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Handrail and Balustrade Regulations in New Zealand

21 April 2021

As manufacturers of quality stairs, we know there are many terms that can confuse and even create uncertainty when it comes to your home or building. So, are you aware of the difference between a handrail and a balustrade? And do you know the regulations you need to follow when having them installed?

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves let us start with the basics. A balustrade can be found lining many staircases and balconies. It is the row of small columns topped by a rail. A handrail on the other hand, is a rail designed to be grasped by the hand to provide stability or support. They are commonly used while ascending or descending stairways to prevent falls.


When looking at the regulation requirements, there are a few important factors that need to be highlighted. One of these is the height requirements for the balustrade which can vary depending on the location of installation. In short, if there is an opening where people could fall 1 metre or more then you will require a balustrade. We have put together the below table with information from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment with the minimum height requirements for quick reference.

Building Type Location Barrier Height (mm)
  • Detached dwellings and within household units of multi-unit dwellings
  • Stairs and ramps and their intermediate landings
  • 900
  • Balconies and decks, and edges of internal floors or mezzanine floors
  • 1000
  • All other buildings and common areas of multi-unit dwellings
  • Stairs or ramps
  • 900
  • Barriers within 530mm of the front or fixed seating
  • 800
  • All other locations
  • 1100

To view the regulations in full please click here.

Of course, it is not all about the height, but also about the gaps created by the balusters that form the balustrade. In these instances, if you are creating a balustrade for a home then the gap should be of a size where a 100mm diameter sphere cannot pass through them. As well as ensuring that the triangular opening formed by the riser, tread, and bottom rail of the barrier on a stair shall be of a size that a 150mm diameter sphere cannot pass through it. Or in easier terms, the head of a small child cannot fit.

And what about the balusters themselves? Do they always have to be vertical? Well, you can utilise horizontal balusters in construction areas or places that are not readily accessible or frequented by children 6 years of age or younger.  But homes are regarded as being places frequented by children, so, if you want to have horizontal balusters in your home you will need to ensure that your staircase is at an angle steeper than 35 degrees.  You will not be able to have horizontal balusters on a landing as this would be considered climbable.

While we only supply balustrades in conjunction with a staircase being supplied and installed by our company, we do have an extensive range of wooden designs to suit your project. To see what we have on offer, click here.


That means the handrails are the icing on the cake, so to speak. One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is, do we need to have handrails on both sides of the stairs? The simple answer… you do not require them to be on both sides in your home, but if you are installing them for an accessible building, i.e., a shopping mall ramp, then yes, they need to be on both sides.

If a handrail does not need to be on both of sides of the staircase, then which side should you be placing it? Under the regulations, there is no right or wrong side, however from our experience we recommend placing the handrail on the outside of your staircase. This is especially significant if you have winder stairs with wider outside tread.

Lastly, regulations state that a handrail should be of a width that is graspable. This means that the average adult should be able to comfortably place their hand on the rail and close their fingers around to steady themselves.

Our range of handrails are available for new building projects and can be viewed here.

If you’d like to discuss your new building project or obtain a quote, then please give us a call on 0800 896 500.

Please note that our products are primarily aimed at new residential and commercial building projects and as such, we are unable to assist with handrail or balustrade installations to existing homes unless you are also replacing your staircase.

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