When a home has steps up to a front porch or a deck with a high vertical drop, outdoor railings make the property safer. Accidents and injuries can easily occur without guardrails on a balcony or handrails by a flight of steps.
The International Code Council has developed guardrail and handrail standards for residential homes (the International Residential Code or IRC) and for commercial buildings (the International Building Code or IBC). These standards specify railing height, distance between spindles, and the minimum vertical height at which a guardrail is required for a deck, among other things. Local building codes may have additional requirements.
They’re required for code compliance, but do outdoor railings actually make your property safer? Absolutely.
How Guardrails Increase Safety
Guardrails offer safety and support from a high deck or balcony. Per the IRC, any open-sided walking surface higher than 30 inches must have a guardrail.
They ensure that people don’t accidentally step off the edge and suffer injuries from a fall. As the property owner, you could be liable for someone’s injuries if you don’t have a properly installed, secure guardrail.
Guardrails can also keep property safely on your deck. During storms or high winds, they prevent patio furniture, planters and other objects from flying off the deck and causing damage to a neighbor’s fence or yard. In this case also, you could be liable for any damage caused by your unsecured property. They can also protect your patio furniture and other outdoor items from being swept into your pool, potentially causing damage to both your deck furniture and the pool.
A sturdy guardrail can even help those who have a fear of heights or vertigo feel safer. It may even allow them to feel comfortable enough to move closer to the edge to enjoy a spectacular view.
The Importance of Handrails
Handrails are equally important for safety, and required, on any staircase with more than four risers. The IRC has some very specific guidelines for where and how handrails must be installed in order to make steps safe.
For instance, you may be climbing some steps to an outdoor balcony and get distracted by the friends calling to you from up there. It’s easy to lose your balance or miss a step in just a fraction of a second. A handrail gives you something to grab onto to keep you from falling.
How often do you take the stairs with your arms full of groceries or other bulky items? You likely lean against the handrail just a bit to keep you steady, especially if you can’t see the step in front of you.
Handrails and guardrails are especially important during inclement weather. They offer something to hold onto when you’re trying to walk on a slick or icy surface.
You have a number of choices when it comes to materials and styles of railings. Wood, aluminum, glass and cable each have their own benefits. The architectural style of your home and the view from your deck may dictate a particular material or style. With cable-style railings, you get the additional benefits of a less-obstructed view and a sleek design that complements modern architecture. Fortress Railing Products offers two cable-railing options—horizontal and vertical. In fact, we created the first vertical cable railing system in the industry. With a sleek top and bottom rail design, both options allow you to enjoy more of your view while still offering the safety of bulkier materials. Fortress cables are made of 316 marine grade stainless steel that’s both tough and corrosion-resistant.