Editor’s note: This is Part 3 of a three-part series.
A San Mateo, Calif., reader’s husband has a neurological disorder that affects his balance and ability to walk. He’s reluctant to make safety improvements to their home because he doesn’t want to pay to have them done. His wife is concerned that he’ll injure himself.
In the previous two columns, we suggested a number of do-it-yourself improvements to make the home safer. These included adding grab bars in the bathroom and installing a taller commode. Today, the subject is handrails.
We encourage our reader’s husband, who she says is a handy guy, to tackle the project.
Handrails are mighty important for those of us with impaired balance. They’re particularly important on stairs. One handrail on stairs has been a code requirement for years, but for people who are physically challenged, one on each side of the staircase is a must.
Our reader has a split-level house, so her husband must navigate a set of stairs to get to their bedroom. One handrail exists. We think he should install another. Here’s how:
First, measure the length of the existing handrail and go to the lumber store. Buy its mate and matching mounting brackets. Don’t be thrifty with the brackets. Make sure they’re beefy enough to hold up to the tugging they’re going to get.
Plan on placing a mounting bracket about 1 foot from either end of the handrail and about every 4 feet along the run of the stairs. Likely as not, to match the existing handrail, hubby will have to get out his miter saw to cut a nice return for the handrail to meet the wall.
A tip: After making the 45-degree cut on each end of the handrail, swap the cutoff pieces. You’ll have perfect returns after cutting the square ends to length.
Exact placement of the mounting brackets will depend on the stud layout. Each mounting bracket will have three holes with screws. It is essential to screw the brackets into solid wood, either a wall stud or floor joist. The last thing you want is to pull the handrail from the wall by yanking on it when ascending.
The brackets are secured to the handrail by a clip and two screws.
With a level, draw a plumb line from the top of the treads at the top and bottom of the staircase. Building code requires that the handrail measure from 32 to 34 inches from the stair tread to the top of the handrail.
The height of the new handrail should mirror that of the existing one. Snap a chalk line to mark the location of the new handrail on the wall. If the old handrail doesn’t meet code requirements, reposition it so it does.
Paint or stain the new handrail before installing it. Locate the wall studs, either by tapping the wall (you’re listening for a solid sound) or by using a stud finder. With help from a partner, hold the new handrail against the wall with the top of the rail on the chalk line.
At the top of the stair, hold one of the mounting brackets on the underside of the handrail and mark the bottom of the bracket. Screw the bracket into the stud. Repeat the process at the bottom of the stair. Mount the handrail using the clips.
Next, snap another chalk line using the bottom edge of each bracket. This line will tell you where to place the bottom edge of the remaining brackets. Screw the remaining brackets into wall studs at 4-foot intervals, screw the brackets to the handrails, and you’re done.
Another tip: Use baby powder in the chalk box instead of carpenter’s chalk. Both give a good line, but baby powder cleans easily with water; chalk does not.