What Is The Code for Railings in Ontario?

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The Ontario Building Code has strict guidelines for handrails on stairs and ramps used to access any raised platform on residential and commercial buildings.

Railings guarantee safe and convenient access and depending on their design can enhance a property’s style and market value.

You have to make sure handrails are the right, safe height, that the bottom rail has the legal clearance, and that there isn’t too much space between the balusters.

If you are building a deck, for example, knowing the correct railing height will ensure that it isn’t only beautiful and safe, but that it passes code. A good rule of thumb is that safety must supersede style.

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When should you worry about the building code’s railings regulations?

Please note that the Ontario Building Code only sets minimum building standards. To adapt the same to local climate and building experiences, your local city’s own building codes may be slightly different.

Basically, if your property has a raised entrance or deck that requires one to negotiate a flight of stairs or ramp to access, you may need to install handrails on one or both sides.

Railings give users something to grasp for leverage as they climb the stairs and, importantly, protect them from falling.

According to the provincial building code, if the deck’s elevation is above 30 inches, you must install a handrail. Railings are also mandatory where the stairs have more than three risers.

Now, to make sure the railing is safe and convenient to use for people of all ages and body sizes, the handrail has to be a certain height:

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What is the distance between balusters on a railing?

Just as you cannot have too much space between the bottom rail and the floor, the spacing for your guardrail’s decorative balusters is also regulated. It cannot be more than 4 inches.

The spacing is the same between posts and balusters. Use a baluster spacing calculator to make sure your balusters are evenly spaced between posts.

Besides the height of the handrail and the spacing of the balusters, there are other Building Code requirements your handrails must meet:

  • Where you have a wall on one side of the stair you only need one handrail,
  • For ramps, handrails must be installed on both sides,
  • Where you have two railings, the distance between them should not be more than 27 inches and 31.5 inches where you have only one railing,
  • There should be two handrails if the stair risers are more than 1100mm wide,
  • The outside diameter of a handrail should be between 30 and 43mm if it is circular in shape, 
  • If the top of the handrail is not a circular shape, the section of the railing that you grasp shouldn’t be more than 125mm wide,
  • Handrails should be continuous, from the bottom to the top of the stair.
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What is the difference between handrails and guardrails?

Handrails support you as you climb a flight of stairs. On the other hand, guardrails prevent you from falling off a raised platform, like a deck or balcony.

To guarantee the safety of users, guardrails should be able to take your weight if leaned against it. Where the guard is made of glass, it also typically also serves as the top railing. For this reason and as a safety measure, glass rails in Ontario should be tampered or laminated.

Instead of tampered glass, you can also use wooden or metal balusters for the guard. To ensure small children do not fall through the balusters, they should not be spaced more than 4 inches.

As with handrails on stairs and ramps, the recommended height for guardrails on single-family residential dwellings is 36 inches from the top rail to the surface. For commercial buildings, the height requirement is 42 inches. The actual guard must not be lower than 2 feet, 11 inches where the elevation does not exceed 5 feet, 11 inches.

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Install safe railings that will pass code

The Ontario railings code serves to guide building construction, so that stairs, ramps, balconies, and decks are structurally sound and safe to use. Railings that do not meet the minimum requirements of the provincial and local city building codes will not be approved.
Make sure to cross-reference the provincial code with that of your local authority to ensure compliance with both.
If you are building a new deck or any raised structure that requires stair access and you are not sure how to approach the Ontario Building Code regulations on railings, we will gladly help.
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