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Handrails Vs Guardrails: What’s the Difference?

Handrails Vs Guardrails: What’s the Difference?

01 Jun 2022 By Admin

Handrails and guardrails may sound similar, and they do serve similar functions. It is not uncommon for people to use them interchangeably. However, there are considerable differences between the two, especially in terms of ADA compliance. Let’s explore the difference between handrails and guardrails from the point of view of an ADA contractor.

What is a Guardrail?

A guardrail is a vertical barrier installed on elevated surfaces to prevent falls from elevated areas. They can also be used to alert people to potential hazards or to prevent access to restricted areas. Guardrails will usually include toeboards to stop anything, or anyone, slipping off from the edge. Primarily, guardrails are intended for protection in hazardous areas. As an ADA contractor, guardrails would generally be used to prevent disabled individuals from slipping or falling off the edge of a ramp or elevated landing area at the top of a ramp.

What is a Handrail?

Handrails are also a part of safe movement, but they are not intended to be potentially life-saving the way that guardrails are. That doesn’t mean that they are not just as important. Handrails are designed to offer additional support or a handhold for anyone who is disabled, has mobility issues, or otherwise requires assistance to navigate steps, ramps, slopes, and other surfaces. There are many requirements set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act regarding where a handrail should be placed and relating to the correct height and width, among other things. Generally speaking, handrails are required on ramps with a rise greater than 6 inches. However, an ADA contractor can guide you on the appropriate ADA guidance for your specific situations.

Where Are Handrails Required?

There are two main areas where a handrail needs to be installed. The first is wherever you have stairs, and the second is along any walking surface that has a running slope greater than 5%, for example, on a ramp. When the slope is less than 5% (or 1:20), you are not required to have handrails, but it is worth considering depending on your business. For example, if more frail or elderly people use your business, you might want to install more handrails. This would include situations like a medical facility or senior center. If you do install additional handrails over and above the requirements, it is important to note that these must still comply with the ADA regulations. An ADA contractor can help you decide where you should install handrails on your property.

ADA Requirements Relating to Handrails

The ADA requirements relating to handrails and guardrails have changed fairly frequently over the years, making it tricky for even the most experienced general contractors to get it right. That’s why it is important to work with a qualified ADA contractor who knows all of the ins and outs of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Building Code. Here are just a few of the requirements that need to be met when installing handrails.

  • Handrails must be between 34 and 38 inches above the walking surface.
  • Any upright posts, or verticals, should be a maximum of 8 feet apart from center to center of the posts.
  • Handrail pipes and posts should be 1¼ inches to 1½ inches in diameter.
  • There must be a space of at least 1½ inches between the handrail and the wall or other obstruction.
  • Internal couplings should be used to maintain a continuous handrail.
  • Handrails must be screwed to their brackets so that it does not rotate in the fittings.
  • The ends of the handrail should be rounded out by use of a D-return that extends a minimum of 12 inches beyond the end of each post on a straight run. For stairs and ramps, the D-return should extend a minimum of 12 inches beyond the top riser and at least 12 inches, plus the width of a single tread beyond the bottom riser.

It is important to note that these only brief guidelines, and making sure that everything is ADA compliant is far more complex. However, if you work with an experienced ADA contractor, they can guide you through the entire process and ensure that everything is in order. ADA compliance is not something that can be ignored or where corners can be cut. An ADA lawsuit will be far more expensive than the cost of rectifying existing violations.


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