Older Handrails

The original handrail in this older (80+ years) home is 32" high. It is fall protection from 2nd to 1st floor. It is secure and has no signs of weakness.
Do I note this as a hazard (for lack of current height regulations)?

I would report that the elevation is 4" below current construction standards, but would not necessarily describe it as a hazard.

Jim King

So if someone did “The Tumble”; could an inspector be found liable for not recommending ripping out a perfectly functional railing and replacing with
a new conforming one?

Anything can happen, but how far does one go to protect one’s *** as well as a client’s?

I would recommend replacement for enhanced safety.


Are there other issues with the handrail? http://www.nachi.org/stairways.htm

I advise upgrade to conform or relocation to current standards when I run across these. Depending on what is present.

Code Check says 34 - 38 inches. I would point out the differences to the buyers, put it in the report and leave it to them to decide what, if anything, needs to be done. If you start to point out everything in an 80 year old home that does not meet the standards of today, that will some kind of report to behold. I would not hyperventilate over 2 inches difference but it will help you sleep better point it out.

I’m with you at this point. But some electrical issues (GFCI’s) need to be implemented. It seems a defensive and informing report would include
“replacement to conform for fall protection and reduce liability”.

But the “Historical Designation” in most communities would hang you.

I guess I’m looking for the catch all to “leave it alone but don’t sue me later approach”.

Thanks for your input


Even the spacing is tight (3").

Calling attention to an observable condition is consistent with what it is we do. Recommending solutions to existing conditions is more risky and goes beyond the scope of an inspection and the SOP. Whether the client, the seller, or anyone remedies a condition identified in a home inspection report is not the fault (or the business) of the inspector, IMO.

Suggested report narrative:
“Guards should be constructed so that they prevent people from falling over them and prevent children from crawling through them. This guard violates an aspect of current code/standard/practice, as do many “historic” homes. The guard should be at least 36 inches in height. This guard is not safe. Correction and further evaluation by a professional is recommended.”

I wouldn’t pull any punches. Tell it like it is in the report. Although, during the inspection, I would orally explain how I understand that probably nothing will/can be done easily to this component of the “historic” home to bring it up to code so that it performs well, unless enforced by the local authority having jurisdiction.

HIs have a legal, moral and fiduciary responsibilty to inform the client.

We also have a resonsibilty to keep the safe.

If they die or get hurt, they won’t refer us :mrgreen: , at least.

BUT, we can only recommend.

Write it like you see it and write it to help your client.

If they don’t listen to you, after you have explained it and WRITTEN it, its on them.

You can lead a client to water, but you can’t make them thirsty!

But, I would contend, that the first responsibilty of a professional HI is to get your client to TRUST you.

See here: http://deckerhomeservices.com/bottom_line.htm

Take the time and form the relationship and get the client to



To do anything less is not professional.

Hope this helps;

“Although not required when originally built bla bla bla… you may consider upgrading to bla bla bla…”

Typically, registered *Historic *or Heritage (as they say in Canada) homes are under more restrictions (what color paints you can use, style of windows, etc), not less with regard to AHJs. Should the handrail break and have to be replaced, it will be more likely that it couldn’t be replaced with a chrome handrail than it would be given a pass on it’s mounting height.

Seems to me that if you have to update a Historic home to present standards, it would no longer be truly historic, but rather an imitation of an older home. It might make it safer, but it would lose value. I would note my observations, educate them of the current standards and wish them a Merry Christmas when I handed them the report.

I’m with you, Ken.

Along with my report, I might want to remind the buyer that - at the turn of the century when the house was originally built - the average life span for an adult was 40 years.

There are reasons for that…:wink:

You got that right, it probably wouldn’t be much beyond 40 now if they didn’t keep us alive longer with life support. Everybody knows dead men don’t spend money! Those people back then really worked themselves to death. Makes me tired just thinking about it! Merry Christmas JB