Handrail vs Guardrail

By Brian Ki, P.E. | February 26, 2021

When describing a railing system, words often get thrown around that are very generic and often confused with one another. Two we often hear about are guardrails vs handrails. What are the two and what is the difference?

The International Building Code (IBC) and the International Residential Code (IRC) have definitions for “guards” and “handrails”, described below:

“GUARDS: A building component or a system of building components located at or near the open sides of elevated walking surfaces that minimizes the possibility of a fall from the walking surface to a lower level.

HANDRAILS: A horizontal or sloping rail intended for grasping by the hand for guidance or support.”

In short, the term guard, is essentially, a fixture that blocks people from falling and often seen on elevated decks, scaffolding, or stairs. A handrail’s main purpose is to give you something to grasp, or hold. We often think of handrails when thinking about the elderly and giving them better balance. We often take for granted how often the average person actually use them.

Notice that the term “guardrail” is not actually defined and is merely a blend of the two. The two often get mixed because they are both often needed and installed over one another. Often the handrail is installed lower than the guard itself and people see the entire system as one component.

If you have any questions about guards or handrails, or in need of architectural design services, feel free to call our building experts at Team Engineering!

One thought on “Handrail vs Guardrail

  1. Amy Saunders

    Hi there! Oh wow, you just made me realize that handrails are indeed crucial to help people climbing up the stairs! I’ve been thinking of remodeling the entirety of my double-storey house later this year. I’ll certainly look further into this option so I’ll make the right installation later.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.