As a child, I would climb anything. I can remember my first year of school, a couple of my classmates and I would see if we could completely travel all the way around the bathroom without touching the floor by climbing the stalls and sinks.

In railing, the term “ladder effect” refers to a child hazard that pertains to any type of guardrail or stair guardrail using horizontal members, such as an additional 3rd rail or pickets.

Over the years there has been confusion on whether the use of horizontals is allowed.

This was because of the 2000 edition of International Residential Code (IRC) stating, “guardrails shall not be constructed with horizontal members or other ornamental patterns that results in a ladder effect.”

However, the International Building Code (IBC) made no reference or restrictions.


In 2001, the terminology was removed from the IRC and neither code refers or restricts guardrail horizontal members.

The ladder effect became the discussion of multiple hearings and debates among the members of the International Code Council (ICC).

Then a study was produced in 2007 regarding children’s ability and eagerness to climb, which was produced by the National Ornamental & Miscellaneous Metals Association (NOMMA). The study suggested that children will be children, and there is no completely “safe” environment. Accepting that children are little spider monkeys like I was, the industry hasn’t made any changes since.

So yes, you can have horizontal members per the ICC/IBC/IRC. Keep in mind that you will still need to consult your applicable governmental codes.


There is the only place where a ladder affect can’t happen. Any Railing or Fence at a pool location must be 48”, and no foothold (Ladder Rung) can be produced. It requires at least 45” between the bottom rail and the 2nd Horizontal.

Spider Monkeys can drown. LOL!


Horizontal Rail will always cause some debate. It will be to the owner’s discretion to weigh the liability that comes with a horizontal rail system, and if the look is worth the risk.

At Tek-Rail we do not sell any system that could be construed by little Johnny fireman as a ladder near elevated balconies or pools. Because of children like me, we consider it a Ladder of Liability.

If you have any questions about Guardrail and pertaining codes, please feel free to visit us at or call your Tek-Expert today at 678-854-0510.