Code vs Common Spacing – Achieving Visually Harmonious Architectural Balusters

Chances are, at some point you have glanced at a house or building with architectural balusters or other elements and thought to yourself, “Something just doesn’t look right”. Oftentimes that “something” has to do with incorrect baluster spacing or misaligned features that throw off the visual continuity of the structure. Achieving visual balance and proportion are key when installing architectural elements such as balustrade systems, columns and decorative capitals. To ensure that architectural elements will properly enhance the design of a commercial or residential project, an architect, builder or project owner may desire the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable Architectural Products Specialist who can provide expertise and accurate installation information that results in correct elevation balance that is pleasing to the eye.

The Basic Balustrade System Components

The architecturally correct term for any railing system is balustrade — or balustrade system. A balustrade system is a row of short pillars or spindles, called balusters, with a top railing and typically, but not always, a bottom railing. A balustrade system can also include a newel post and is used to edge porches, patios, veranda, porticos, decks and other exterior facades.

Balusters are the upright support of a balustrade system. They can be square, round or circular or an ornamental bar and can be wide or narrow in dimension. The widest part of the baluster is called the belly, and the narrowest part is called the sleeve.

The newel post of a balustrade system refers to the end element of a run. Newel posts are used when a railing changes direction at either a 90 degree or 45 degree angle, at a transition point to a stair or at the end of a run and, sometimes within a run.

What is 4″ Code Spacing and When Do I have to Use It?

In order to address liability issues specifically related to children putting their heads between balusters in railing systems, the spacing requirements for commercial projects and many residential installations now require that balusters have no more than a 4″ space between balusters at the widest gap between balusters not at the baluster base. Most, if not all, commercial baluster spacing codes are based on the 4″ spacing, and many residential codes have followed suit. Yet the most important factor of correctly spacing balusters for your project is — check your local building codes! Building codes differ greatly across the nation, within a state and even within towns and neighborhoods. We have found that codes can be very specific within historic districts and certain types of commercial and residential developments. So before you begin speaking with manufacturers, check the code!

What is Common Spacing

Common spacing is whatever the designer, builder or project owner deems it or what the manufacturer recommends as having the best visual appearance, and does not necessarily comply with local building codes. It is anything other than code spacing. An experienced Architectural Products Specialist will be able to guide you on various spacing options for their products, but don’t forget to check local building requirements.

Visual Harmony: Why Does it Matter?

Balustrade systems, and architectural columns and decorative capitals on exteriors can act as dramatic visual elements of a structure. Following some simple guidelines will help to ensure that the visual impact of these elements is pleasing to the eye. Balusters that are not proportional to the overall scope of the building or balusters that are not spaced in relation to columns and other architectural elements can contribute to the feeling that “something’s not quite right”, also referred to as visual discord. Similarly, when choosing a column, pay special attention to its proportions in relation to the overall building design and elevations. It is essential to maintain visual harmony in both commercial and residential structures since you want people to be drawn to a site.


The ultimate goal of all of these tips is to help guide you in the process of providing a residential or commercial project owner with a structure that is both architecturally and aesthetically pleasing. Since proportion, spacing and style of various architectural elements can be quite overwhelming, it is beneficial to select an Architectural Product Specialist as your “in-house” residential expert. Find someone who is experienced with architectural products and uses their knowledge to add value to your exterior. The chosen specialist will be able to back up their experience with literature that explains proportions and how to accurately space and plan installations that are visually pleasing and architecturally correct.