Navigating Icy Hazards with Handrails
It is the time of year when (in the Northern climes) snow covers the ground and icy winds keep everyone inside. Anyone who has lived in a Northern state for any length of time knows that January usually brings some frigid temperatures and potentially dangerous conditions.
Handrails become even more important in these areas during the winter, and now is the perfect time to inspect your home and garage to keep yourself and your family members safe, even if you are only spending a few minutes outside each day.
Sidewalks, Walkways, and Patios
Driveways are some of the first things that people usually think about when it comes to keeping their homes safe during the winter. Property holders know that in order to get cars in and out of the garage, the driveway has to be kept clear, and many homeowners are kept busy shoveling or snow blowing all winter long. (FYI – the leaf blower is the trendiest new tool to use for snow. If the snowfall is light and fluffy, fire up that leaf blower to save yourself the effort of shoveling and the hassle of getting out the whole snowblower!)
But while people often ensure that the driveway remains clear and accessible to cars, sometimes we forget that sidewalks, walkways, and patios need attention as well, especially if they include stairs. Christopher Dodson of Rothman Orthopedics establishes that, “According to the CDC, approximately 1 million Americans are injured annually as the result of falling on ice and snow. Tragically, these injuries are fatal for about 17,000 people every year.” It is extremely important to think about how to keep sidewalks, walkways, and patios safe, especially when they are covered with snow and ice, and handrails offer one excellent way to do that. Read on for some more safety tips to help you keep your home safe this winter.
The first winter safety tip for sidewalks, walkways, and patios is to clear them as often or more often than you clear the driveway. Pay special attention to stairs or other areas that accumulate ice. The leaf blower might actually be the perfect device for clearing snow off those stairs or other hard-to-reach areas.
Another tip for keeping these areas safe is to use salt, sand, or ice melt (or a mixture of these elements) to help melt ice and provide traction for walkers once the sidewalk, stairway, or walkway has been cleared. Make sure, however, to not over-salt, and to not use salt as a one-and-done solution. According to EMC insurance, once the salt has melted the ice, a person should “push the slush layer off the pavement to help reduce concrete damage and refreeze.” This means that homeowners need to shovel both before and after laying salt or sand on the sidewalk or walkway.
One of the most important, but often overlooked, safety features to keep walkways, patios, and outdoor stairways safe in the winter is a handrail. While you probably are not looking to install a handrail that runs the length of the sidewalk, a shorter handrail placed next to a walkway or along an outdoor stairway can drastically reduce the risk of falls, especially in the wintertime.
According to a 2017 study about stair-related injuries, more than one million people are injured in stair related falls each year. The most common injuries include sprains, strains, and fractures, but falling down the stairs can also cause broken bones and even head or neck injuries.
In extreme cases, falling down stairs can even be fatal—the American Journal of Emergency Medicine reports that over 12,000 people die from stair-related falls in the United States each year. Injuries are likely to be even worse when falls happen outdoors on hard surfaces, such as concrete or ice. When navigating outdoor stairs that lead to patios, porches, or decks that are covered in snow or ice, a handrail can provide an extra element of safety and security.
Hold Tight Handrails
Hold Tight Handrails are an excellent option for short outdoor walkways and stairs, as they can be mounted straight to the wall or door jamb of your home. These 2 or 3-step stairways are often built without a handrail, as International Building Code of 2021 does not require handrails for stairways of less than four steps.
Adding a 2 or 3-step handrail to your front step or patio will help ensure that anyone navigating through snow and ice can grasp the railing when experiencing a loss of balance. Even if your home already has a railing, a Hold Tight Handrail can be mounted on the other side of the door for extra stability.
Hold Tight Handrails are also the perfect choice for cold weather, as they are made from powder-coated steel. Steel can withstand cold temperatures of up to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it a good choice for outdoor handrails in most places in the United States. Even in the northern states, most places will not see extended periods of cold that dip below -40 degrees Fahrenheit. The powder coating also ensures that rust is not an issue.
Garages are another place homeowners will want to check to ensure winter safety. The first portion of the garage a homeowner should examine is the garage floor. Garage floors are often made of polished concrete because of the extreme durability of concrete. A garage floor needs to be able to withstand the pressure and weight of heavy vehicles and hold up well to the elements. However, polished concrete (and textured concrete, for that matter) can become slippery when exposed to moisture from ice and snow.
One might think that because much of the garage is not exposed to ice and snow, the only slippery portions are likely to be where the snow blows in an open garage door or where water pools on the floor after snow has dripped off a vehicle that has been outside.
However, this is not always the case. While those areas are obviously wet, the rest of the floor (including a concrete stairway) is likely to collect condensation in the winter. According to EnviroVent, “Condensation occurs when warm air collides with cold surfaces.” While garages often stay warm enough for snow to melt inside (30-40 degrees Fahrenheit), especially if they are insulated, the floor remains cold, possibly even freezing (below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.) This means that a garage floor and steps are often likely to be coated in a thin layer of condensation or dew, making traction difficult, even for those wearing winter boots.
When concrete floors and stairs are slippery, falls are more likely to happen. According to Garage Living, “a third of all garage injuries are caused by slips and falls, and many of these accidents involve the stairs.” People are even more likely to slip on the stairs if there is no handrail present to help them catch their balance.
The absence of a handrail could be dire, depending on how one lands on the concrete stairs or floor. Diamond Injury Law explains that “Catastrophic injuries easily occur when you fall against concrete or other hard surfaces.” It is important to take garage safety seriously in order to avoid injuries to the back, head, or neck.
There are a couple of things a homeowner can do to reduce moisture on the floor of the garage. You can avoid bringing some moisture into the garage by parking snow-laden cars outside, but that method does not help those who want to avoid having to get out of their car in the snow or wind. Parking outside also exposes the cars to snow, requiring drivers to scrape ice off their windshields and putting more wear and tear on the vehicle.
If you plan to park your cars inside the garage (a good idea when the wind chill is below zero), one thing to do is invest in mats or rugs that can absorb some of the condensation or snow and provide better traction for boots. However, as rugs themselves can be tripping hazards, make sure to find ones that are both moisture-absorbing and have adhesive or non-skid backing to keep them in place.
Another thing that can be helpful is to invest in proper lighting. Garages can be dark places, especially in the winter, which means that one might not see the areas covered in condensation and likely to be slippery. Installing more or better lighting will help you and your family members spot those areas and avoid them more easily. Bonus points if your new lighting is on a motion sensor! Simply stepping out of the car will activate the lights, which means you will not have to wait until you reach the garage wall to flip the switch.
A further reminder about increasing garage safety in the wintertime is to make sure you and your family are all wearing proper footwear (read: snow boots) and that you are moving slowly enough to spot slick areas. No running in the garage!
The last and most important garage safety tip for winter is to make sure that your garage steps are accompanied by a handrail. Many homeowners don’t think they need a handrail in the garage, as there are often just one or two steps to navigate, and, as we noted earlier, the International Building Code of 2021 does not require handrails for stairways of less than four steps.
However, adding a handrail to your garage can decrease the likelihood of a fall occurring, even if you do slip on a slick stair. Drs. Komisar and Novak of the UBC Okanagan School of Engineering and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute contend that, “Handrails can significantly enhance balance recovery and help people avoid falls, provided that the handrail design allows users of any age to reach and grasp the rail after balance loss.” They argue that the biggest factor in whether a handrail will prevent a fall is the height at which it is mounted.
According to the International Code Council, handrails should be mounted 34 to 38 inches above the nosing of the stairs. However, in the study conducted by Drs. Komisar and Novak, they found that “when handrails were higher (up to forty-two inches), they assisted young and older adults in remaining upright without requiring large shoulder elevation angles to reach the higher rails. If the handrail is too low, a person may not be able to control their trunk to regain balance.” Installing a handrail slightly above the height required by the International Code Council and ADA can help make your home and garage safer.
Hold Tight Handrails
Hold Tight Handrails offer a unique design that allows users to install them at any height by adhering them to the wall or door jamb. This patent-pending design does not require special equipment or tools and does not require drilling into concrete.
Each Hold Tight Handrail is accompanied by five stainless steels screws that are three inches long. These screws are drilled into the wall or door jamb from two different angles to ensure the handrail is as secure as possible. See our Installation Guide for more information about how to install both our wall-mounted and jamb-mounted models.
These handrails can be installed in minutes at the exact height needed for your specific set of stairs, making your garage safer and more accessible the very day you receive your handrail.
Inspecting Handrails for Hazards
Already have a Hold Tight Handrail? Congratulations on taking the first step toward making your home safer and more accessible! Now, you will need to make sure to inspect it regularly to ensure that it provides you and your home with maximum safety, especially in the winter months.
First, make sure the handrail is clean. Even if you are using the Hold Tight Handrail outdoors, that does not mean that you should neglect cleaning it. To clean the steel handrail, simply use soap and water to make sure that no bacteria build up on its surface.
*Note: you should not have to worry about rust with a Hold Tight Handrail, as the powder coating reduces the likelihood of rust forming. However, scratches or scrapes might create instances where rust could form. If you notice any rust, scrape it off with a wire brush.
Then, look to make sure the handrail is stable, and all the screws are mounted tightly into the wall or door jamb. Our handrails are built to withstand up to 400 pounds of pressure, but a Hold Tight Handrail owner needs to make sure it is installed properly and that screws are tightened if needed. According to Clarksville Fencing, “One of the best safety precautions you can take this winter is to make sure your railings are secure on your stairs or ramp.” To ensure maximum safety, you should be unable to move the handrail, even when testing it with your entire body weight.
- Falls can result in serious injuries and even death. It is crucial to take garage safety seriously to avoid injuries to the back, head, or neck.
- More than one million people are injured in stair-related falls each year, and an equal number are injured falling on the ice.
- Ensure sidewalks, walkways, and patios are clear of snow and use salt or sand for traction.
- Installing a handrail on outdoor stairways, even those made up of just 2 or 3 steps, enhances safety during winter.
- Garage safety measures include reducing moisture, investing in moisture-absorbing rugs, proper lighting, and wearing snow boots.
- Installing a handrail in the garage, mounted at the proper height (42 inches or higher), reduces the risk of slipping and falling.
Find your handrail to keep your independence and stay safe navigating icy hazards around your home.
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Lewsley, J. (2023, December 7). Can you use a leaf blower for snow? Top Ten Reviews. https://www.toptenreviews.com/can-you-use-a-leaf-blower-for-snow#:~:text=It's%20perfectly%20possible%20to%20use,not%20suitable%20for%20heavy%20sn owfall
What causes condensation? (2024). EnviroVent. https://www.envirovent.com/help-and-advice/why ventilate/condensation-problems/what-causes-condensation#:~:text=Condensation%20occurs%20when%20warm%20air,droplets%20on%20th e%20cold%20surface