Codes Cheat Sheet: Residential Railing and Decking

QUICK REFERENCE: The following is a quick reference guide for code specific deck guardrail and handrail minimum standards to meet for installation of a railing for both level and stair runs.


Stairs rails on decks should be between 34-inches and 38-inches high and are measured vertically from the nose of the tread to the top of the rail. The treads, measuring front to back, must be at least10-inches deep. Handrails should not project more than 4-1/2-inches from the wall. Anything further will crowd the throughway. Minimum hand clearance from the wall should be at least 1-1/2-inches for ease of grasping. The IRC code also states that there must be an 80-inchclearance (6-ft. and 9-in.) measured from the nose of the thread to the obstruction above floor, beam, coffered ceiling, etc.)


Handrails need to be provided on at least one side of each continuous run of treads or flights with four or more risers at a height of 34-inches to 38-inches. Minimum hand clearance from the wall should be at least 1-1/2-inches for ease of grasping.

  • Circular handrails: For ease of grasping, circular handrails shall have no less than a 1-1/4-inch to 2-inchperimeter.
  • Noncircular handrails: For noncircular handrails, they shall have no less than a 4-inch perimeter; anything greater and up to 6-1/4-inches shall have a 2-1/4-inch cross section. Any perimeter greater than 6-1/4-inches shall have a graspable finger recess area on both sides.


The minimum height for a residential structure should be at least36-inches above a residential deck. Commercial height requirement is 42-inches for multifamily, restaurant, and bar applications. Low-rise decks, not more than 30-inches above grade, are not required to have guardrails, although it is recommended.

Guards are required along any open-sided walking surface, including stairs, ramps and landing, that are located more than 30-inchesvertically above grade at any point within 36-inches horizontally to the edge of the open side. A stair that is more than 30-inches above grade, at any point, requires a guard along the full length of the openside. The minimum height of guards is 36-inches above the walking surface or the line connecting the leading-edge treads. The opening limitations should not allow a 4-inch diameter sphere to pass through except:

  • Triangular openings: On the stair, between the tread, riser, and bottom rail of the guard, shall not allow a 6-inch sphere to pass.
  • Other openings: On guards located on stairs shall not allow a4-3/8-inch sphere to pass.


Deck balusters are required to be 4-inches apart or less.


Using the 4-inch sphere rule, states that no opening be large enough to pass a 4-inch sphere (the head size of a small child) is permitted except:

  • 4-3/8-inch opening for stairs
  • 6-inch opening between the bottom rail and the tread (triangular-area)


Guardrails must be able to sustain 200-pounds of force applied at the top and mid-span between posts without excessive deflection.
Balusters and infill railing must be able to withstand a minimum load of 50-pounds in an area equal to one-square-foot.


There is no wording in the current code, nor has there ever been any wording containing the terminology “The Ladder Effect” in the IBC. It was referenced more than 20 years ago in an IRC edition and since been removed. The ICC Code Technology Committee(CTC) was tasked to determine how to make guards less climbable. After a three-year study period, the ICC’s CTC reviewed and weighed testimony and documentation regarding the issues surrounding climbable guards for railings focused on determining if any additional measures are needed to the existing code. The CTC determined the most current and thorough documentation available shows no indication that a problem exists and there is no need to mandate a higher level of climb-ability restrictions on guards that what is currently required in the 2006 ICC codes.


There are several code bodies and standards to follow for both residential and commercial building design. Below are the most common governing code bodies and standards required when installing decking, balconies, railings, and guardrails.


Safety first when it comes secure deck railings on any level. Considered prescriptive the International Residential Code (IRC) R312.1.1 throughR312.1.4 and R311.7.8.2 through R311.7.11.2 monitors deck railings for decks attached to single-family homes as well as handrails. The majority of code officials will refer to the International Building Code(IBC). Sections 1014 Handrails and Section 1015 Guards are the relevant IBC to follow. Commercial deck railings attached to multi-family and commercial buildings are regulated by IBC. Both the IRC and the IBCare governed by the International Code Council (ICC).

Regulations vary by location throughout the U.S., and Canada has its own set of regulations, and it is vital that you check the authorities in each state or city that works with building standards and codes.


Part of the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA, ensures the safe and healthful working conditions for workers, setting and enforcing standards as well as provides training, outreach, education, and assistance.

The OSHA section 1910.29(b)(1) is most relevant to guard railing and section 1910.29(f) is most relevant to handrails and stair rail systems.


The United States Access Board or ADAAG issues, jointly with the ABA Accessibility Guidelines for federally funded facilities, the current ADA standards based upon the updated ADA Accessibility Guidelines (2004).

  • ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures access to the built environment for people with disabilities. Chapter 5 or 505 describes the standards for handrails.
  • ANSI: American National Standards Institute overseas standards and conformity assessment activities in the U.S. and safeguarding their integrity. ANSI A117.1 is the Accessible and Usable Building standard for making buildings and elements accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

Keep cable railings looking new: 4 simple steps

A great addition to a deck or stairway, stainless steel cable railings and hardware offer long-term value to a homeowner’s outdoor living area. From unobstructed views, distinguished design aesthetics — modern and classic — cable railings are code compliant and extremely low maintenance.


Regular inspection of the fastener (attachment) and general cleaning is recommended, at a minimum of once a year. Over time, fasteners may loosen, and the homeowner can easily adjust and tighten the fasteners. Fasteners tend to discolor over time, which is normal, and it does not affect the integrity or strength of the fastener.


Over time, natural weathering events will accumulate on the surface—materials like pollen, algae, oxidation, and other pollutants. There’s no need for harsh chemicals, household cleaners, and harsh abrasives to keep cable railings clean. Use a mild, non-abrasive soap and water solution once a year, and rinse with fresh water to remove residual soap.

For coastal installations near saltwater, cable railings will stand up to the elements, yet we advise inspecting more frequently or consider a salt-resistant stainless steel cable option.

Here is a step-by-step cleaning guideline for:

  1. Coated surfaces: use clean water and a soft cloth
  2. Aggressive cleaning needs: use mild dishwashing soap and water with a soft cloth
  3. Minor scuffs marks or scratches: use a mild abrasive like Soft Scrub™ or equivalent and a soft cloth
  4. Sticky elements: remove sap, tree seeds, bugs, and such as soon as possible. The heat exposure from the sun accelerates adhesion to coated surfaces making it more difficult to remove

As with most cleaning products, always test cleaning products on a small surface before applying them to cable railings.

RailFX Cable Railing

RailFX products and systems are fabricated with the highest-grade materials available on the market and finished with a wet coat applied with technology that meets AAMA 2605 standards. For all RailFX cable railing and fastener installations, we recommend applying our RailFX Boeshield® T-9 just after installation for optimal results. 

For regular maintenance, use our E-Z Clean, two-part cleaner, and protectant as a complete package for all cable railing installations. While we use Type 316 stainless steel, the most corrosion and rust-resistant stainless steel available used almost exclusively in our hardware; it is stain-less steel, not stain-proof. 

Lake Homes Feature Expansive Decking Areas

Just 40 miles north of Seattle sits Lake Shoecraft and its sister lake, Lake Goodwin. Both lakes are separated by a channel, known by locals, for fishing, including perch, bass, and rainbow trout. The area is surrounded by lakefront homes enclosed by forest land and a place to get away from it all. 

It’s not uncommon for homes facing the lake to feature expansive decking and outdoor living areas, even in the Pacific Northwest’s unpredictable weather. Berg Construction, a fourth-generation contractor specializing in home remodels, spent the summer of 2020 working on this home facing Lake Shoecraft, building a new deck including adding new landscaping and retaining wall.

“The original deck consisted of multi-levels, and we demolished the whole thing, started over to make it one level,” said Shane Berg, owner of Berg Construction. “The result is much more impressive.”

A new retaining wall, approximately 56-feet long, was installed with new landscaping to match the upgraded deck and railings. Berg Construction worked with a concrete partner to pour pads for the hot tub and the upper deck posts. The posts and beams were replaced from free of heart Douglas Fir for sturdiness and to hold the upper deck. High-gauge, structurally rated Ozco connectors were used and displayed as an architectural design feature.



The composite decking material features contrasting colors — the body of the deck boards is in gray with a picture frame board using a golden hue and a composite fascia to complete the project. “With higher-end decks like this one, we like to recommend RailFX cable railings to our customers,” said Shane. For this project, he used a RailFX aluminum cable railing system with bronze posts.

Berg’s carpenters enjoy installing RailFX because it’s easier to work with and built to last. “We’ve never seen railings and posts that are as solid as theirs, they’re engineered so well, made from quality materials, and they have great customer service,” added Shane.

Some of the hidden additions Berg and his crew included on this project include infrared heaters mounted in the soffits and lighting throughout; solid upgrades homeowners are adding to not only extend their outdoor living areas, but also extend their outdoor season.


Outdoor living areas were a growing market long before we were all forced into lock-down. An unexpected and immediate need has brought to the forefront how important it is to have more private outdoor spaces at home. As a result, with homeowners putting vacations on hold, they opt to freshen up their backyard.

Here are some top trends to help your customers and homeowners make their deck, patio, or backyard a personal retreat:

  1. Lighting: Homeowners seeking more time outside can add lighting to their decking projects. It offers homeowners a way to extend their time outdoors, and after the workday is over, they can relax in a resort-like setting long after the sun has set. Many builders add lighting to stair risers, handrails, and the perimeter, and the installation is seamless. It is much easier for a new deck project to include lighting in the design process and install it in the framing stage to ensure correctly installed wiring.
  1. Outdoor kitchens: The grill is generally a given in any outdoor living space, and today outdoor kitchens are in high demand. Many homeowners add built-in propane, gas, charcoal, or wood-fired grill. Exterior-grade appliances like refrigerators, bar areas, and countertops are trendy. In many cases, the kitchen and grilling areas are separate spaces because they also require special accommodations like added plumbing and electrical.
  1. Covered areas: Whether it’s a pergola, gazebo, or an arbor, homeowners are seeking their outdoor space to include more entertainment areas like an enclosed media space to watch their favorite sporting event or evening movie nights. 
  1. Furniture: All the additional space requires a need to fill it with comfortable and durable furniture like wood, metal, and even concrete to extend the life of the furniture to last more than a couple of seasons. 

Industry associations and studies completed recently cite that 82 percent of homeowners are interested in expanding their outdoor living areas. It’s a great time to support your customers with design services and products to help homeowners extend the outdoor space they can use for years to come.

Don’t forget railings:

As homeowners add to and extend their outdoor living areas, upgrading or expanding their railings are an essential part of the overall aesthetics and completes the design. Offer cable railings to your customers’ next project for their deck, patio, and enclosed areas. There is no inventory required for our RailFX products as we will drop ship for our lumber dealers, making it a simple solution for our customers and their customers alike.

We are excited to announce that Nationwide Industries is joining forces with PrimeSource, one of the largest specialty branded building products companies in the country. PrimeSource and Nationwide will use their extensive resources to continue efforts to build the best service and support platform in the industry.

“PrimeSource loves what we have done with the business over the past 30 years,” says Neil Yeargin, CEO of Nationwide Industries. “This acquisition will broaden our business platform and deliver high-quality products and services to our customers. We look forward to our continued growth with PrimeSource.”

To learn more, click below for the full announcement from PrimeSource. Should you have any questions, please reach out to your sales representative.

Inspect the deck

May is deck safety month, and what better time to remind homeowners of the basics of inspecting and maintaining their decks so their investment will last for years to come. Maintaining outdoor living areas isn’t complicated. Here are some simple tips to keep decks and more looking new all year long.

Inspect deck boards and hardware

For both wood and composite decks, inspecting the deck surface, individual boards, and hardware — connectors and fasteners — carefully once a year is key to its longevity. Here are the top safety tips for all decking materials to ensure basic safety and security:

  1. Make sure the support posts haven’t shifted and the foundation is still strong
  2. Inspect the deck surface to discover any loose boards and replace any that are damaged.
  3. Check the hardware to see if any are missing or rusting and replace.
  4. Check to make sure nails, if used, haven’t loosened, or raised, and consider replacing them with deck screws for a solid grip long-term.

General maintenance

Develop a simple maintenance plan and share it with homeowners to ensure decks, railing, and accessories are part of their regular outdoor maintenance routine. Here are a couple of easy tips to share:

  • A good sweep: Use a broom to sweep off debris like dirt, pollen, pine needles, and leaves. That may be all that is needed depending on the material. Keep in mind, the longer it stays on the deck, the harder it is to clean. Regular sweeping will keep debris at bay.
  • Hose it off: Use a standard garden hose to rinse off residual dirt and hard to sweep debris.

Today, composite decks are gaining popularity as an alternative decking material. While composite materials don’t need as much upkeep as wood decking, the homeowner must keep a minimum level of care to keep it looking like new longer. Many of the tips we offer will work for composite decking. However, follow the manufacturer’s care and maintenance recommendations.

While wood is still the most common decking material and has a beautiful aesthetic, it does require a bit more maintenance steps to keep it looking fresh. Upon installation, homeowners have the option of sealing or letting the wood naturally patina. Depending on the type of wood used — cedar, pressure-treated, or modified — it may need protection from the elements, including weather, molds, and mildew, and more regular maintenance.

Decks, railings, and accessories are an extension of the home. Help your customers and homeowners keep their investment looking new all year long and for years to come by adding a regular maintenance routine.

Inspect and clean railings too

Railings are an extension of the homeowner’s deck and, as such, should be inspected and cleaned every year to extend the life. Over time, fasteners may loosen, and the homeowner can easily adjust and tighten the fasteners. Fasteners tend to discolor over time, which is normal, and it does not affect the integrity or strength of the fastener. For regular maintenance, use our E-Z Clean, two-part cleaner, and protectant as a complete package for all cable railing installations and a soap and water solution with a soft cloth for glass and picket infill.

Railings are an extension of the homeowner’s deck and should be inspected and cleaned every year. Over time, fasteners may loosen and can be easily adjusted and tightened, or dicolor, which is normal, and does not affect its integrity or strength. For regular maintenance, use our E-Z Clean, two-part cleaner, and protectant as a complete package for all cable railing installations.

E-ZClean for railing