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My house has a loft with a wooden railing. The railing is only 30" high - apparently allowed because builder called it "unfinished storage space", or not "habitable" space, which means it could sidestep code.

I would like to modify the rail to be 36" high, and wonder how best to do it.

enter image description here

My dream would be to find hardware pieces of some kind that I could screw into the top edge of the 2x6 and then use those to support a dowel; so there would be a gap of 4" or so above the 2x6 and then the dowel. It'd look cool. Maybe a hanger bolt, except I don't think they come that large. Or a lag eye bolt, but again, I don't think they come that big.

Simply replacing the 2x6 vertical stiles would be simple, but a PITA as there are maybe 60 or so of them.

Or something completely wood-based. Not as cool as the dowel idea, but fairly straightforward. But I can't quite figure how to make it look reasonably nice.

closed as too broad by isherwood, ThreePhaseEel, Daniel Griscom, Machavity, ChrisF Feb 3 at 19:00

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  • Guardrails are 42” high and the openings should not allow a 4” diameter ball to pass through it. Some code issues are waived if they were constructed under an old code. This issue is not one of those issues. I’d get it fixed before a toddler falls over or through the railing. – Lee Sam Jan 29 at 1:52
  • I believe 42" is for commercial, 36" for residential. Anyhow, it is moot, because as I have stated, this is classified as "unfinished storage space". To bring it to code would mean replacing the existing spiral staircase. Not gonna happen. – RustyShackleford Jan 29 at 20:03
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Although it is a nuisance to remove all those banisters, it might be feasible to add a similar number of them.

Install new banisters between the old ones, but extending upward 25% to 50% longer. Connect their tops with a railing similar to the existing one.

interdigitated bannisters

In this picture, I haven't yet installed the new top railing, but you get the idea.

The banister spacing is now safer for toddlers, pets, and large heavy toys, and you can select the length of the new banisters to have your top railing at practically any height.

  • Yeah, I was about to report you for plagiarizing :-) Nice Photoshop work though ! Kinda Stalag looking. I could add balusters every 2nd or even 3rd space - should be plenty strong since they could also be tied into the lower horizontal. Reducing the gaps to code is pointless, because the stairs ain't even close (a spiral than only turns 180 degrees); but the space is officially unofficial space - I think the term is something like "unheated living space" (even though it obviously isn't unheated), but the point is, I can't include it in the sq-footage for real-estate listing and such. – RustyShackleford Jan 29 at 6:00
  • Better still remove every 3rd one and replace with a longer one. Should still be strong enough (though I'm not quite sure how to analyze it) and would look better than just adding balusters, I think. – RustyShackleford Jan 29 at 6:03
  • Great answer. I like that the spacing is reduced it looked like it originally was two wide but hard to tell. This would also make it stronger.+ – Ed Beal Jan 29 at 16:32
  • The space is currently 6-1/2" (2x2 baluster on 8" centers). – RustyShackleford Jan 29 at 19:58
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Have you thought if it do you like the idea of adding a industrial looking pipe hand rail? (I think black would look great).You could do a 6” or so version of the kind of mounting seen in this bunk bed railing

enter image description here

All these fittings are easily found.

Be sure to use a pipe diameter that is code approved I think 1-1/4

  • I kinda like it, the look kinda fits with my contemporary decor (for example, the spiral stairs going up there are steel). The wife may demur though. Definitely not as tricky as drilling those lag or hanger bolt pilot holes straight. I could imagine doing it somewhat like this, but some metal that's a bit less industrial looking than the stuff you show (maybe even copper ?, though 1-1/4" copper could break the bank). – RustyShackleford Jan 29 at 6:07
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You could install new balusters in between the existing ones to reduce the gap to modern standards. These new ones could extend 6 inches and support an upper rail, which could be a bit smaller than the lower rail to leave a 3-1/2" vertical gap and still meet code there as well.

Or just replace half the existing balusters with longer ones and add an upper rail in the same manner.

That's all I got. It's getting too late out for creativity.

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My first thought was adding a layer to the top rail using pocket screws, but your text suggests a different approach to the final result.

You've suggested that you can't get a hanger bolt, but Fastenal has them in at least a ten inch length overall. Zinc finish (yucky) but it's an example of a product that does exist. The twelve inch version is less expensive!

long hanger bolt

You could implement the hanger bolts using the rod (dowel?) as described and add a cylindrical wood cover over the hanger bolt to dress it up a bit.

Would you thread in the hanger bolt to the top rail and drill counterbores in the new top rail/rod with plugs to hide them? Logistically, I think that's the only method available, as you can't spin either component around independently to screw the second to the first or vice versa.

  • Nice find on the large hanger bolts; I didn't see 'em at McMaster-Carr so assumed they didn't exist. – RustyShackleford Jan 29 at 2:41
  • Yeah, thread the wood-screw part of the hanger bolt into the existing 2x6 (gotta get the pilot holes straight !). After that, maybe put hex nuts & washers above & below the dowel. Or blind holes in the dowel and just glue it onto the tops of the hanger bolts ? In which case I don't really need hanger bolts at all, just long lag bolts and hacksaw off the head. – RustyShackleford Jan 29 at 2:45
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Replace every 3rd (maybe every 2nd) baluster with one that is 6" taller; this should be about 20 of them. Cut a circular-shaped scallop into the top of each one of these (using a hole saw) and then the top horizontal member is wooden dowels laid into those crescent-shaped depressions (and secured with screws). Maybe paint the dowels a blue matching the metal spiral staircase so it seems to be metal.

Rationales for these decisions ?

Not clear from picture, but on the existing rail, the top 2x6 is too close to the insulated metal chimney; I'm going to have to deal with that somehow and I don't want the extension to also be too close, hence putting the new horizontal member on top of the new balusters instead of inside (to the loft side of them) the way the existing 2x6 is.

Don't want to use metal for the new top piece because of expense and because I can't find pieces of anything (copper, EMT, etc) that is available in longer than 10ft lengths - I need 11-12ft, and splicing would be tricky and probably unattractive.

No reason to add balusters to get spacing to code, as this is not considered "habitable" space; furthermore, to get up to code, I'd have to do the major (and impractical) project of replacing the spiral staircase (it only turns 180 degrees).

Thanks for all the great suggestions that helped me get here !

  • So I learn I can actually get steel tubing in the necessary 12ft lengths for a quite reasonable price (about 1.5X per-foot price of EMT conduit), so I'd probably use that instead (pine dowel probably not strong enough for 2ft spacing of supports). – RustyShackleford Jan 31 at 19:06
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Maybe architectural cast iron panels:

panel panel

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