Handrails & Balustrades (Exterior)
For all buildings, handrails and balustrades are required to comply with the Building Code of Australia (BCA). The BCA is primarily concerned with the safety of building users and occupants. Design and construction must therefore take into consideration both the strength and the durability of materials and components as well as the "geometric" constraints prescribed by the BCA to prevent people from accidentally falling through, under or over the balustrade.

For a full precis of the BCA requirements including design and construction and load details the Australian Timber Importers Federation (ATIF) have published a Timber Information Bulletin (Timber Information Bulletin 2 - Handrails and Balustrades). The bulletin also contains a list of handrail sizes and spans, tables on the capacity of handrail connections and loads as well as details on connectors for balusters and infill.

ImageIn weather exposed applications or, where subjected to other sources of moisture, handrails, posts, newels, balusters, and infill, the timbers chosen should have a Natural Durability rating of 1 or 2 outside above ground (See: Natural Durability Ratings). Species such as Tallowwood, Blackbutt, Spotted Gum, Ironbark, Jarrah, Merbau or Kwila with any sapwood present limited to grade requirements or treated to H3 are appropriate. Alternatively, preservative treated softwoods that have been treated to H3 or higher may be used. (See: Treated Timber)  

To minimise weathering or the timber surface, a protective coating or finish should be applied to the timber. (See: Coatings & Finishes)

The timber should be free from any major strength reducing features, be straight grained and be in accordance with the relevant Australian Standards outlined in the bulletin.

For weather exposed applications all metal connectors including nails, screws, bolts and brackets should be a minimum of hot dipped galvanised or for screws, Class 3 corrosion resistance (as per AS3566). For coastal environments subjected to airborne salts deposition, stainless steel or equivalent corrosion resistance metal connections should be used.

In many parts of Australia, the construction of new buildings and additions to existing buildings will be assessed as being in a Bushfire Prone Area. The relevant Australian Standard - AS 3959 - provides for a range of Bushfire Attack Levels for proposed construction. Each Level is based on the assessed threat and as the assessed threat increases, so do the restrictions on the building materials that may be used. Where there are restrictions on the building materials, timber is permitted in the lower levels provided the timber species meets certain criteria. (See: Construction in Bushfire Prone Areas)

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Chemical Authority (APVMA) requires that after 7th June 2006, timber may not be treated with CCA preservative if it is to be used for certain uses and the timber industry has imposed voluntary restrictions on the sale of timber treated with CCA for certain uses including handrails. (See: CCA Treated Timber)

Timber Information Bulletin 2 - Handrails and Balustrades
(PDF, 0.8 MB)
Australian Timber Importers Federation