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Handrail and Balustrades: Regulations in New Zealand

7 August 2023

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's safety features. Today, we’ll cover the differences between a handrail and a balustrade, along with the important regulations you need to follow when installing them.


A balustrade is a row of small columns topped by a rail that lines staircases and balconies. Its primary function is to provide safety by preventing falls. When it comes to regulations, two crucial factors need attention: height requirements and gap specifications.

The minimum height of a balustrade can vary depending on the location of installation. If there's a possibility of a fall from a height of 1 metre or more, a balustrade is mandatory. Check the table below, sourced from the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment, 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. When creating a balustrade for a home the gaps between the balusters must be such that a 100mm diameter sphere cannot pass through. Additionally, the triangular opening formed by the riser, tread, and bottom rail of the stair barrier should not allow a 150mm diameter sphere to pass through. In easier terms, the head of a small child cannot fit through the spacings.

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.


Handrails complement balustrades, providing stability and support while ascending or descending stairways. One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is, do we need handrails on both sides of the stairs? The simple answer: you don’t 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.

Regulations don’t dictate a specific side for handrail placement, we recommend placing it on the outside of the staircase, especially if you have winder stairs with wider outside treads. Additionally, ensure the handrail's width is graspable by an average adult, allowing them to comfortably close their fingers around it 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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