California Local Building Codes for Stair Railings

Building codes differ from municipality to municipality, but all codes in California are based on the California Building Code, which in turn is based on the International Building Code and the International Residential Building Code.


California has specific rules for constructing stair railings.California has specific rules for constructing stair railings.
Many requirements, including those for stair railings, are consistent across California. The code requires the stair railings meet certain height, width, clearance and strength requirements. Although most stair railing codes across California are the same, check with your municipality's building department to ensure your local code meets the standard California stair railing requirements given below.

California building codes require a handrail for a stair when there are four or more stair risers. Furthermore, the rail must extend one foot beyond the bottom and top tread, as well as along landings for the stair.

Handrail Requirements

California building codes require the stair handrail to be 34 to 38 inches above the nosing of the stair. The handrail must be grippable and between 1 1/4 and 2 inches in diameter. The handrail must have a gap from the wall 1 1/2 inches or more, but the overall handrail must not project more than 3 1/2 inches into the stairway. Handrails along a stairway open to below must not allow a 4-inch sphere to pass through the handrail.

Handrail Forces

Handrails must be able to withstand a 200 pound point load in any direction. In other words, a handrail should not be damaged when 200 pounds is exerted on it sideways, upwards or downwards.

Stairway Widths

The handrails must allow a clear width of at least 36 inches, however stairway widths for buildings other than single-family residential are dictated by the occupancy of the building and individual floors. Buildings with an occupant load less than 50 can have stairs 36 inches wide, while occupancies greater than 50 must have stairs at least 44 inches wide. Stairways with a width greater than 88 inches must have handrails every 88 inches on center.


Buildings other than single-family residential structures must have guardrails for stairs, floors and landings that are more than 30 inches above the floor or ground surface below. These guardrails must be at least 42 inches in height and have handrails 34 to 38 inches above the finished floor. The guardrails must resist, in any direction, a force of 50 pounds per linear foot or a 200 pound point load. The guardrail also must not allow a 4-inch sphere to pass through the rail assembly.

About the Author

Ryan Crooks is a licensed architect with 15 years experience in residential, institutional, healthcare and commercial design. Crooks is also an instructor, teaching architecture to high school and college students. He has written hundreds of articles for various websites.