I’m finishing up a deck build.

Steps from lower deck to upper deck are 60 inches wide with 7” rise per step. Total rise is 28”

I wonder if is adequate to place a single hand rail in the center of the steps. Some have a preference for right hand rail others for a left handrail. Center handrail seems to satisfy both.

Am I overlooking any potential issues with my plan to use only a center rail?

  • 3
    A centre handrail would be an obstruction to taking bulky objects up the steps. I think you should have handrails on both sides and the centre clear. Jul 7, 2018 at 15:11

2 Answers 2


The Code requires the stair width to be 36” ABOVE the handrail and 27” width at the handrails and lower. (See IRC R311.7.1)

Only one handrail is required. (See IRC R311.7.8) (In commercial projects, a center handrail is required every 88” width of stair, except at historic structures.) Also, handrails are required when you have 4 or more RISERS. (See IRC R311.7.8)

Handrails can project 4 1/2” and should be between 30” and 38” above the nosing of the tread. (See IRC R311.7.8.1)

BTW, in olden days, the handrail was required on the right side descending. This is no longer required.

I agree with @JimStewart and I’d install a handrail on the sides and leave the center open to allow you to have that new barbecue easily delivered up on that upper deck.

  • Is there s requirement that states the rail must be on a side of the stairs?
    – Kris
    Jul 7, 2018 at 23:38
  • 1
    @Kris No, just that one is required when there are 4 or more risers. However, they do use the term “continuous”. Presumably because they don’t want you taking your hand off the handrail and then trying to “find” the handrail again. This could be a safety factor for your design, if one person is going up while another is going down.
    – Lee Sam
    Jul 8, 2018 at 0:20
  • I am thinking of how sports arena has only a center rail on stairs that run between rows of seats. that is continuous and you do have to release and find again often as others approach from the other way on these stairs.
    – Kris
    Jul 8, 2018 at 0:32
  • @Kris True, but this is for “Residential” Occupancies. At Sports Arenas most arrive at same time and leave at same time. Hmmm...are their handrails on 4 or more risers? I know it’s discontinuous. Also, sports arenas have special exceptions, like height of guardrails at balconies,etc.
    – Lee Sam
    Jul 8, 2018 at 0:49
  • @Kris Sports Areas, commercial, institutional, etc. is a different code book.
    – Lee Sam
    Jul 8, 2018 at 0:50

Stairs are to be at a minimum of 36" wide. If you place the rail in the middle, that surely would not meet code. I have to check, but code may require you to put a handrail on either side as it is. The old code only required handrails and guard rails on decks and stairs over 30", so you may not even need that. Of course, there is no reason you cannot add hand rails.

  • If the rail is not required because the height is not great enough, would any rail I add be immune from code enforcement?
    – Kris
    Jul 7, 2018 at 23:42
  • You are saying that the center rail would in effect make this 2 stairways? If I widened to a 72” stairway width a center rail only would meet specs?
    – Kris
    Jul 8, 2018 at 0:36
  • On the first comment, adding the rail would make the stairs you have in effect too narrow. On the second comment, if the stairs were 6 ft wide, you would be making 2 sets of stairs out of one, since the handrail would be dividing what you have in half, even if the treads are continuous through both halves, a person still can't walk where the hand rail is....
    – Jack
    Jul 8, 2018 at 6:07

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