Buildings need staircases. But while the building itself can follow pre-set specifications and models, these stair cases often have to be unique. In planning and constructing a new residential or commercial space, they thus become a crucial consideration.
If no staircase is created equal, the same is true for stair railings. Planning the construction of a home requires a number of large-scale considerations, so it’s easy to de-prioritize railings in the course of your planning process. At the same time, especially in public buildings, doing so can have significant consequences.
To avoid these types of problems from occurring as you are planning and constructing a new space, here are 6 considerations for stair railing shop drawings to ensure maximum quality for the final product.
1) Choosing the Right Material
Without a doubt, the material will influence the type of stair case you’re about to build. The same, as you might imagine, is true for the railings as well. Through effective shop drawings, you can ensure that the railing will hold up to the needs of each material you’re considering.
Most commonly, stair railings use metal or wood at the core of their construction. Both, of course, come with their own necessary considerations.
- Wood railings add a classic touch to a winding staircase, but may need additional security for heavy duty applications.
- Steel railings tend to hold up even in heavy use cases and large stair wells, while adding a modern look to the space.
In addition, other (though less common) alternatives such as glass railings are possible. If you are considering more than one option for your stair cases, consider shop drawings for each alternative to better understand the various differences that this choice of material would entail, and how it influences the rest of the space.
2) Understanding Relevant Building Codes
Stair cases and their railings have to comply with the local building codes applicable to your construction project. Buildopedia has compiled a relatively comprehensive list of the codes you should be aware of in designing and building a stair rail or guard rail. The codes to take a closer look at include:
- The International Building Code (IBC)
- The American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
- ASTM International
- State and Local Building Codes for Your Area
Each of these codes will need to be followed for full compliance. They specify items like the necessary height and width of your stair railings. So naturally, your shop drawings absolutely need to account for them.
Following building codes is paramount to getting the necessary permits to proceed with construction. Often, permit-issuing offices will need to see drawings that ensure the right regulations are being implemented. Shop drawings can accomplish that exact goal, allowing for a smooth process of obtaining your process.
3) Compliance With ADA Standards
If the building you are planning has public access, complying with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act is not optional. If you don’t you violate a law that could result in complaints and even law suits.
And even for private buildings, compliance with ADA Standards can be a crucial benefit. You never know when your stair wells need to accommodate people with disabilities, and these standards can ensure that you are prepared for any eventuality.
The ADA has a number of regulations in place that apply specifically to stair railings A few of them include:
- Handrails need to be provided on both sides of stairs (section 505.2).
- Handrails need to be continuous for the full length of each stair flight. For switchback and dogleg stairs, railing has to be continuous in connecting multiple flights (section 505.3).
- The gripping surface of handrails needs to be between 34 inches and 38 in height above the walking surface and stair nosing. The height has to be consistent for the length of the stair case (section 505.4).
- Clearance between gripping surfaces and adjacent surfaces has to be at least 1 1/2 inches in width and height (section 505.5).
- The gripping surface of individual stair railings has to be continuous, and cannot be obstructed in any way. Even the bottom of the gripping surface should not be obstructed for more than 20 percent of its length (section 505.6).
This page lists a more complete overview of ADA requirements, along with a number of exceptions to these rules and guidelines.
In some of its regulations, the ADA will overlap with codes by the IBC and other institutions. Still, considering it separately allows you to ensure all regulations are followed properly. Naturally, your shop drawings should incorporate these standards.
4) Working With the Right Partner
The right shop drawing necessarily involves working with an external company that has experience in the area, and can help you accomplish a visualization of the stair railing that is both beneficial for your architectural vision and necessary to show compliance with all necessary codes and regulations.
In finding a partner for this type of project, be sure to ask specifically about experience and expertise in working with stair cases and railings. Plenty of CAD assistance exists online, but much of that expertise is not focused on specific areas of expertise like stair cases. At the same time, given the above regulations that are so crucial to follow in this area, finding that specialized expertise can make a significant difference in selecting the right shop drawing partner.
5) Visualizing the Stair Railing in Space
Ideally, a stair railing shop drawing accomplishes two core objectives:
- Comply with all necessary regulations and codes. As mentioned above, the drawing can become the core document with which you prove that everything is being built according to the necessary standards.
- Allow your architect and interior designer to visualize the stair case in space. This is an often underrated benefit of shop drawings. The technical specifications are undoubtedly important, but it also allows you to get a first visualization of what the finished project will actually look like.
That, in turn, allows you to project a greater vision of the space as a whole. Interior architects and designers will need to incorporate the stair case into their overall vision. A stair railing shop drawing can be their first glimpse at the area they can and will work with.
6) Moving Forward in the Construction Process
Naturally, your stair railings are only a small part of a bigger project. Even if the entirety of the project entails a stair case, you will likely spend more time on the stairs themselves than their railings.
At the same time, it’s a crucial part that helps you move forward in the construction process. No one likes waiting for a permit that is delayed because your railings may not follow code. Stair railing shop drawings, then, help you move forward in the construction process as long as they incorporate the above elements.
In planning your construction project and stair cases, these considerations should play a major part in making sure that the railings both satisfy your clients’ expectations and comply with both local codes and ADA standards. In other words, they help ensure a successful final product that can become part of the greater building.
If you’re engaged in the engineering and architectural process of a new space, sometimes visualization is all you need to move forward. Through quality stair railing shop drawings, you can use that visualization to make all major decisions necessary to build quality stair cases that add to, not take away from the space as a whole. It’s a simple, yet often overlooked part of the planning process.