Replacing handrails and balustrades on stairs in the home

More and more homeowners are carrying out adaptations to the stairs and landings in their home. Fashions have changed and the increased appeal of minimalist and contemporary materials for handrails and balustrades (stair or landing edge barrier) is growing.

For example. 

Handrail before and after -canva

However, it’s not uncommon to come across stairs that have been modified, where either the handrails or balustrades (or both) have been removed, leaving an open plan appearance to the room or staircase.

tv under stairs














This particular fashion has often been portrayed on mainstream TV home refurbishment programmes. It cannot be emphasised enough how dangerous an unprotected staircase or landing can be.

In 2020 RoSPA published its ‘Safer by design’ guide, to highlight the importance of home safety and to help reduce accidents in the home. The guide indicates that over 60% of all accidents are because of falls.

Falls on steps and stairs are a leading cause of accidental death in the home, with at least 700 people dying as a result of falling on domestic stairs every year. Falls between levels tend to affect young children the most. Each year, they account for more than 80 deaths and more than 54,000 visits to A&E, 4,000 of which are likely to result in hospital admissions.

What to consider when refurbishing handrails and balustrades in the home.

Ironically, even though many accidents and subsequent injuries (some of which can be life changing/threatening or fatal) can and do occur on stairs, work to alter or replace existing handrails in a home is generally uncontrolled under the building regulations and need not be notified to the local authority. 

However, a word of caution, work on handrails to steps or stairs that provide access to lower/upper parts of the split level ground (entrance level) floor of a house or flat, or to a staircase in any home that has been built to the requirements contained in Parts M4(2) (Accessible and adaptable dwellings) or M4(3) (Wheelchair user dwellings), will be classed as a material alteration affecting Part M (Access and use) of the building regulations. 

Regardless of whether the work is controlled or not under Building Regulations, the consequences of not providing safe handrails and balustrades can be potentially fatal and should not be undertaken lightly.

Whenever a handrail and/or balustrade is being refurbished or being replaced, the following matters should be carefully considered and are intended to be good practice.

handrail by height
circular handrail
trapped head in handrail

 - For a free path up to 1.5m – 6mm, Class 3* toughened glass may be used.

 - For a free path of over 1.5m 10mm, Class 1(C)1* or 1(B)1* toughened glass may be used.

wooden handrail

*Classified by BS EN 12600 - Glass in building – Pendulum test – Impact test method and classification for flat glass

Where there is any doubt over the design and installation requirements for handrails and balustrades the advice of a suitably qualified and experienced professional should always be obtained.