catonfour

how to alter existing stair railing to comply with code?

crm caton
2 years ago

State and county (Fairfax, VA) code is: "Once the opening between the railing and the ceiling exceeds 4 inches and the railing is less than 34 inches from the nose of the treads, an additional rail would be required to raise the height of the guardrail." I'm not even sure what an additional rail would look like here. Ideas?


Our contractor has removed drywall (stairs to basements) and installed stair railings without any issues with inspectors, but we weren't so lucky. (how could anyone possibly fall through that space?) Our measurements near the top are: 21" 26" 31" - heights from middle of spindle (bottom) to ceiling and 2.5. 6.25" 10" - heights from top of hand rail to ceiling. All of this is from spindles 1,3, and 5 respectively.


The contractor's solution (he's not happy about closing off the space/likes it open) is to drywall and remove the upper half of the railing - extend the wall. I'd like to just attach the upper end of the railing to the ceiling, but the contractor doesn't like that look. I do think it would be better than drywalling and cutting the stairwell in half - and we're more than willing to pay for it - it would likely require us to buy a new railing and more spindles (we love our contractor!) any other ideas out there?




Comments (23)

  • tqtqtbw
    2 years ago

    I’m no pro, but take a look at the left rail. It looks like they kept the spindles full length, then added another post, then a straight rail. They have a landing, but maybe you can work the rest from there.

    Mount Pleasant Custom Home · More Info

  • tqtqtbw
    2 years ago

    Heritage at Stapleton · More Info

    This may do it. They attached the rail to the ceiling at the point when the spindles were no longer full length, keeping the space open.

    crm caton thanked tqtqtbw
  • crm caton
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    thanks! I just found something similar to your second picture. Who knew there was such a thing as ceiling railing. If I do that, it would be an opportunity to switch out the spindles with the knots. I hadn't expected the spindles to be that close together. I think it looks too busy right now. The pictures I've found with ceiling railing - the spindles are always all the same type. While I like your first pic, I'm afraid we don't have enough room for that - we'd have to put the second newel post about midway up (there is a landing just at the top of the pics) so I think it would look odd. I have fallen in love with this idea I found: "build removable stair rail" by "got it made" on you tube - maybe I can sweet talk my contractor into making it like that, since the stairwell can be tight for large items.

  • tqtqtbw
    2 years ago

    Excellent. Ceiling rail. Who knew? I just took another look and yes, the knots need to come out. Please post a picture of your final look. I’m curious to see it.

    crm caton thanked tqtqtbw
  • crm caton
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    Thanks - ! I never liked the look of those knots to begin with. Will definitely post a picture. Will have it done either this month or in November - likely the latter.

  • crm caton
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    by the way tqtqtbw - are you in Charleston, SC ? Someone I went to high school with in Columbia is an architect/designer there. I recently saw him and his work featured in a magazine. Beautiful work.

  • Sammy
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    I’ve never seen a railing get shorter as it goes up the stairs. Nor have I seen one get taller as it goes down.

    What did he have planned for the handrail on the wall?


  • PRO
    Joseph Corlett, LLC
    2 years ago


    Sammy, not only that, but take a look at the perfect symmetry of the baluster decorations in tqtqtbw's picture, then look at the abomination in the first picture. This is so bad I think someone's trolling me. Someone's sitting at their screen going "Watch this, it will drive Corlett completely nuts. We've got stair code violations combined with a complete lack of aesthetics." They are correct.

  • tqtqtbw
    2 years ago

    crm caton - no, I’ve never been to the Carolinas. Have your friend get on Houzz so we can all see his work.

    crm caton thanked tqtqtbw
  • PRO
    Sabrina Alfin Interiors
    2 years ago

    Sadly, you may have to rip this out and start over with an actual stair rail contractor. I don't know how you fix something that's so off. The rail height should be the same dimension above the stair wall slope all the way up. Good luck!

  • crm caton
    Original Author
    2 years ago

    Sabrina - you’re right. something I noticed too but so much going on and my husband was good with it. And tqtqtbw - just checked and actually he is on houzz. Beau Clowney in sullivans island. There’s a mount pleasant nearby.

  • ksc36
    2 years ago

    Your contractor has it right. Extend the wall so the rail can die into the new wall. The ceiling rail looks like a mistake, the extended wall won't.


  • mdln
    last year

    Falls are a leading cause of injury and death due to trauma.

    Railings should be designed so someone can easily hold onto them when using the stairs.

  • Lyndee Lee
    last year
    I think the ceiling rail looks just fine. I have seen that done in several houses including my previous one. However, a handrail that dies into the ceiling is probably not sufficient to meet the code requirements and you may need to install a full length handrail on the other side wall.
  • mdln
    last year
    -
  • millworkman
    last year

    Does what is currently there even meet the minimum height at the top of the stairs? Looks like a who did it and ran in my opinion and will look worse the more you "attempt" to alter it...............................

  • Skil367
    last year

    "Once the opening between the railing and the ceiling exceeds 4 inches and the railing is less than 34 inches from the nose of the treads, an additional rail would be required to raise the height of the guardrail."

    I'm following this thread in the hope someone can explain what the heck that means. Who cares how far the ceiling is above the railing? And if the railing is less than 34 inches at the nosing, wouldn't you just raise it, instead of adding another rail? I'm mystified.

  • crm caton
    Original Author
    last year

    I think it's so a child can't fall through the space between the ceiling and the handrail. Four inches is pretty small, but then, I've seen some pretty agile little ones. There is a landing just at the top of the pic, so there isn't a lot of "rise" to work with, as a result. I think the code means add another rail at the bottom of the balusters- so there's a little space at the bottom, and the top rail is effectively lifted, rather than the balusters attached to the stairs themselves (so the top rail is lower). (so you're right, perhaps just raise it) It's a basement reno - inspectors here have passed the same design in other homes, so I think the inspectors need to do a better job educating. At any rate, I'm getting into the idea of a small newell post midway up the stairs, like the pic from the mount pleasant home near the top of this post. I'm going back down to have another look.

  • tqtqtbw
    last year

    There was a recent dilemma of a house with ridiculously short railing around a center stair. The house looked to be historic and I think the code applied in that case would allow the owner to keep the original railing while making it safe.

    No need here to add railing, just do it correctly.

  • Michelle Wright
    last year
    Here’s a photo of our railing. Hope this helps you.
  • Michelle Wright
    last year
    We have an s curve on our railing and the spindles go into the ceiling of the lower level stairs. (It is a closet for one of our bedrooms). Our home is a split level. When we moved in there was no center railing (which was dangerous). The previous owners offered to put in an iron railing but we didn’t want them to drill into the hardwood.

    We used a woodworking specialist. I tried also contacting stair people but our job was too small.

    We are very happy with how it turned out.
  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes
    last year

    @joseph corlett: I agree with you on all points. The "trim carpenter" in question is living in a parallel universe that's not parallel.