Building a deck on your own requires more than just the know-how and lumber. Understanding multiple code requirements is essential to getting this job done correctly. If you are building a deck and are wondering what height will require a railing, we can help. We researched building codes in various states so that you'll know for sure what the requirements are.
The International Residential Code requires a railing if the deck is 30 inches or higher. This height is the minimum in all 50 states, though the minimum height of the railing will differ from state to state.
Now that we know that any deck higher than 30 inches requires a railing, we'll look at how railings might differ across state lines. You might also wonder how many steps you can take before requiring a handrail or what the International Residential Code is. To answer these questions and more, read ahead in this post to see what we've uncovered in our research.
Deck rail requirements in various states
The International Residential Code [IRC] lists the minimum requirements for residential construction. We'll be discussing this set of codes in more detail ahead in this post. For now, know that the IRC has been adopted by all 50 U. S. states as a set of mandatory minimum guidelines.
This does not mean that a state or municipal government cannot be stricter than what the IRC lays out. There are many instances in which state and local governments deviate from these minimums and have adopted more stringent requirements.
The height of a deck that requires a railing is the same in every state. But how tall that railing must be will significantly vary from state to state. Below, we've outlined the differences in these heights across the most populated states in the country.
Code requirements in California
California has some of the strictest building requirements in the United States. With some of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the country, this state has adopted more stringent policies when it comes to building. However, they keep the IRC minimum height for a railing at 30 inches.
If you are constructing a deck in California, it will need to have a railing at least 42 inches high. This is six inches higher than the IRC minimum of 36 inches.
There must be a railing on the stairs leading up to the deck in this state. California requires that this railing is between 34 inches and 38 inches.
Code requirements in Florida
The Sunshine State has weather that allows its residents to use their decks year-round. To keep Floridians safe from these external structures, the legislature adopted the IRC. In this state, the railing on the deck must be at least 36 inches high. A deck must have a railing if the deck is 30 inches or higher.
As in California, you will need a railing on the steps leading up to the deck. This railing will need to be between 34 inches and 38 inches.
Code requirements in Ohio
The code in Ohio matches the requirements laid out in the IRC. Deck railings must be installed when the deck is 30 inches off the ground. These railings must be at least 36 inches high. The stair railings will have to be between 34 inches and 38 inches high.
Code requirements in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, you will need to build your deck based strictly on the IRC. This state has not deviated from the IRC regarding deck railing heights. You need a railing for decks more than 30 inches high, which needs to be a minimum of 36 inches tall.
The rails are also required on stairways leading up to the deck. These railings need to be between 34 inches and 38 inches tall.
Code requirements in Texas
Building a deck in Texas will require you to only stick to the minimum standards established in the IRC. The deck will need a railing if it sits at 30 inches or more in height. The railing will need to be at least 36 inches high. The stair railings must be between 34 inches and 38 inches high.
Code requirements in New York
The Empire State also keeps its minimum requirements for deck railings in line with those from the IRC. The railing on the deck must be at least 36 inches high. The stair railing must be between 36 inches and 38 inches high.
What is the International Residential Code?
The International Residential Code is a series of building codes issued by the International Code Council since 2000. These codes apply to one and two-unit family homes that are no more than three stories tall. Though this code has been updated several times since its initial set of codes was released, many states have kept the original set of IRC as the minimum standard they abide by.
The IRC aims to provide building guidelines that will result in residential structures that are constructed to be safe and long-lasting. These codes are regularly updated and have been adopted by every U.S. state. The IRC covers everything from decks and pools to ceiling height and electrical components.
As we mentioned earlier in this post, states must use the IRC as a minimum standard for residential construction. However, this does not mean that these states or local governments cannot be stricter within their respective boundaries. A state or local government can have more stringent requirements but cannot have less restrictive ones.
How many steps before you need a railing?
The IRC has established many building requirements for you to follow. So it shouldn't be a surprise that this code section deals with steps leading up to a deck or porch.
According to the IRC, there is no mention of "stairs" in this code. Instead, they reference the term "risers." The riser is the top portion of the stair.
The IRC will require a hand railing on stairs leading up to a deck if there are two or more risers. This translates as you needing a handrail if your deck has two or more stairs.
What are the OSHA requirements for guardrails?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] has different requirements for handrails. This agency governs the standards for businesses and not-for-profits. As these places are much more trafficked than the typical household, the standards are typically stricter.
OSHA will require that exterior guardrails [handrails] be at least 42 inches high. But the standard doesn't stop at just the minimum height. These railings must withstand quite a bit of force applied to them. At a minimum, the need to be able to take 200 pounds of outward or downward force.
The stair railings need to be between 30 inches and 38 inches tall. This allows for a greater range of individuals who need the rails to be able to safely and effectively use them.
When you build your home's deck, you must ensure that you follow all code guidelines. Though these will vary from state to state, the IRC will apply to you as an absolute minimum standard that has to be followed.
Depending on where you are building, you might have to follow an even stricter set of code requirements. Always consult your local government before building so that they can help guide you through the code requirement processes.
We hope this post on decks answered all of your questions. For additional information, we recommend reading the following posts: