Handrails are an important part of staircase safety on private properties. The Code of Virginia's Uniform Statewide Building Code sets down the regulations that all buildings must comply with. These regulations are the same regardless of whether the structure is a part of the property's original design or an addition. Because handrails are an integral part of staircases, the regulations surrounding them are linked to the stairs they're built on.
General Handrail Regulations
In most Virginia private homes, handrails are required on all interior and exterior staircases that have three or more risers; some counties require handrails only with more than four risers. A handrail is required to be a single, continuous, graspable structure that is securely attached to a post at each end. In order for handrails to serve their intended purpose, they must stand between 30 and 42 inches above the nose (front) of each riser or the finished floor surface on any landing or walkway. For safety reasons, handrails are required to have a guardrail that stretches from the bottom of the handrail down towards the steps. This feature should consist of balusters (supports placed close together) or be a solid structure. Any open spaces between the balusters should be small enough so that a ball 6 inches in diameter cannot pass through.
There are many exact measurements that are required in handrail construction in Virginia. From edge to edge, staircases on private property must be at least 36 inches wide. A post is required at the top and bottom of a staircase to secure the handrail. Intermediate posts must be placed no more than 60 inches apart along the length of the staircase if this guardrail section is composed of balusters. The maximum allowable gap between the top of a step and the bottom of a handrail guard is 6 inches.
The required measurements for handrails correspond with the stairs they're built upon. Tread depths (top of the steps) must be a minimum of 9 inches and measure within three-eighths of an inch of each other. All risers on a single staircase are allowed the same margin of error and are permitted a maximum height of 8½ inches. Any time a riser is left open (a common feature in patio staircases) the open space must be small enough to prevent a ball with a 4-inch diameter from passing through. The nosing (projecting edge) of a step can extend only three-quarters to 1¼ inches beyond the riser. Staircases with a cut stringer (individual steps are visible from a side view) can extend for a maximum distance of 11 feet, while solid-stringer staircases are permitted to extend 16 feet.
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