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The Differences Between a Handrail and A Guardrail

Railings may be something we take little notice of, but they are absolutely crucial. For some people, especially children and the elderly, climbing a flight of stairs without railings can be extremely difficult and dangerous. Railings are used in places that are higher than ground level, in addition to staircases. However, we commonly think of and refer to handrails and guardrails interchangeably. Handrails and guardrails serve quite different purposes and have different components. Some areas of your home may require more than a simple railing. This article will explain how these two differ so you can decide which to use for your projects.


A handrail is designed to provide support. It promotes safety for those who have a hard time going up and down the stairs. However, a handrail is not always a life-saving handset. They are installed to allow a person to grasp their hand while navigating the stairwell, particularly when it becomes a little too high. If you have a stairway that is more than three floors, a handrail is advised to be installed. Establishments also have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by providing a graspable handrail.

Handrail - South Shore MA Custom Cabinets

Apart from this, a handrail is also an aesthetic addition to many architectural structures and homes. Elegant staircases have always been adorned with carefully crafted and perfectly polished handrails. Many homeowners have them installed to complement the style of their homes.


Guardrail - Brighton MA Custom Cabinets

Guardrails are more of a safety feature than a decorative element. A guardrail is regarded as a life-saving device that aids in the prevention of accidents such as falls from high or elevated surfaces. They typically take the form of a fence or bars installed on the sides of a stairwell or balcony. As fall-protection railings, they keep people from falling off a walkway or other unprotected surfaces. They are typically installed around the perimeters of buildings, decks, balconies, scaffolding, or work platforms. Guardrails are designed to be strong because they are life-saving tools. To comply with safety and building codes, platforms with very high elevations will require a strong and secure guardrail.

How Are They Exactly Different?

Now you know the main differences between a handrail and a guardrail. Each of them has specifications according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. The height and strength requirements for a handrail differ from those for a guardrail.


As a result, a handrail should have a minimum height of 30 inches and a maximum height of 38 inches. The height should be measured from the stair’s leading edge to the surface of the handrail. In terms of strength, a handrail must be able to withstand a force of at least 200 pounds, which can be applied both downward and upward.


For guardrails, the top-edge height must be 42 inches plus or minus three inches above the walking surface or platform. Less than 39 inches is not permitted, and it may occasionally exceed 45 inches depending on certain safety requirements. It cannot also bend to a height of fewer than 39 inches. The handrail, like the rest of the structure, must be able to withstand at least 200 pounds of force.

A complete railing system includes both a handrail and a guardrail. Both help to prevent accidents, but not every stairwell or elevated platform requires both. To be sure, consult with your professional contractor and designer.

Optimize The Look of Your Home with Us!

Here in South Shore Custom Cabinets, we not only help you design and build the best cabinets and other furniture, but also architectural woodwork such as railings. We work on adding extra elegance and luxury to your home by installing railings that perfectly match your staircases. We have a collection of beautiful designs that will not only accentuate the glamour of your home but will also add protection for you and your family. If you have a design in mind, we can help you in making it a reality. 

If any of the services we offer are what you are looking for, please give us a call at 781-546-5557!

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