Stairway railing reinforcement

What is wrong with the stairway railing in the photo? It’s a continuous run from top to bottom and meets the measurement requirements. My problem is that there is no support/reinforcement in the middle and I can’t find any information that talks about reinforcing the railing that is not against the wall. I find plenty of material that talks about transferring the load to the wall, but nothing about a situation where the rail isn’t next to a wall. At this point I can say that there needs to be enough reinforcement to resist a 200 lb force, but I can’t say that the railing doesn’t already do that. I know there must be something simple I’m overlooking. Any words to point me in the right direction would be appreciated.

It seems like it would be kinda flimsy without at least a support in the middle of the run. Did it feel solid and safe? I always shake railings like that pretty good and go from there. Of course, I don’t personally like them when they are open like that for that long of a flight unless the bottom rail is beefy like the top.

I weigh 210 and could easily tell if the railing could withstand a 200 pound force by using my hip. However, that one looks extra long for my visual assessment.

Hey guys, no, it didn’t feel as solid as I would like. There was some side to side play, but you had to be looking for it. In my report I’d rather have something substantial to say other than “the stairway railing felt flimsy”. I’ve been going over it all evening and figured my brain wasn’t functioning properly and that it was something simple I was missing.

Possible narrative:

The stair railing felt less then adequate for the industry standard of 200 lbs. of horizontal force. I recommend a qualified contractor make it safe.

1 Like

You can say that it appeared to be excessively flexible but that using specialized equipment to test for compliance with industry standards exceeds the scope of the General Home Inspection. The buyer can grab it, shake it and see if he’s comfortable with it. If not, he can have an additional post added.

If memory serves… “Staircase Guardrails”… (proper Terminology is a must)…
IRC does not address your concern (Residential).
IBC does address your concern to be at 60 inches o.c. (Commercial).

Should have a post every 5-6 feet up the stairs to achieve the 200lb of leaning strength. Did you try to push on it in the middle of the stairs to see if it swayed and how badly? If it swayed at all, and I don’t see how it wouldn’t with such a span, I’d definitely call it out. It’s all fun and cool until a 250LB visitor leans against it, falls, and breaks their neck. Some home inspectors are only concerned about the client, whom might be only 5foot 100lb… they don’t think about a 300lb plumber that has to go upstairs to fix their bath relying on the rail for safety.

There was some sway in the middle. I agree with all of you in that the rail needs reinforcement, I just didn’t have any resources to fall back on; e.g., code, standards, acceptable practice, etc. So often in our reports we rely on current standards (codes) to back up our recommendations, for example “Current standards require…blah, blah, blah.” I just wanted to offer my client a little more information. The client and I discussed the rail at the inspection and while I told him it seemed improperly reinforced, I also told him I’d research it.

I did make the following statement, “The stairway railing, while secured at both ends, was flexible in the middle and may not withstand the minimum 200-lbs of force used in testing. Recommend addition of a properly installed center post for additional support.” In light of my discussion with the client at the inspection this should be enough, however, if the client wasn’t present then I’d want something a little more substantial to convey my concern.

1 Like

If the stair guard railing would have been constructed properly, the length would not have been an issue.


What is improper, stop making us all guess :smiley:

Spindles on a rail system should be terminated in doweled holes and glued on top of the stair treads to solidify the whole rail system, and not terminate on to a rail skimming the top of the tread nosing thereby weakening the whole assembly.


I see what you mean, is that also sufficient on a flat deck/balcony if built in similar fashion or only stairs?

No, on exterior decks, the guard rail systems are usually more rugged along with the stair railings. You’re not dealing with an improvised attachment like the OP’s picture which basically was nothing more than a shortcut on labor installation. Plus, it looks to me that because of the way it is installed, creates a triangular opening at the open sides of a stair, formed by the riser, tread and bottom that allows passage of a 6"sphere.

1 Like

Marcel is right on. That rail system is available in the big box stores. The ones I’ve installed the bottom rail is only for steps with a short wall on the open side where they can be rigidly installed. This one I installed in my own house.

Open steps like the OP’s the balusters extend right down to the tread.


That’ right Bob, I built one similar on a house in New Hampshire.

That is where you use that bottom rail as they used in the OP’s pics.

1 Like

@mcyr does this need extra guardpost? do stairs physics work differently outdoors than they do indoors?

According to an InterNachi class on decks “Stair handrails should have posts at least every 5 feet”. Perhaps I should have looked at that before I made my initial post.

The image above depicts the minimum distance between stair handrail posts. Stair handrails should have posts at least every 5 feet.

Decks are built to different Standards than interior staircases.

Exactly, but don’t know where those standards came from.

I know that the top rail has to meet the required 200# requirement and the
intermediate rails (all those except the handrail), balusters and panel fillers shall be designed to withstand a horizontally applied normal load of 50 pounds on an area not to exceed one square foot including openings and space between rails.

At the exterior, the post distance at the stair guards is max. 6’.