Types of handrails for stairs

Designing a house to reflect a piece of your personality is very daunting. Not only does it cost you an arm and a leg, but it also requires quick decision-making at every level. From the color of the entryway mirror to the doorless showers, there’s way too much to decide. And the bigger an element is, the more challenging making a choice becomes.

If you thought picking furniture was a hassle, wait until you have to finalize a stair railing. It might seem like a minute detail, but the right handrail can make or break your style. We understand how hectic home renovation can get, so we’ve simplified the process for you.


The most common type of handrail used for stairs & steps is oak. However, ash, cypress, and cherry woods are other common materials and ideas that people include for their handrails.

In this article, we’ll also go over the following:

  • Decorative elements
  • What’s common in the basement

We’ve listed all the details regarding the handrail height limitations allowed by the relevant authorities and the different types of styles you can choose from. So keep reading to make the renovation journey a tad bit easier.

exterior handrails

Table of Contents

Types of handrails for stairs & steps

indoor handrails

When picking the suitable material or aesthetic for your handrail, you may think there is an ocean of choices. However, you must consider multiple factors before settling on a design that complements your furniture and overall style.

But when it comes to the types of handrails, you hardly have a few options. The lack of variety makes decision-making a lot easier. But if you’re still wondering which type of handrail is the best for you, here are the different options you may come across:

  • Integrated
  • Wall-mounted
  • Guardrail-mounted


The grand structure you’re most familiar with is likely the integrated handrail. Unlike other types, it’s a complete design that has multiple elements. It’s used chiefly where a wall does not accompany a stair.

The design features multiple spindles, forming a grand balustrade. At both ends of the handrail, a newel post seals the deal. Most building codes denounced the integrated structure, but it remains a top stylistic choice.


As you enter the modern era of architecture, grandiose is replaced by minimalism. A wall-mounted option is the most practical option available. It occupies far less space and costs less to install.

Mopstick wall-mounted designs are secured using brackets, whereas pig’s ear ones are drilled directly into the wall. Wall-mounted designs are simpler and usually consist of a single tube running along the length of the stairs.


Not all types focus on building an aesthetic appeal. Certain styles double down on providing more incredible support. The handrail is added to the guardrail to provide additional stability to the structure. It’s ideal for elders navigating their way down an open staircase.


You can arrange metal bars in multiple ways to create your story. From vertical arrangement to a mesh pattern, a world of railing styles is open to you. If you’ve been struggling with picking a manner that resonates with your home, here are all the options you need to look for:

  • Picket
  • Multi-line
  • Wire mesh infill
  • Cable
  • Panel


Whether you’re going for a commercial look or something that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg, a picket stair railing is ideal. It consists of vertical bars of metal or wood arranged along a base rail. The design may be simple, but it provides plenty of room to personalize as per your style.

It remains a top choice amongst consumers for its affordability and easy-to-install feature. And once you have the entire setup installed, you can go years without regular maintenance. The only problem you may face with this style is that there are multiple designs to choose from.


Much like the mirror image of the picket railing, the multi-line fence features a horizontal arrangement of metal bars. You could choose any combination of material and size to create a unique look.

The structure not only assures sturdiness but guarantees a put-together look. However, it may not be the best choice if you have any children around as they tend to climb the bars. Apart from a slight safety hazard, the multi-line is an excellent stylistic choice.

Wire mesh infill

Moving away from the classic style, a wire mesh railing is undoubtedly an acquired taste. Typically, metal is used to create a mesh pattern that covers a portion of the fence. As a result, they aren’t the most sought-after choice for a home. But if you have a property in an industrial or commercial area, a wire mesh infill railing is ideal.

The sheer strength and durability provided by the structure remain unmatched. But installation tends to be a little heavy on the wallet. If money isn’t an issue and you’re looking for a reliable design, this railing style is perfect.


cable handrails

If you’d like an uninterrupted view of the landscape with the safety of a traditional stair railing, you’ll enjoy the cable stair railing. Unlike its counterparts, the cable doesn’t seem too mammoth. Since the cables are thinner than metal rods, the structure seems more sleek and modern.

The cable stair railing might seem like the ideal match. However, there are inevitable setbacks that could force you to reconsider. For instance, experienced staff is required for correct installation. In addition, a cable setup costs you much more than any other option.


Maybe you’re planning to ditch the traditional styles and incorporate more modern elements into your home. The panel stair railing is perfect for you. You can use metal or glass to create a structure of your choice.

If you settle for a glass panel, you are guaranteed an invite into modern-contemporary architecture. Alternatively, you could opt for a metal panel if strength and durability are your top requirements. Either way, a panel railing won’t be too light on the pocket. But it does elevate your interior design to the next level.

Here’s a look associated with the cost of different materials.

Material Cost per Foot
Aluminum $20
Stainless Steel $30
Wood $10
Glass $50


metal and glass handrails

Deciding on a stair railing might seem insignificant. However, it can be a very strenuous task. You have various materials to choose from and multiple factors to consider. From the strength of the material to installation cost, you must tread carefully. To help you make such a hectic decision, we’ve listed below different stair railing ideas:


If you’re looking to invest in a low-maintenance and sturdy material, there’s no better choice than steel. Steel ones are notorious for their durability and weather resistance. So come rain or shine, a treated steel material won’t betray you.

Galvanized steel is treated with Zinc to make it corrosion-resistant. Similarly, stainless steel is mixed with Chromium, Nickel, and Nitrogen to give it rust-free properties. It’s not just the material’s practicality but its versatility that gravitates everyone towards it. You can use it in combination with any other material, and it would seem like a match made in heaven.


metal handrails outside

Silver is a rare and expensive metal to get your hands on. But aluminum is your best shot if you wish to replicate its regality. It has a reflective surface that forms the foundation of modern architecture. In addition, it’s naturally corrosion-resistant. So you don’t have to undergo an expensive and excruciating process in the name of durability.

Essentially, aluminum stands in competition with steel. It’s just as sturdy and reliable. But it has the edge over steel because it’s much lighter and easier to install. However, you’ll have to pay a little more for aluminum. But we assure you it’s a worthy investment.

Wrought iron

If you’d like to incorporate a piece of history into your home, there’s no better way than opting for wrought iron. It may not be the top choice today, but its aesthetic continues to impress. Wrought iron is an iron alloy with low carbon content, so it’s prone to rust. But with the proper treatment, you can turn out that property.

Wrought iron takes on a stylish approach to the subtle, corporate look of modern stair railings. It’s a highly reliable material that is guaranteed to last years. But there are a few practical shortcomings that you need to consider before you invest in wrought iron. Since it’s much heavier than the other options, installing it can be a hassle. Additionally, its rarity makes it a prized possession.


If you’re planning to go old school, consider wood a worthy option for your stair railing. The classic structure and style of a wooden fence are unmatched. With multiple choices in wood, you don’t have to settle for anything that doesn’t compliment your vision.

Even today, wood remains a top contender. Not only does it add warmth to your house, but it also creates the perfect blend with other materials. Whether it be glass or steel, wood pairs well with everything. You may have to take outstanding care of a wooden railing. But with proper love and maintenance, you can spend years without any issue. To top it all, wood is relatively far more affordable.


There’s no better way to adopt a modern lifestyle than by incorporating glass elements into your home. Glass stair ones are the backbone of modern-corporate culture. But that’s not all they’re limited to. Even in residential settings, they add a touch of contemporary style. So if you’re hoping to experiment with your stylistic changes, we recommend starting with a glass look.

With this option, you get an unobstructed view of the room. Additionally, it creates a much cleaner and ultramodern look. However, it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Installation of maintenance of glass can be pretty tricky. And you probably have to spend way more if you decide to settle for the glass look.

Material Pro Pro Con Con
Steel Durable Low maintenance Heavy Can rust if not coated or painted
Aluminum Lightweight Resistant to rust Less durable than steel May dent or scratch more easily
Wrought Iron Aesthetically pleasing Durable Can rust if not coated or painted Heavy
Wood Aesthetically pleasing Easy to work with Requires regular maintenance Susceptible to rot, decay, and insect infestation
Glass Aesthetically pleasing Easy to clean Fragile Expensive
Picket Aesthetically pleasing Easy to install Not suitable for children or pet Less durable than metal
Multi-line Aesthetically pleasing Durable Expensive Complicated installation
Cable Aesthetically pleasing Durable Expensive Complicated installation

ADA height & requirements

heavy duty handrails

Installing a handrail is more than picking the right shade of copper or fence style. Strict regulations determine the appropriate height, placement, and construction technique. The Americans with disabilities act (ADA) is responsible for setting these requirements to create a safe space for all citizens.

Regarding correct placement, ADA requires a handrail and ramp on both sides of the stairs. However, the requirement is reduced to a single handrail for stairs in assembly areas.

Similar to the placement rules, ADA specifies the maximum height when primarily used by adults and when used by children. The height is measured from the surface of the stair to the top of the handrail. Typically, a handrail must be between 34 to 38 inches high. But when children predominantly use a building, an additional handrail of a maximum 28-inch height is to be installed.

Decorative, indoor stair railing

The entry staircase sets up the mood for your interior design. It’s the first thing people see as they open the door into your house, so make sure it’s breathtaking.

Here are a few options that are guaranteed to steal some looks:

Victorian style

With the Victorian-style, you add warmth and brightness to an otherwise dull house. If you want to dial down on modernism, this is the perfect way to add wooden elements to your home. For example, you can incorporate paneled posts and spindles without drowning the entire house in bulky wooden structures.

There is also a wide variety of wood available. From cherry and ash to mahogany and Cyprus, the choices are endless. With this style, your interior design exudes the comfort and warmth of a farmhouse.

Floating staircase

Who says you can only have a modern house if you add glass or white marble elements? The contemporary infrastructure celebrates different stylistic choices. A floating staircase is a perfect example of adding a contemporary style to your interior design without going overboard.

You don’t have to settle for a particular material or color. The choice is wholly yours, from darker undertones to a crisp white finish. You can even add metallic or vegan elements to the floating staircase to create the perfect blend of modern and classic.

The different parts

metal handrails

Before jumping into making a decision about the right stair railing for you, let’s try to understand the different components that make the structure:


The structure that separates one stair railing from another is the spindle. The vertical post forms a connection between the handrail and base rail.

Base rail

Carrying the structure’s weight above the base rail is situated at the bottom of the guardrail. It runs along the length of the entire staircase, providing support to the guardrail and the spindles.


The star of the show is situated at the very top of the structure. It is the part of the design that people hold onto when they’re claiming a flight of stairs.

outside handrail

Newel post

The vertical post at the end of the handrail is known as the newel post. It marks the beginning and end of the handrail. It is directly attached to the floor or the stringer end.


As complex as the name sounds, the meaning is just as simple. A balustrade comprises a complex structure that includes the spindles, newel posts, and base rail. Essentially, it’s a term used to describe all the elements in a collective form.

Basement ideas

Going into the basement shouldn’t be a scene from a horror movie. The path downstairs should be filled with excitement instead of an unsettling feeling of panic. The best way to make sure your basement is comfortable is by choosing the right stair railing. Here are a few options that can help you achieve that goal:


Just because you’re settling for a pleasant experience doesn’t mean you have to give up on all vintage elements. For example, a curving stairwell is a staple of classic architecture. But it remains just as relevant even today. Likewise, opting for a straight steerable might seem convenient. But we assure you it does nothing for your interior design.

If you’re in the mood to take a risk and add some personality to your house, there is no better choice than a curved stair design. You can choose wrought iron or steel as it is flexible enough to form a curved shape.

Rustic wood with glass panels

Once you settle on a particular design, it doesn’t mean that every element has to follow the same guidelines. Instead, you can mix and match different textures and colors until the concoction represents your true style.

For instance, a rustic wood option may seem like a picturesque vintage design. However, incorporating glass panels below the fence can make it look modern. The best thing about this design is that you don’t have to conform to a single stylistic choice. Instead, you get the best of both worlds.

With a rustic wooden railing running along the length of the stair, you add warmth and a country touch to your interior. But with the glass panels, you prove that you also dabble in modern architecture.

What are the best options to go with?

The market is flooded with various choices, and each style offers a unique quality. But throughout the years, one material has remained a consumer favorite. Steel is a top pick between homeowners as it provides durability and a lower price. In addition, you don’t have to worry about regular repairs because maintenance comes at a highly affordable cost.

How much are modern designs?

A modern railing typically consists of a cable-style option, which retails for around $75 to $220 per linear foot. But if you’re looking to install one on the deck, it will probably cost you around an average of $93 per linear foot. These prices are exclusive of labor costs, around $30 per foot.

Have you found out if you’re getting one of these types yet:

  • Aluminum
  • Wrought iron
  • Wood
  • Glass
porch handrails

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