Before the 1980s most stairways had a handrail and to this day, most stair handrails are not considered guard rails. Well things have changed and now most stairways require a guard rail and it gripable handrail. What’s the biggest difference between a step handrailing and a step guard rail, quite candidly about six inches. Your stair guard rails have an absolute minimum obligation of 42 inches where stair handrails built before the 1980s had a handrailing for protection with the minimal duty of 36 inches. This does not necessarily mean that older stair handrails that are 36 inches in height will need to be removed and replaced, because the new building codes have changed. If one was to reconstruct the step handrail or do any work on the staircase that required a building permit, they could have you change your stair handrailing to meet current building codes. I was helping another person frame a new house in 2005 and while I was on the job I might mention to the owner, certain concerns of mine with other parts of the job. After a while he realized, that I knew what I can was talking about and started to pay attention when ever I mentioned anything related to home building.
He asked me whether I might have an interest in building the stair handrailing system and at the time I was too tied up. I reminded him of the minimum requirements for the step guard rail, it was no longer known as a stair handrail and would be required to be at least 42 inches tall and include a gripable handrail. Well as you got it, next time I walked into the home, I noticed a 36 inch high step handrail. I reminded him and he wasn't too concerned, because he employed somebody that knew all about building step handrails. The building inspector made him remove and replace the stair handrail, before he would approve the home for last inspection.
Don't make the same mistakes, learn a little more about step handrail safety and do not become another statistic in the home building industry. Always make a check with your local building office, whether you are reading articles like this or posing questions to experienced contractors. Everyone messes up and infrequently their information is out of date, according to new home building practices or building codes.