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How to Install Outdoor Handrails

Cheryl Munson

Adding an exterior handrail against an exterior wall is one of the best do-it-yourself safety projects you can take on. A handrail will give your family and guests an extra feeling of security as they climb outdoor stairs and as it helps prevent accidental falls. Complete most of the steps to this project alone. But help will come in handy when it’s time to position the rail against the wall. You may only need your helper for twenty minutes or less.

Building codes requires handrails for stairs.

Step 1

Locate the studs on the wall where the handrail will be attached. If your home is made of vinyl this will be easily -- simply look for visible “face” nails on the vinyl. That indicates where the stud is. If your home is made of stucco or brick, find the nearest exterior electrical outlet. Remove the cover and look for the stud next to the outlet unit.

Step 2

Use a stud finder to locate studs. Draw marks to indicate the stud locations with pencil or chalk for easy clean up.

Step 3

Raise the edge of the handrail so that the bottom is 38 inches from the base of the first stair. Drill a hole into the wall surface at the 38-inch mark at the base of the stairs. Tie a string to a nail and insert the nail at the mark. Run the string to the mark for the handrail at the top of the stairs, tie the string to a nail and insert it into the exterior wall. Set the handrail down.

Step 4

Place the handrail in position next to the wall where it will be installed with the assistance of a helper. Position the handrail so that end closest to the bottom stair begins six inches before the stud mark. Make a very visible mark for the first and last stud marks for reference.

Step 5

Check the level by attaching a string level to the string. If you need to make adjustments, up or down, do so at the top of the staircase. Make a mark at each stud location on the wall that aligns with the string. Place the handrail next to the string line. Turn the handrail on its side, and make marks at the bottom, middle and top of the handrail that align with the stud location marks on the wall.

Step 6

Drill pilot holes in the wall for the handrail brackets. Drill pilot holes for the top and bottom ends if the handrail is less than 8 feet long. If the handrail is longer than 8 feet, drill a third pilot hole at the stud mark closest to the middle of the handrail for a third bracket to support the midsection.

Step 7

Align the bottom screw hole on the bracket with the stud mark at the bottom of the staircase. Use a drill to drive and fasten the screws for the bracket into the wall. Repeat this process for the bracket at the top of the stairs.

Step 8

Set the handrail on top of the brackets. Mark the position for a middle or third bracket for a handrail that is over 8 feet long. Drill and fasten the middle bracket, if needed.

Step 9

Paint or stain a wood handrail to your liking to complete your handrail installation project.