Are Horizontal Railings Allowed in Ontario?

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Under the Ontario building code, horizontal railings that are used as deck, ramp, or stair guards are illegal. All guards must be vertical, unless, of course, the raised building platform is less than 36 inches above grade.

Besides the top handrail, there only needs to be one horizontal railing at the bottom of the stair guard. That bottom railing should not be more than 4 inches from the floor.

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Horizontal guardrails are a child safety hazard

Though attractive, due to their ladder or ‘climbing effect’, horizontal guardrails are dangerous to children. Their ‘climbable’ nature can entice children to climb over to the top handrail, risking injuries and fatal falls.

The horizontal guardrails referred to in the building code can be anything from metal piping to wood batten members that are run horizontally to the floor or stair.

Horizontal guardrails contrast with vertical balusters that make it difficult for children to climb, although they also should not leave wide spaces that children can easily slip through and fall.


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Are cable railings legal in Ontario?

Cable railings present the same ladder effect that make horizontal guardrails unsafe for children. Being climbable, cable guardrails will prove just as tempting for young children to want to climb up the deck or stair guard, which can also lead to falls and injuries.

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Cable guardrails, which are typically made from wound steel wire, also pose another safety hazard to children. If the cables are properly tennsioned and hand loosely, children can slip through them and fall off.

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Even if the cable is tensioned and tightly secured, the weight of a child standing and resting their full weight on the cable can extend it beyond the 4 inches allowed under the Ontario building code. That present the same risk of children slipping through and falling off the side of the stair.

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How to childproof cable guardrails

Let it be clear that when you childproof cable guardrails, the intention shouldn’t be to get around building code restrictions. Cable guardrails, even when childproofed, are still illegal under Ontario law if the raised platform on which they are installed is higher than 36 inches.

You will have to convince the building inspector that your childproofing solution fully removes the ladder effect of the horizontal guardrails you have installed. In our experience, than is more trouble than the actual aesthetic benefit gained.

Parents concerned with child safety may still want to install some kind of guard even when a stair is only a couple of risers high, or where the deck does not sit too high to be affected by building code requirements. This, of course is perfectly understandable.

Where the stair or any raised platform that present a falling risk rises more than the 36-inch limit stipulated by the Ontario building code, you will have to devise a way of childproofing the stair guard if you insist on using horizontal guardrails.

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Use plastic film to remove the ladder effect from horizontal guardrails

The only way of childproofing horizontal stair guard rails is making it difficult for children to use the guardrails as a ladder to climb over. How do you do that?

You use transparent glass or plastic sheeting that allows the aesthetic qualities of horizontal guardrails to show through while preventing climbing access for children.

If you use the type of glass recommended for stair or balcony guards, the horizontal guardrails will only exist as a decorative feature that does not have to pass code.

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Be sure the glass stair guard is secured tightly so it remains firmly in place all the time. Also make sure the botton horizontal railing sits not more than 4 inches from the floor.

At the top of the stair guard the childproofing transparent glass can extend all the way, or it can terminate with the securing horizontal railing that – again- shouldn’t be more than 4 inches from the top railing.

Other homeowners will use baby gates as a way of stopping children from using stairs with horizontal guardrails unaccompanied by an adult. But it is important to remind each other that the actual stair guard will still not meet building code requirements.

In the event that an adult leaves the baby gate unlocked, the horizontal stair guardrails will still pose a child safety hazard.To avoid accidents, at Jay Fencing we discourage using horizontal stair guards entirely for all residential buildings.

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The Ontario building code exists to ensure the safety and structural integrity of all buildings

The Ontario building code’s primary purpose is to set minimum standards for building safety. The code exists to make buildings safe for all users and occupants, including small children and the physically challenged.
So if any part of the building structure presents a possible safety risk, it is highly likely that it will not get approval, whether you are in Ontario or any part of Canada.
If you are unsure whether your proposed staircase or deck design meets the province of Ontario’s building code guidelines for railings, kindly consult the experts at Jay Fencing.
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