Rod Railing Code & Safety

Rod Railing Guardrail Requirements

Rod railing code exists for one simple reason: to keep you safe on your deck, staircase or balcony. Navigating building codes can be tricky — but knowing your code is important no matter what kind of stainless steel rod railing system you are installing.

Every part of the system has certain requirements that they must adhere to: such as handrail height, how far apart the posts must be spaced, and the amount of pressure that the system must be able to withstand.

Typically, these code requirements come from the IRC (International Residential Code), but states, cities, and even municipalities can have their own code requirements. Before you build, be sure to check with your local code official on the project.

Is Rod Railing Safe?

Rod railing is an extremely safe option for railing, as long as it is built and installed according to code. Here at Viewrail, all our railing infill and post systems are designed to meet building code. However, you are still responsible to install the system according to horizontal railing codes.

What Codes Affect Rod Railing?

Your project will certainly be affected by railing code, but the code stipulations themselves might differ slightly — depending on whether your project is residential or commercial. The IRC has several across-the-board standards that will affect all projects, but local code can have important minor differences.

Before you finalize a project, we recommend verifying your project details with a local code official. Most of the time, horizontal railing systems are subject to these three basic rules:

  1. Sphere Rules
  2. Handrail & Guardrail Height Requirements
  3. Load Requirements.
code diagram for horizontal infill

Sphere Rules

In any guide to rod railing code, you’ll hear reference to these two basic sphere rules. The 4 inch Sphere Rule dictates how far apart to space your posts. And, if stairs are involved, the 6 inch Sphere Rule will apply.

What is the 4 inch Sphere Rule?

This rule refers to gaps & spaces within a railing system. It states that a 4” sphere should be unable to pass through any gap in a railing system. This is why Viewrail posts are drilled with holes 3 ⅛” center-to-center, to avoid any deflection exceeding 4 inches.

6” Sphere Rules

This rule is the single exception to the 4 inch sphere rule. It refers to the gap created between the bottom run of infill and the 90 degree angle created where the rear of a stair tread meets a stair riser. The triangular gap must be small enough that a 6 inch sphere cannot pass through.

Handrail & Guardrail Height

Handrail & guardrail are two slightly different components of a railing system — though they are often confused as being the same.

Guardrail refers to the structural railing element that sits atop a railing system. A guardrail is typically required for stairs with 4-or-more risers, or for a deck or balcony with 30 inches above grade. Code requires guardrail in residential structures be a minimum of 36 inches. Some areas require taller guardrail. Be sure to check with your code official regarding your area’s guardrail height requirements.

Handrail refers to a graspable element of a railing system designed to assist you in ascending or descending a staircase. Code requires handrails be mounted between 34 and 38 inches. Code also requires handrails return into a wall or structural member of the railing system. This allows everyone from homeowners to first responders to safely traverse a staircase without snagging clothing or equipment on a handrail and falling down a staircase.

Post Heights

Force & Load Requirements

This is another common code requirement you’ll hear about during a horizontal railing project. The term “load requirements” refers to a certain amount of pressure — either applied to a specific point of a railing system or distributed throughout the system by linear foot.

Handrails, guardrails, and structural members of a railing system are required to withstand 200lbs of concentrated force in any direction. Intermediate structures are only required to withstand 50lbs of concentrated force.

At Viewrail, we’ve tested each part of our system to a 4x safety factor to ensure our systems are as structurally sound as they are aesthetically pleasing.

What is Proper Post Spacing?

You should space your structural posts 4 feet apart, measured center-to-center. If you’re using a wood post system, you should place a structural post every 8 feet, then place an intermediate or non-load-bearing post every 4 feet between the structural posts. This will ensure that your system complies with code and keeps the rods firmly tensioned.

Surface Mount Posts and Rod Railing

Curved or Radius Application

Because rod railing is made of a tube, it can bend slightly to follow curves that are as tight as an 8 foot radius. This means that it is ideal for balconies that have a curved overlook — or any application that requires a slight curve around a radius.

For curved applications, the basic requirements remain the same. Be sure to place a post every 4 feet to comply with code, and you will also need to comply with the Sphere Rules, Handrail & Guardrail Height Requirements, and Load Requirements.

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