Building codes are put in place for safety reasons, but many do not realize that these codes govern just about everything in a building. Gas lines and electrical work must meet stringent requirements, but even something as small as a handrail must meet certain standards. The standards for handrails in North Carolina are there for the well being of those using them, as in other states, but North Carolina regulations are slightly different from those in the rest of the country.
According to Jon A. Sanford, Project Director for the Center of Universal Design at North Carolina State University (reference 1), requirements for handrails in North Carolina are unique in a few areas. Sanford states that handrails in North Carolina must be placed on ramps with a slope greater than 1:20, as in most states, but North Carolina differs from other states in regards to handrail placement. While most states place handrails on both sides of a ramp, North Carolina is one state that takes adjacent terrain (specifically the slope of that terrain) into consideration before installing handrails. Sanford also points out that while some states have a minimum handrail height of 34 inches, North Carolina's minimum is lower at 30 inches.
As for residential handrail requirements, Gaston County building inspection codes spell out these requirements in detail. The code states that handrails are required at stairs with four or more risers. The code backs up Sanford's claim that minimum handrail height should be 30 inches. One additional requirement for handrails in residential buildings is that they must be able to withstand at least 200 pounds of pressure applied in any direction at any point along the wall. Maintaining these consistent pressure requirements ensures people can safely rely on the handrails for support.
Accessibility Concerns in Public Buildings
North Carolina's handrail requirements for public buildings, specifically those in schools and other areas where children are present, are much more stringent than those in residential buildings. Sanford explains that facilities in which children are the primary users are required to use a second handrail at a lower height. This second rail below the top of the handrail enables children to use the rail and also serves as edge protection where there is not already a curb or wall.