Understanding Handrail Construction and Terminology

Handrails are one of the features many homes have and in this article we will discuss the terminology you need to learn to communicate with your architect or interior designer. Handrails have three main parts:

The Handrail
Posts
Balusters
The handrail is the part you physically hold onto. Handrails come in a variety of materials such as wood, metal, stone or even glass. There are a few main rules you need to follow when designing the handrails for your home. First the hight for most residential applications is no less than 36 inches and no more than 37 inches high. I general I stick to 36 inches to the top for most residential projects.The second is you want at least 1 1/2 inches of space between the handrail and the wall so your hand can comfortably wrap around it without being caught between the two. Your design options for your handrail are endless combinations that can give your home the feel you want.
Posts are what secure the handrail to the stairs. These are where the strength of the handrails come from. Posts come in many material types and styles. Most common post types are wood and metal but stone, glass and other materials can also be used. As a general rule you want your posts to be able to handle at least 200 lbs of side force to keep up to building codes. Be warned there are posts being sold that are decorative and do not support the minimum weight requirements.

Balusters are what fill the space between the handrail, posts and the stairs. They also go by the names of spindles and pickets depending on the railing type and use. There are many styles and options available depending on the home style you want to create. Some material options are wood, metal and glass on most stair cases. Balusters typically run vertically with the posts but modern designs have them going horizontally and in many direction in the case of architectural iron balusters. As a rule of thumb you want the spacing of the balusters to be tight enough that a 4 3/8 inch ball cannot pass through the spaces so that a small child cannot slip through.

Hopefully this article has given you a grasp of the terminology your designer or contractor will use. Now that you know what the parts are named you should easily communicate your ideas.