Document K of the building regulations outlines that handrails should not “become excessively cold or hot to touch” (Ref 1.36 e, pg. 15). This is reinforced by section 5.10.5 of BS 8300 which opens this requirement up further. The concept is that handrails provide support on stairs or ramps and may help the user as they ascend or descend. However, if the environment is subject to extreme temperatures and the handrail conducts this temperature, then this may cause reluctance to use the handrail and therefore cause a safety risk.
What considerations must be made when specifying a ‘warm-to-touch’ handrail?
Typically PVC or timber handrails are specified due to their very low thermal conductivity properties. However, the thermal conductivity properties must be weighed up against durability and whether the material is actually suitable for the environment. It is also important to remember that a handrail will only become ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ if it is in an environment that is subject to large temperature variations, for example indoor locations are less likely to require ‘warm-to-touch’ considerations.
The below table shows the thermal conductivity of different materials. These thermal conductivity readings have been taken at between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius:
The statistics clearly show that PVC and Timber handrails have the lowest thermal conductivity readings. However, in a lot of high-use external environments where ‘warm-to-touch’ applies, a more durable metal handrail would be required. Stainless steel has one of the lowest thermal conductivity readings of any metal and meets the durability demands of these locations. The BS 8300 document actually makes reference to stainless steel as being an adequate option to fulfil requirements of ‘warm-to-touch’.
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