I'm making a small, low balcony, just 28" off the ground.
Am I generally required to put a railing around this? The railing
would interfere with the view of the yard.
If I put in steps, is a railing required next to a 28 inch high set of
This balcony is meant to be temporary, a couple years, until permanent
plans are made. It's actually a shortening of a small previously
built desk. I was planning to destroy the deck and have nothing until
I could decide what I wanted, but During destruction I saw that part
was rotten but the two-feet-deep part under the 2nd floor overhang was
still sound. No rot, no loose nails, no warping, looks much newer in
"Generally" is the qualifier and it probably depends on whether you have a
building regulatory body that watches over you and how much of a nanny they
If you have such an oversight agency, you should ask them. If no such
bureaucracy exists, then go for it (I'd plant something soft and thick under
You'll definitely have to check with _your_ building inspector. A phone
call should do it.
In my neck of the woods, anything 30" or over, off the ground, requires
railing. Which can be a pita, if a deck is built over a shallow slope.
Safer though. The actual question is code dependant on your area.
I have not seen any in my area of Virgina of that heght without rails if
Again, area code dependant. In my area, I see many with no rails that go
even farther than 28 inches as long as it is a private house. I'm generally
a sort of local hobby worker who helps add rails to structures like that
when an older or disabled person needs them in a private house and can't
afford to pay to have them added.
I looked more and found some more. On a diagram at the end of the
Baltiomre County Building Code, it says
1. One handrail is required for 4 or more risers.
2. Two handrails with guardrails are required for floor surfaces more
than 30" above grade.
3. All risers must be of equal height.
4. [stuff about tread spacing]
So these are clearly about steps, but it does show that the 30" height
makes a difference there. I coudlnt'' find anything about when a
railing around the "floor surface" is required. Plainly if it were 7
inches above grade, a railing woudln't be needed. I wonder where the
It seems a 4 riser set of steps requires a handrail, and it says
minimum 8" concrete under deck posts. I was just going to use the
cinder blocks that the original builder used. I hope the inspector
considers this a repair and not a new deck. Maybe he'll skip these
things, but I don't think I'm going to put a lot of effort into all
this in case he tells me it's no good now and I have to start over
It gives a third choice including Use approve Anchoring System for the
posts. I wonder if resting on a cinder block is approved. It's been
doing that for 30 years.
It also says "Use Approved Joist Hanger". I would probably use them
because I'm a rank amateur , but surely a pro can still bulld a deck
without metal joist hangers. Don't you think?
This is probably not the same building inspector they send out for new
construction. One of my neigbhors is annoyed at me, and filed a
complaint, so this is the complaint inspector. I wonder if his
standards will be the same.
Yeah, but no one EVER goes there but me, and I only passed through it
on the way to the yard. Now that the stairs will be right in front of
the opening in the sliding glass door, and it's only two feet deep,
I'll never go on the rest of it. (I had been thinking of taking out
the whole deck and just putting in steps. But this is easier and
looks nicer, and as a table or work bench when I'm in the back yard,
it will have some uses.)
OK, you've prompted me to look again, and to look harder, and I
noticed stuff I hadn't a few days ago. It's only 91 pages. Is that
it, or is there something longer?
At the end I found a section on decks, and this is all it says "5.
Railings, footings, etc.- These and other details of the deck can make
the difference between a good job and a disaster. Please read the
requirements carefully and make both yourself and the inspector
It doesn't say where the requirements are but following this page are
3 pages of diagrams of decks, and in one, it says
One handrail is required for 4 or more risers.
Two handrails with guardrails are required for floor surfaces more
than 30" above grade. Etc.
On the web it says: The Baltimore County Code says that it adopts the
ICC International Building Code, 2006 Edition.
Searching for "rail", I found this. I was about to ask you what it
means but I found something in the sketches that explains it.
R312.2.1 LADDER EFFECT PROHIBITED: REQUIRED GUARDS SHALL NOT BE
CONSTRUCTED WITH HORIZONTAL RAILS OR OTHER ORNAMENTAL PATTERN THAT
RESULTS IN A LADDER EFFECT. FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS SECTION THE
RADIATING DIAGONAL GUARD DESIGN KNOWN AS CHIPPENDALE DOES NOT
CONSTITUTE A LADDER EFFECT.
The text is confusing to me, but I found comments in the sketches of
decks that said "Railing shall not be constructed in horizontal
position that results in ladder effect." near a pictures of railings
with vertical rails. Shorter and much clearer IMO. Finally it's clear
that they consider the ladder effect unsafe. Kids will climb on it or
catch their heads in it and hang themselves, off the ground, unlike a
fence, where they can slide down to the ground.
That's exactly what I and everyone in the n'hood had, horizontal
rails, but all the new ones afaicr have vertical posts, like an open
picket fence. A lot more trouble to make. I hope they leave me alone
on the since it's 2 inches below 30.
Key in my area would be to look for the riser depth. If it says 'no more
than 6 inches' and you cant do 28 inches with that, then you have to put up
a hand rail. The final 'step up' to the porch part counts as a riser (grin)
in my area. I do not know if that is true in yours. You are not the same
(Grin, not required here for top and bottom steps).
as repair jobs on private homes to existing structures).
This might be a time to call the county code office and just ask. They do
in fact answer questions easily. Just tell them you are planning out a
repair to an old porch and how high it is and ask if a railing is required
or just recommended. Be sure to mention you are NOT building a new one but
repairing an existing one.
The inspector has no choice if it is a genuine repair job (replacing some
boards etc). If however you are ripping it all out and starting over, it is
NOT a repair job so has to be code-spec to current.
Keep in mind the code books will tell you only *new* requirements. It is
not likely they will tell you what was allowed and if you fall in it. It
occurs to me i've lost track of just how much repair work you need.
This may be allowable as a grandfathered option on a repair job.
Dunno. I do know he has to honor 'grandfathered' code on a repair job but
have forgotten (sorry) the scope of your 'repair'.
There are volumes of this stuff. You found the one for porches and probably
new construction code.
Deleted a few bits as didnt know much on them.
Here's some experience that may help. It is not about a deck or rails but
code specs and grandfathering.
- Bad renter situation caused massive damage (25,000$ structural).
1) To resurrect the back 4th bedroom (such as we thought of it) a general
contractor was called. 45,000$ as least possible cost. He was looking only
at bedroom code specs and said it may well run an extra 80,000$ to have the
back of the house re-roofed as the room might not be ceiling tall enough to
pass inspection after he raised the floor (it's 1.5 inches below the rest of
the house). He even said he had to remove the door we had as it was an
exterior one now in an interior location (leads from 3rd bedroom to this 4th
room). Interior type door on the outside leading to screened porch had to
be changed to exterior door type.
- Damage was 2 of walls were kicked out and open to the elements and left
that way apparently 4 years.
- Instead we got drunk and took a cab to BJ's for a food load and saw a
sunroom estimate for free. We contacted them. One look and they understood
we have a code spec grandfathered 'enclosed porch' and for 10,000$ they
replaced the 2 bad walls. Code spec required they add the current footer
requirements (basically a trench with more cement about 18 inches deep and
something like 16 wide all around those walls). Code spec grandfathered the
existing roof and floor level being 1.5 inches lower than the connecting
room. Code spec said the exterior door to sun room from 3rd bedroom allowed
and a grey area where may be *required* in our case. Interior type door
leading to enclosed porch, legal. (we shifted it anyways to a steel
- This is a case where code spec was mostly grandfathered but some new
aspects were required (2 'new' walls had to be footed)
2) My water heater is propped up on freestanding bricks, no mortor etc. It
still functions and at the time of this house being built, it was an
allowable option and not even required to stand it up a bit so you could
have a leak pan.
- As it is an older one, we checked and we will be required to have a footer
of (I think) 8 inches poured before an installer can legally put a new one
in. If I remember right, has to be 24x24 inches and was either 6 or 8 inches
- This is a case where we cant just 'repair existing' without going code
3) HVAC, this still works fine. I can tell the exterior part has at best 5
years left as it's nearing 20 years old now. Same for the inside part.
- Grandfathered is the exit vent to the roof that almost wraps around a
kitchen door however if we replace the interior part (sorry, dont know the
words right) that has to be changed. Attic ducting will be ok (had that
replaced 8 years ago) but the lead from the heat/AC part has to move from
the door to the kitchen so it's farther back. Also unit has to be 3 inches
farther from the house wall than it is.
- Exterior part has to be moved 2 inches further from the house and
potentially the side of the house has to have that extra 'footer' (18 deep
and 16 wide roughly) done. At minimum, the slab it is on has to be replaced
likely as they seem to require a deeper pour and a higher rise than it's 3-4
inches above ground.
- As this would be a replacement, not a filter change etc repair, full code
Take away for you on this, is there is a differnce in a 'repair' and a
replacement. I've tried to give examples (took a good while to type this!)
to show how it works. I think the end bit for you is it depends on how much
would you need to do. Sorry if i read and delete so dont have the
references you may have defined this in already and I've forgotten. Please
And just about impossible sometiems, I realize, if one wants to use
Some calculator online assumed 7" risers, which made my 28 inches very
simple, but when I was at HDepot, the risers were 6 1/2 inches. Four
times that is 26 and that would leave me needing two more inches to
make 28. What am I supposed to do?
(I don't have the original stringers anymore. I wish I could measure
them and see what they did.. But they were rotting and I threw them
I'm still cogitating on the rest. Thanks a lot.
Exactly. Making risers though is pretty easy. In your case, with only a 28
inch need, you may find one of the methods I'll add in here, suitable. (see
Not uncommon when starting a project, to find out 'oops' should have
measured that first... BTDT
1) Easy but be careful. Raise the ground 2 inches, maybe 3, with a load of
dirt. Be careful to backfill properly under the porch so it drains out away
from the house. Done right, you can use the pre-made 26 inch risers you
saw. Done wrong, you will trap standing water under the porch up against
the house (bad juju). This may be a larger project than you want though.
2) Build your own risers using 7.5-8 inches per step.
- One I liked (had to repair it but it was over 20 years old before it
needed that) was made of railroad ties. I want to say 3 'steps of 6 inches
each' Solid so the last step was 3 railroad ties stacked (actually 6 so
they had a 12 inch deep 'step'.). To do this one costs a bit (the ties are
pricy) but it's fairly easy to do. About a 4 hour project with the right
tools. Get metal poles (of the sort that wont rust) and predrill all the
ties. Measuring carefully, pound these into the group starting at the back
and then just drop the ties over them. In your case, because you need 28
inches, you'd have to raise the substrate with 4 inches of gravel. Top most
tie, you only partly drill (I seem to recall we did 2 inches). Make sure
you use a level when pounding the ties in. Work your way outwards.
Pounding the last metal stake takes the longest part of the job. (do it
right after a nice soaking rain). An alternative to this is stack them
neatly then use an out frame, such as some sort of brass grill work and nail
the ties to it to keep them in place. Also, check and see if they have 8
inch ties in your area.
- Cheaper but still railroad ties. Run them instead longwise, using same
pole structure but now you start at the bottom then next layer is cut
shorter and dropped down, and so on. If you do want rails at all, it's easy
to pound the poles right to make the angle then pre-drill a partial hole
through a 'railing' and drop it on.
3) Make a true stringer. Using a heavy duty PT board, at least 2 inches
thick and you'd get a better lifecycle (and easier job) if at least 14 wide,
measure and cut notches out so you can lay steps on them. Then at top and
bottom, you angle cut so it will lay flat to the ground (on some sort of
block, not right on the dirt).
LOL! My drawing skills arent quite up to it but that's your riser, angled
and the --- is your porch top. Kinda looks more like a low toilet in my
picture. Hopefully you can follow though.
No problem! I seem to recall you've helped me out with a project or so that
you knew better. Folks here do all sorts of diffferent things so we help
I'll leave the rest below so you can cogitate on it. Oh, and how much
repair did you need to do? As you can see below, I lost the earlier thread
so wasnt sure.
Check the code to be sure. I think it is 24" or 30" before a rail is
needed. In any case, put a rail for the steps. You'll wish you did the first
day you hit a slippery step and break your leg or worse when you fall. Or
the UPS driver falls and sues you. It does not have to be fancy, just be
able to steady you on the step. A piece of bent pipe will do.
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