Handrails | CRC § R311.7.8


These particular sections focus on the standards for handrails in residential properties, a feature we may not think about often, but plays a significant role in ensuring our safety when navigating staircases and ramps. This introduction will break down the technical jargon and make the regulations more accessible.

First, let's clarify a few terms:

  1. Handrails: These are the rails that run along staircases or ramps, providing support and stability for people when they ascend or descend. It is defined in the CRC as "A horizontal or sloping rail intended for grasping by the hand for guidance or support."
  2. Flight of stairs: This refers to a continuous series of steps between landings or floors in a building.
  3. Risers: The risers are the vertical parts of a staircase that elevate one step from the one below it. It is defined in the CRC as "The vertical component of a step or stair."
  4. Tread nosing: This term refers to the edge of the stair tread, the part of the step that juts out over the riser below. Nosing in the CRC is defined as "The leading edge of treads of stairs and of landings at the top of stairway flights."
  5. Volute, turnout, starting easing: These are specific designs for the ends of handrails. A volute is a spiral-like design, a turnout is a quarter-turn rounded end, and a starting easing is a smooth transition from the bottom tread up to the handrail's main length.
  6. Newel post: This is a large structural post that is used to anchor the handrail, often found at the bottom or top of a staircase, or at a turn in the staircase.
  7. Winders: Winders are steps that are narrower on one side than the other, used to change the direction of a staircase without a landing. It is defined in the CRC as "A tread with nonparallel edges."

With an understanding of these terms, you'll find it much easier to understand the sections of the California Residential Code that focus on handrails, which include regulations about their placement, height, how far they should project from the wall, and even the shape and size they should be to ensure optimum safety and accessibility for residents.


Handrails are required to comply with California Residential Code R311.7.8. Handrails shall be provided on not less than one side of each flight of stairs with four or more risers.


Handrail height, measured vertically from the sloped plane adjoining the tread nosing, or finish surface of ramp slope, shall be not less than 34 inches (864 mm) and not more than 38 inches (965 mm).


  1. The use of a volute, turnout or starting easing shall be allowed over the lowest tread.
  2. Where handrail fittings or bendings are used to provide continuous transition between flights, transitions at winder treads, the transition from handrail to guard, or used at the start of a flight, the handrail height at the fittings or bendings shall be permitted to exceed 38 inches (965 mm).


Handrails shall not project more than 4 ½ inches (114 mm) on either side of the stairway.


  1. Where nosings of landings, floors or passing flights project into the stairway reducing the clearance at passing handrails, handrails shall project not more than 61/2 inches (165 mm) into the stairway, provided that the stair width and handrail clearance are not reduced to less than that required.


Handrails adjacent to a wall shall have a space of not less than 1½  inches (38 mm) between the wall and the handrails.


Handrails shall be continuous for the full length of the flight, from a point directly above the top riser of the flight to a point directly above the lowest riser of the flight. Handrail ends shall be returned toward a wall, guard walking surface continuous to itself, or terminate to a post.


  1. Handrail continuity shall be permitted to be interrupted by a newel post at a turn in a flight with winders, at a landing, or over the lowest tread.
  2. A volute, turnout or starting easing shall be allowed to terminate over the lowest tread and over the top landing.

Grip Size

Required handrails shall be of one of the following types or provide equivalent graspability.

  1. Type I. Handrails with a circular cross section shall have an outside diameter of not less than 11/4 inches (32 mm) and not greater than 2 inches (51 mm). If the handrail is not circular, it shall have a perimeter of not less than 4 inches (102 mm) and not greater than 61/4 inches (160 mm) and a cross section of not more than 21/4 inches (57 mm). Edges shall have a radius of not less than 0.01 inch (0.25 mm).
  2. Type II. Handrails with a perimeter greater than 61/4 inches (160 mm) shall have a graspable finger recess area on both sides of the profile. The finger recess shall begin within 3/4 inch (19 mm) measured vertically from the tallest portion of the profile and have a depth of not less than 5/16 inch (8 mm) within 7/8 inch (22 mm) below the widest portion of the profile. This required depth shall continue for not less than 3/8 inch (10 mm) to a level that is not less than 13/4 inches (45 mm) below the tallest portion of the profile. The width of the handrail above the recess shall be not less than 11/4 inches (32 mm) and not more than 23/4 inches (70 mm). Edges shall have a radius of not less than 0.01 inch (0.25 mm).