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Building Codes for Cable Railing

Designing the perfect balcony, deck, or staircase requires more than just paying attention to aesthetics. These structures should be as durable as they are eye-catching. When improving your home’s curb appeal, structures, guards, and cable railing need to be built up to code.

In this guide, you’ll learn about tensioning, spacing, and height requirements according to national building codes. Knowing these details will help you design better structural elements for your deck, stairs and balconies. They will help keep your family safe, especially when constructing elevated sections of your home.

What Is The Code for Cable Railing

You can find essential guidelines provided by the International Residential Code (IRC) and the local building codes for your city or state. These regulations ensure that cable railing structures are safe for a building or home’s occupants. You can ensure that your project meets building code requirements when using industry-grade cable railing kits and following the included instructions. In addition, contractors will also check for the details like the ones below to keep everything up to code standards:

1. Post Spacing

One of the cable railing code requirements involves correct spacing between posts. This regulation applies to all types of posts, including wood, aluminum and steel. Posts shouldn’t be placed further than four feet apart, allowing them to deflect up to 25 percent of applied pressure. In addition, this amount of space allows posts and cable stabilizers to remain properly tensioned.

2. Sphere Rule

This rule is an integral part of any building code for cable railing. It states that any space in between balustrades or cables should be able to prevent a four-inch sphere from going through. However, there is an exception to the four-inch sphere rule when it comes to cable railing placed along the stairs. The triangular gap created by the stair riser, tread and lowest cable shouldn’t allow a six inch sphere to pass through.

Cable railings don’t have the same amount of rigidity compared to balustrades. As a result, railings can open up when a sufficient amount of force is applied. Due to this effect, it is best to maintain a three-inch spacing between the cables so that a four-inch sphere won’t pass through the gaps, even if a reasonable amount of force is applied.

3. Guard Height

Guards are any wall or structure designed to keep people from falling off decks and other elevations. Railing systems are a type of guard, and are usually placed on balconies, decks and stairs. Cable railing code requirements usually set the minimum height of guards at 36 inches, the minimum height for residential units. This minimum is required for balconies 30 inches above grade and stairs with more than three risers. However, most commercial applications have a minimum height of 48 inches. Some cities and territories require taller guards, so it is best to check with local code officials to determine the required height for these structures.

4. Handrail Height

The IRC requires the placement of handrails in all stair railing systems. Handrails refer to that part of a railing system that people can grasp for guidance and support. These structures help people go up and down the stairs and keep them from falling. Building codes usually require handrails to be mounted 34 to 38 inches above the floor and connected to a structural part of a home or building, such as a nearby wall or directly to the railing system.

This setup secures the handrails so that people can safely use a staircase. It also prevents clothing, equipment and other materials from snagging. In addition, standard tube sizes for handrails range from 36 to 42 inches.

5. Tensioning

Any building code for cable railing will require proper tensioning to ensure the rails remain sturdy and safe. Having the recommended applied tension on the rails ensures the load-bearing capability of the cables. The amount of tension keeps the cables rigid even if an object or person runs into them.

Cable railing professionals and homeowners can apply tensioning techniques, such as:

When the cables are taut, they abide by the sphere rules mentioned earlier. It is best to use stainless steel cables in 1×19 or 7×7 configurations, to ensure proper tensioning and durability of the railing system.

It is expected that railing cables tend to lose tension over time. This loss of tension is unavoidable, so building regulations often require cable railing systems to incorporate an easy method to adjust the tension. These systems usually have hardware installed where the tension can be adjusted using a tool such as an Allen or crescent wrench.

6. Force and Load Requirements

Building codes will have various force and load requirements for each element of a cable railing system. For instance, guards and handrails should withstand 200 pounds of force from any direction. All intermediate structures between the rails should withstand at least 50 pounds of force.

Ensure Building Code Compliance With the Help of Cable and Railing Professionals

It is crucial to consult with professionals before starting any construction project involving cables and railing systems. Specialists from Stainless Cable & Railing can help ensure that your project abides by national building codes.

In addition, we have many years of experience creating railings that provide unobstructed views while boosting your property’s aesthetics. Contact us today, and our consultants will be happy to answer your questions. You can also request a free estimate by filling out this form.

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