DC’s Code requirement for porch stair handrails… What the Code considers a Handrail versus a Guard

To get a BBL for renting a house and to pass inspections for construction and sales, DC homes are required to meet the 2006 IRC Code. But there are certain things in the code that seem to be missed in homes more often than found. Front porch handrails are one of those items.

The Code says the following:

AJ601.1.2 Handrails.Every required exit stairway that has four or more risers, is part of the means of egress for any work area, and is not provided with at least one handrail, or in which the existing handrails are judged to be in danger of collapsing, shall be provided with handrails designed and installed in accordance with Section R311 for the full length of the run of steps on at least one side.
R312.1 Guards. Porches, balconies,ramps or raised floors or faces located more than 30 inches(762 mm) above the floor or grade below shall have guards not less than 6 inches (914mm) in height. Open sides of stairs with a total rise of more than 30 inches (762 mm) above the floor or grade below shall have guards not less than 34 inches (864 mm) in height measured vertically from the nosing of the treads.
So, technically, every time you see a front porch stair with treads over 30″ above the adjacent grade, there is supposed to be a guard on the side (both sides if both sides are open to below). We see many many houses that do not have this, but many of them are just above the cut off of 30″.
DC started using the 2006 IRC on December 26th of 2008. See the full text at http://dcra.dc.gov/service/applicable-dc-construction-codes.

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