungrooved
  • Wall-mounted
  • Mopstick
  • Pig’s ear


The classic design is referred to as an integrated handrail. It runs along the top of the spindles and forms an enclosed structure. You’re probably already familiar with this design as it has existed for centuries. But there’s a reason it remains the top choice amongst consumers even today. 

The safety provided by the enclosure remains unmatched by any other design. Its sturdy structure can support any material, from steel to glass. With the integrated framework, you introduce completeness to your design. The form isn’t limited to metal bars or wooden balustrades. Instead, there are multiple ways to incorporate your unique design into the handrails. 

However, the balustrade you finalize will determine whether a grooved or ungrooved style fits best. Here’s an understanding of both styles: 


If you’re looking for a seamless finish, grooved handrails are ideal. They’re typically used with glass panels that fit perfectly into the slots on the railings. You don’t have to worry about a misfit because they are matched to snuggle the panels comfortably. Additionally, a layer of clear silicone is used to tighten everything. Finally, the channel running along ensures the glass sheets sit comfortably. 

However, grooved ones are not limited to holding glass panels. They work even better with wooden or metal spindles. Instead of a narrow channel along the length of the handrail, there are shallow spaces to house the spindles. To guarantee a sturdy fit, they come with timber infill. The material acts as a filler, closing up any space.


Unlike grooved, the structure doesn’t fit like a glove. Instead, the spindles are tightened with a screw into the handrail’s space. The ungrooved style is mainly used for metal spindles. But you can also restructure the rails to support glass panels.

Ungrooved designs provide an undeniable benefit over grooved bars. You can customize them to fit any size. All you have to do is drill a hole into the railing and attach the metal spindles.   


stair handrail

Modern architecture disapproves of the wastage of space. So, where integrated handrails occupy a large chunk of your house, wall-mounted bars comfortably sit on one side of the wall. The wall-mounted design quickly became a staple for modern, contemporary homes because it introduced a minimal way of ensuring maximum safety. 

With wall-mounted design, you don’t have to worry about allocating one-third of your living space to build a staircase around it. All you have to do is purchase the design that goes with your interior theme. Even the installation is much simpler. If you’ve got the necessary tools, you might as well do it yourself. 

There are multiple materials well-suited to play the part of a wall-mounted style. But when it comes down to the design, there are two options you can choose from. Making the decision easier, here are the two choices:   


The traditional sleek design you typically associate with a wall-mounted handrail is the mopstick style. It lacks luster but assures maximum function and a modern look. Depending on your interior type, you can choose a wooden rod or a metallic bar. 

An oak or pine wood design guarantees to compliment your style, whether a modern or traditional look. Select a metal fitting that matches the overall color theme to customize it to your standard. You can also choose a bracket that ties the whole look together. 

Essentially, a mopstick handrail offers you both design and structure. You can rely on it to take your interior to the next level while providing maximum support. 

Pig’s ear

At first glance, a pig’s ear design may look identical to a mopstick style. But there’s a critical difference that makes it more functional. The pig’s ear style isn’t as tubular. As a result, the additional material makes using a handrail bracket unnecessary. 

The pig ear design is perfect for you if you’ve got a narrow staircase or are concerned about saving space. It is screwed directly into the wall without requiring any additional support. You also have many options, such as:

  • dark hardwood
  • hemlock
  • pine
  • and ash. 

Wall-mounting ideas

oak handrail

Running low on space is no excuse to skip out on a modern architectural experience. However, you can change your stylistic choice from a bulky exterior to a sleeker look. Wall-mounted rails are ideal for anyone looking to add a touch of modernity into their lives. To help you decide from a vast range of available choices, we’ve compiled a few options that you’ll like.   

Copper mopstick

Adding metallic elements to your home redefines the entire outlook. But if you incorporate copper, you introduce warm tones onto your color palette. The rich honey color draws attention away from the dull furniture and adds a homey feeling to the space. 

All you need for a wall-mounted design is a copper rod that fits your thickness requirement. You could even spray paint the color copper on another material. But we recommend investing in the real thing.  

MNYDXY’s Gold-Copper design is proper for anyone looking to incorporate an old, washed-out copper look into their interior design. In addition, it supports a whopping weight of 200kg. So rest assured, you’re guaranteed a safe experience. Available in a range of lengths from 1m to 3m, you can easily cover an entire flight of stairs. 

MaterialWrought iron
Size1 – 20 feet


  • There are many options available in terms of length.
  • It adds a nice, rustic look.
  • It works in a lot of settings.


  • It’s not a known seller.
We're not sure how to pronounce the name.

Rustic wooden pig’s ear

The wall-mounted designs may be an invention of modern times, but you could take the concept to awaken your enchanted spirits. With rustic wood, you add soft texture and warmth to your house. If you’re a fan of the great outdoors, there’s no better way to incorporate nature into your home.   

Promenaid’s Black Walnut comes in different color options so that you can pick a style closer to your stylistic choice. Each option is treated to last you a lifetime, from red oak to walnut. It’s also easy to cut to your preferred length. The product is not only easy to assemble but offers excellent value for money.    

FeaturesADA wall returns
Size1 – 18.5 feet


  • High-quality rail
  • We love the ADA-compliant wall returns.
  • Sturdy


  • There’s a part of the rail that’s pretty sharp.
  • Installation is best done by a pro.
Promenaid is a good option.


When you think of a handrail, you picture a sturdy frame made of metal or wood. But we’d like to reintroduce the concept of a handrail made of rope. Choose a rope that offers a long lifespan and remains intact for years. Typically, synthetic fiber ropes work best for this purpose. 

Using a rope may seem like a flimsy plan. But if done right, it’s as sturdy as a metal handrail. Besides, we assure you everyone will compliment your style after looking at your rope handrail.    

Wellington Puritan Twisted Manila Rope works best for an adventurous look. Its fibers are sturdy enough to support the weight of anyone climbing the stairs comfortably. Apart from great strength, the natural color blends in with other antiquities. You won’t have to worry about the rope decaying anytime soon as it’s treated to last a long time.  


  • It can be used for many purposes.
  • It provides an adventurous look.
  • Sturdy
  • It can also be used for a cat scratcher.


  • It”s not as good as something solid.
  • It might have to be replaced eventually.
  • It has a mild smell.
Have you considered rope?
wrought iron handrail

Factors to consider

Height of people

The average height of people who will be accessing the staircase should be taken into consideration before deciding upon the height of the handrail.


The general maintenance required for different types of materials varies. The paint, sealer, or polish, whatever is there needs a top-up at different intervals. So keep that in mind while going for the handrails.


Wooden handrails are more affordable than metal ones. But metal handrails will last longer than wooden handrails. Make sure to keep a balance between cost and durability.

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