Being able to make it up and down the stairs is something we take for granted when we’re young. But as we get older, the ability to see, grip, and support oneself with a handrail becomes more important. A lot of people add handrails to stairs for code compliance reasons but it’s important to remember the real reason we install hand rails on stairs: for safety.
Whether you’re making a rental property safe, sprucing up a mother-in-law suite, or putting a handrail along a handicap ramp, keep in mind that not all safety handrails are created equal. A high-quality handrail can take much less time and effort to install and be easier to use, too. It’s all about the small things that make a big difference when it comes to keeping users safe and confident.
What Elderly Users Need in Safety Handrails for Outdoor Steps
When you’re installing a handrail for an elderly person, it’s not about aesthetics or code compliance. It’s about making life easier and more convenient for them. The problem is, a lot of times people install these rails without an elderly person’s comfort in mind. I liken this to baby-proofing your home. When you’re trying to do that, experts recommend getting on your knees so you can see everything from a baby’s point of view. When installing a handrail on stairs for an elderly person, you need to do something similar. You need to look at your staircase from the point of view of a person with limited mobility. Specifically, you need to think about:
- Rail width: Most people don’t think twice about the width of the handrail when they go to add one to a railing. However, if you had hands that were weakened from arthritis, gripping a slippery rail or one that’s thin would be difficult. Use a thick rail made of a material that isn’t too shiny, like powder-coated aluminum or iron. This makes the railing easier to grip.
- Pitch: Very steep stair treads lead to very steep rails. Per the International Residential Code (IRC), your maximum rise should be about eight inches, and your tread should be at least ten. If you’re pushing the limits of the code, your railing is going to be pretty steep for older users. And if your stairs are too steep, just adding a strong railing isn’t going to help. In this case, you need to redo the stairs or set up a mobility lift chair. This isn’t an issue you can fix with a railing. Keeping this in mind also helps keep stair railings and stairs safe in winter, when most falls happen for older folks.
- Hardware stability: A young, healthy person will probably either not use the railing at all, or will only put their hand on it as a guide. But someone walking with a cane or with limited mobility is going to need to support their body weight on the rail. Use strong anchor-based railings to ensure that the railing doesn’t go wobbly because of this.
When you’re setting up a railing system for an elderly person, put yourself in their shoes. Think of what you would like if your mobility was limited. A good place to start is by looking at ADA compliant handrail systems. But finding a good handrail isn’t where it ends, because if users can’t see your handrail to use it, what did you install it for? That’s why we’re going to talk about lighting handrails as well.
Installing LED Lights to Maximize Safety
Young healthy people with perfect vision don’t often understand how frustrating it is to try and walk up or down a staircase you can’t see. If you’re not sure if you should install LED lighting for your stair railings, I recommend the ‘sunglasses at night’ experiment. Wait until it’s dark, put on a pair of sunglasses, and try to navigate those stairs. Most often, you’ll find it’s pretty difficult to find your way around them. If that’s the case, think about adding one or more of the following:
- Vertical lights: A vertical post light is installed directly on a railing post and uses a small light casing and simple installation. It aims the light right at the ground, where the elderly person will be looking as they put their foot down.
- Universal lights: Universal lights can be used in different locations and configurations. These are small rectangular boxes that work well installed underneath the top rail of a railing system. Install them every two feet along the rail to allow for maximum visibility.
- Surface lights: A surface light is sunk down flush with the surface of a stair tread or riser. It allows for easier navigation as it fully lights the stair surface, keeping elderly individuals from missing their footing.
Lighting is an often-overlooked feature in installing a railing for an elderly relative. Luckily, Fortress makes this easy by providing LED lights that can easily be installed onto one of their railing systems. Their aluminum railing can be the best option for creating the support you need to support those you love.
Handrails aren’t just about code compliance or avoiding lawsuits. They’re there for a reason, and that’s to keep people safe. That’s why you want to look for a high-quality, trusted manufacturer for handrails. Fortress offers handrail systems in square and round styles that are good-looking and will stay that way, because they’re super durable and protected with special coatings. These handrails also use special brackets and adjusters so they can be installed easily at any angle. And if you’re looking for residential or commercial railings to go with your handrails, The Fortress Company sells steel railing with a long-lasting multilayer coating, so you can install a railing that will match your handrail and stay beautiful for years.