I've recently been remodeling my staircase leading upstairs and have a question regarding the necessary alterations to meet code requirements.

The goal is to keep the staircase as open as possible to create a more open concept feel between the kitchen and the living room... If I were to add a railing on the side opposite the opening, would I still be required to add a banister/railing on the open side in order to meet code requirements?

Thanks for the help!

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  • 1
    I don't know if it is code (so just a comment), but considering that the staircase is wide enough for two people, so you might have one going up and one going down at the same time, I really wouldn't want to be on the open side without a railing of some sort. Feb 23, 2022 at 17:02
  • Think most code is written up to prevent drunks, and young kids from falling over the sides, with banisters to help old people. It does not care if none of these people ever use them. Imagine railings for both openings and at least one banister to be in code.
    – crip659
    Feb 23, 2022 at 22:22
  • Looks like you are closing off under the stairs. Might think about using that space for storage closet, just need a door.
    – crip659
    Feb 24, 2022 at 0:57
  • @crip659 , there is a stairwell heading downstairs directly below these stairs or else I would :/
    – Maddux123
    Feb 24, 2022 at 14:42

3 Answers 3


If the question were the other way 'round - "If I add a railing on the side closest to camera, would I need a railing for the little gap on the far side" would make far more sense. However, in both cases the answer is "Yes", you need railings on both sides.

I don't know what the exact code references are, but logic dictates. You might be single or newly married, but I guarantee that once you've got a toddler climbing up and down the stairs, you'll fully understand why you need a railing on the near side, protecting that large gap. Even though the far side gap is smaller and the drop shorter at only 4 steps, that's a long way for a 2-year-old to fall and land on her head.

If you want to minimize the viewing obstacles, consider:

  • A glass railing. It'll cost, and it may cut down sound transmission. Reducing the sounds going upstairs might be good, but it may negatively impact conversation across the stairs.

  • A cable railing - it won't have the sound deadening issue, but the thin cables will still allow for a mostly unobstructed view across the stairs.

I do know that (US, at least) code requires that balusters be no more than 4" apart to prevent small children from pushing their heads through and getting stuck.

  • haha spot on, single first-time homeowner with no kids. But I agree with you and thought the same. I have a dog as well as young nieces and nephews I would worry about falling over. However, once the wall is primed/shiplapped the couch will be directly below.
    – Maddux123
    Feb 24, 2022 at 14:46
  • 1
    "Intent to keep a softly padded couch below a fall hazard" does not meet code @Maddux123. You need a railing.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 24, 2022 at 16:14
  • Needs banisters anywhere there's more than a 4" gap. And it needs a hand railing between 34 and 38 inches high on one of the sides from top to bottom. And it all needs a guard rail 42" high. - IDK how wide it has to be before you need one in the middle, or in the middle and both sides, but I think you're well under that size.
    – Mazura
    Feb 24, 2022 at 22:50
  • Don't use the word railings without an adjective (descriptive noun?) when you're talking about stair cases.
    – Mazura
    Feb 24, 2022 at 22:53

Any stair over three rises (~24") must have full safety railing. Consider a modern baluster style to minimize visual weight.


I think we are discussing two different things: .1) Handrails, and 2) Guards.

  1. @isherwood is correct, handrails are required when there are more than 3 risers. Handrails need to be on one side and between 30” and 38” above the nosing of the tread. They need to be continuous and return to the wall at the top and bottom. The handrail needs to be be 1 1/2” from the wall. (See R311) There are lots of regulations about size of grip.

  2. Guards is a term they use for guardrails. They are required next to walkways that is 30” above a drop. The guard should form a protective barrier 42” high. There are lots of rules and exceptions, including the barrier can’t let a 4” diameter ball pass through it, except at the triangle made at the bottom of a stair where a 6” diameter ball cannot pass. (See Section 1013)

So your stair does not need a handrail nor guard (if the opening at the steps is not more than 30” high) on the left side descending if you have a 42” high guard AND a handrail on the other side.

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