Handrails for yard

I know patios need handrails, but what about the yard itself when it has walls that create changes in elevation. My friend’s home has several of these walls, with one wall 6 feet above a sidewalk, another next to stairs and another next to a ramp. One wall is protected by vegitation, others have grass or pavers alongside them.

I was assuming that these are all ‘exterior walking surfaces’ and that bushes don’t suffice?

I’m assuming you’re referring to guardrails (not handrails). In general, if it’s within few feet of a walking area or a play ground, I would recommend them for safety reasons and let the buyer decide. Rarely will they install them, however.


Right, guardrails. I agree that it is a safety concern, especially since the owners have young kids. Should I specifically say that it is not up to code?

30 inches above grade on guardrails. Then you get into a other safety factors.

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no, you are not doing a code inspection.




Yep, that’s what I did, too.


Thank you so much, Simon. I think maybe you have shown me something else I was also confused about, too.

It sounds like you are saying that whenever I see something that contradicts the code, I will not state it as a code violation but will just explain the safety risk, because inspectors cannot explain what is not up to code, right?

You are going to see a lot of back and forth about citing code. You will find the general consensus is not to cite code for many reasons. However, you should have a working knowledge of code so you can understand modern building practices and minimum safety standards.

Here is a user friendly easy link. But be careful, older homes will not comply to modern code, therefore the homes performance and safety takes precedent.

This forum is a good place to bring up these issues for discussion and further understanding.


Before anything… citing code varies with state rules&regulations, if any. In my state, NY, a home inspector is strictly prohibited from citing code. Here is what the law says is illegal:

(d) Home inspectors shall not determine compliance with regulations, codes, laws or ordinances.

If you start citing code in a home inspection report in NY, you will start “determining compliance” with the codes. So, find out what you are allowed and not allowed to do in your locale.

Second, if it’s not strictly part of the code it does not make it “against” or contradictory to the code. You definitely don’t want to go against the code. Mostly everything in your report should be supported by some building/safety model standard, installation manual, or some such. Now, if something is not part of a code, you can easily recommend it for safety or some such reason. Remember, you have to have solid basis for calling something out. If there is a steep drop off on a side of a backyard where kids may play ball, it is a pretty solid reason to have a fence there. Someone can easily fall and hurt, or worse kill, themselves.


Around these here parts, guardrails are not required on retaining walls and I never see them, though there have been situations where I have suggested them.