DIY Loft Guardrail
By Larry Walton
Building a Loft Guardrail
If you want to know if there’s a loft in a building (be it a barn, house or condo), just follow a kid. Kids just love loft areas, which is all the more reason to make them safe.
Lofts can be very cool design features that add interest to interiors and take advantage of otherwise wasted space. A loft is often created where you have a structure within a structure, the most common being a large open room with a vaulted ceiling adjacent to an interior space that has a lower flat ceiling, which creates the floor for the loft.
Any time you have elevated floor space to an open area below, you need to have either a half-wall or a guardrail for fall protection.
A project we worked on recently made clever use of extra space in a deep garage by carving out a room. This included a loft space where the floor of the loft was built partially over the room’s closet and partly into the garage area, allowing the front end of a car to fit underneath the loft floor.
As is often the case with a loft, the guardrail presents a challenge where the rail height is interrupted by the rake of the ceiling coming down to meet it. You may also run into the challenge, as we did, of finding a way to anchor the rail into a ceiling where there are no rafters lining up with the rail.
We’ll cover the most important components of building a guardrail (anchoring the newel post, setting the rail height, anchoring the rail, and setting baluster spacing). In addition, I want you to see how we added backing behind the drywall and how we continued the rail down the rake of the ceiling so the balusters could be securely anchored to the top and bottom.
Shaping the Newel Post
After you have determined the location of your newel post, you need to think about the best way to get it firmly anchored into the framing of your particular project. Very often in a loft situation, the newel post will be anchored on top of, or very near to, the rim joist that supports the open front of the loft area. It was the rim joist that was the target framing member to which we wanted to anchor our newel post.
Usually you will have a little leeway in setting the newel post. Check the floor fasteners to tell which direction the floor joists run, whether the floor joists of the loft area run perpendicular to a rim joist on the front, or if the rim joist at the opening of the loft area is the last in a series of parallel floor joists. In any case, try to set your newel post in such a way that it is next to, but not directly on top of, a floor joist that runs perpendicular to the rim joist. In other words, you are looking for some open space underneath the floor boards where there is no framing member. However, you want to set the newel post at a distance away from the outside of the opening so there is enough newel post penetrating down through the floor boards that can be anchored into the rim joist.
We usually try to set the newel post as close as we can to the open front of the loft. Keep in mind the thickness of the drywall that covers up the side of the rim joist. You can cut some of the newel post away so part of it penetrates down through the floor.
We also cut a shoulder all the way around the newel post, which gave the bottom of the newel post a tenon that went into the opening in the floor.