I am reading this document

Looking at this line:

(2) Stairways having less than four risers need not have handrails or stair railings.

Is a fair interpretation that on stairs with more than four risers, that I can start the railing on the 3rd step?

I am trying to maintain a clean line of sight in a room where the stair case is centrally located and I am not sure if my argument passes muster.

  • Have you considered a more minimal look? Thin-ish metal for the post/rail and glass/plastic to replace the traditional balusters? Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 0:51
  • 1
    Consider, if you will, the stairway as elephant in the room - you can try, and fail, to hide or minimize it, or you can put it in a tutu riding circles on a unicycle. i.e. i suggest ROCKING the stairs - they are there, make them a focal point.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 1:03
  • What does "rocking the stairs" mean in this context?
    – isherwood
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 14:00

2 Answers 2


No. It's all or nothing. Imagine a visually-impaired person (or someone in the dark) coming down your stairs and the rail ends. What's the assumption? That they've reached the bottom. That can end badly.


I agree with @Isherwood: Either a stairway has four or more risers, or it does not. The former requires a rail; the latter does not.

However, you can partially mitigate the visual intrusion of the rails into the space by using a starting step:

enter image description here

  • 1
    How is it that a "starting step" isn't counted as a step with respect to railings, which are usually required to extend to the start of the actual floor?
    – isherwood
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 19:15
  • 1
    @isherwood: Perhaps the answer is in the phrase private from the OP's linked document: Stair railings and handrails shall be continuous the full length of the stairs and, except for private stairways, at least one handrail or stair railing shall extend in the direction of the stair run not less than 12 inches beyond the top riser nor less than 12 inches beyond the bottom riser. Ends shall be returned or shall terminate in newel posts or safety terminals, or otherwise arranged so as not to constitute a projection hazard.
    – wallyk
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 0:08
  • The depicted stair might not be acceptable to the OP's AHJ. I know people used to do these like this a while ago, but I suspect that most jurisdictions are clamping down. Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 0:47
  • 2
    Not cool. Navigating this by feeling the handrail (in the dark or semi-dark, say), I'd be walking off the starting step into the air, thinking I'm on level floor.
    – Mathieu K.
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 9:19
  • @wallyk That sentence describes an exception to the 12" extension beyond the stairs. I think you've misinterpreted.
    – isherwood
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 13:55

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