UNIFORM handrail height

Section 1009.11.1 in the 2003 IBC requires a UNIFORM handrail height of 34-38 inches above the stair nosings. Suppose the top of one end of the handrail is 34.5 inches above the nosing, and the top of the other end is 0.5 inches higher? 1.0 inch higher? 1.5 inches higher? Does anyone know if there is a "construction tolerance" for the UNIFORM height of handrails? I know this sounds like a dumb question, but friends, this is a real situation. I couldn't make this up if I tried.
Thank you in advance for your opinion.

Dennis G. Nolan, Building Official

Original Post
Not so dumb, we had a contractor try to infer that he could install the handrail with a 34" dimension at the top and 35-1/2" at the bottom!, therefor being within the 34-38".

Obviously this is not the intent. You are inducing a trip hazard by doing this. The intent is for the handrail to be parallel to a line connecting the nosings of the treads, therefore the handrail could be out no more then the nosings which cannot exceed 3/8" per run.
Similar question but for 2007 CBC 1012.2: For the handrail fabricator to make clean smooth transitions, he wants to vary the top of handrail height from 37 7/8" to 34 1/8" over the entire run from 1st to 2nd floor. 4 runs total, each run uniform height from top of nosing. If each run is uniform in height, can the different runs have different heights as long as they are within the 34" to 38" requirement?


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Uniform: consistent, not varying or variable per Websters. This word is not used in the 07' code but is used in the IBC Code & Commentary Vol I, 1012.2 Height.

The plan shown indicates a continous interior handrail from beginning to end, the code is silent as to the use of differing heigts at runs for the same stair.

If the handrail is to be consistent and if an individual stairwell of multiple runs, should not the handrail height then be consistent?
Should and shall (as in required) are two different things.

A handrail is required to provide assistance to a user, if they want to use it. Several years ago, I had to write safety procedures (orders) for the City employees. One of my issues was the use of a handrail.

I assigned staff to witness people using the stairs and record how many used the handrails. More than 75% DID NOT use them. The reasons given were "my hands were full" or " I didn't think about it". Fortunately, we had elevators so many did not use the stairs when carrying plans or brief cases.

Because the handrail is required to provide assistance at the user's choosing, the varying heights allowed should not be of concern. And, it should be an accessibility issue either.

Chuck Daleo
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