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How to: light with an illuminated handrail

July 2019, by Esther Newton, Garda Business Unit Manager

If you’re looking to add prestige to an entrance, give pedestrians safe passage across a bridge, or to create a feature staircase, an illuminated handrail is the perfect solution. This 'how-to' guide takes you through the right questions to ask before starting a project.

1. How much light do you need?

The first thing to consider is, what is the lighting task? and what is the light level required to meet it?

First and foremost, a handrail provides functional lighting, achieving light levels in excess of 150lux and 40% uniformity! And there’s even an emergency option.

2. Continuous light or not?

Next, decide how you want the scheme to look from a lighting perspective. Do you want a continuous line of light?  If so, maximise module sizes and fill the spaces between the stanchions and brackets, dimming down to the required level (if over lit). 

Our Garda Comfort module is a perfect solution for continuous light, as it can be cut to any length. Alternatively, you can design using the least number of modules to achieve the lighting design. Garda and Garda Pro modules were designed to achieve performance illumination and can be spaced several meters apart whilst still achieving high uniformity (40% plus).

3. ‘Effect’ or performance?

What are your lighting objectives? Is performance or effect (we call it comfort lighting) your priority? Our Garda Comfort module is an ideal solution for schemes where maximising the visual appearance of the module itself is of interest, it focuses on a tight pitch between LED’s, making sure that they are not visible. 

Alternatively, if performance is your main driver then opt for a precision optic such as the Garda Pro. 

Colour temperature is also a big consideration. Do you want to blend with surrounding colour temperatures or highlight?  Garda modules are available in 2700K, 3000K and 4000K colour temperatures as standard. Garda Comfort is also available in RGB.

Remember selecting an illuminated handrail in a lower colour temperature (3000K or under) will be more sympathetic to flora and fauna and wildlife habitats.

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4. Architectural design

Now, to decide on the architectural aspect of the scheme, including finish and design.

A stainless steel profile offers a high-end seamless finish with no visible welds or joins. Whereas, an aluminium profile allows you to create bespoke finishes to complement nearby architecture – be it heritage or modern. You can even choose a paint finish that replicates brass or Corten.


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In terms of the stanchion and/or bracket design, there are various options - cylindrical, square, flat plated or bespoke to meet the requirements of the wider scheme. Or why not attach to structural glass for wow factor. For the lighting design, remember the modules will need to be placed in-between stanchions/brackets.

5. Small but important details

Brackets and stanchions hold your scheme together, they are the backbone of your illuminated handrail design. The size and spacings will be load dependent. Therefore, you need to ascertain the load requirement of the scheme, allowing your manufacturer to advise based on your design choices.

6. Power supply 

Identify the location for the power supply. These are usually located within a feeder pillar, underground enclosure or, for internal applications, a specific room. 

The location will determine the cable entry points, allowing for cable entry brackets/stanchions to neatly take the cable to the first module. The following modules, depending on the size of the scheme, can be daisy-chained within the handrail.

7. Minimise glare

Finally, wherever your illuminated handrail is installed, glare is an important factor and should be avoided at all costs. We use various methods to stop light spill into areas adjacent to the lighting scheme. Ensuring that all light is focused towards the task areas, without having to incline the light source, will further reduce the possibilities of creating glare. Garda modules are optimised to be used with 0-degree tilt providing a genuine asymmetric light output.

Here are our location specific pointers: 


Wide staircases with centre handrails should utilise a symmetric distribution to provide an even spread of lighting up the centre of a walkway. For very wide staircases, consider positioning supplementary asymmetric modules to the sides, to increase coverage further.

On narrow flights, a single sided asymmetric module will be sufficient to achieve levels in excess of 100lux at ground level.

For landings, using a curved handrail where needed will ensure that there are no dark patches or unlit areas, which can lead to reduced uniformity levels and patchy looking lighting.

Will the handrail be wall mounted or, separate to the wall and stanchion mounted?

Depending on the size of the staircase you may need power supplies at different levels so think about the housing of the power supplies. 

Staircases, particularly internal, present a potential hazard area in an emergency, therefore, emergency lighting is highly recommended for these areas. Consider DALI to interface with BMS.

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Ramps & walkways

Generally lighting levels, as laid out in the British Standards BS8300 2009, the Equality Act 2010 (design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people), can be met with a single sided handrail on areas of up to two metres wide utilising Garda Pro.

Asymmetric distribution modules should be spaced suitably apart to ensure good ground uniformity between modules. If a walkway is next to a river or area of environmental sensitivity, an asymmetric distribution will ensure light is only placed where it is required, limiting back spill.

Again, an emergency version would be very applicable to these schemes. 

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Open footbridges

Footbridges with open side railings should be lit in such a way that modules are facing away from users below the level of the bridge. This avoids any unnecessary glare. There is also the safety aspect to consider - would an anti-climb profile be more suitable than a traditional handrail on your footbridge? It offers the same lighting options as a normal handrail profile.

A further challenge with footbridges is getting cable from one side of the bridge to the other, for other services - the added benefit of the anti-climb profile is that you can customise the depth of the profile enabling you to use it as a cable carrying solution.

When thinking electrically about a bridge, especially if it is long, how many power supply entry points will you need? You could have an entry at either end or at all 4 corners. Alternatively, you can run an additional cable within the handrail feeding the next run.

Anti-climb handrail lighting on public footbridge over road at night time

Minimising glare is an important factor to consider when lighting open staircases, ramps and walkways

Supporting your Garda illuminated handrail project

Our dedicated project team will work closely with you to take care of every aspect of a Garda scheme.

From initial concepts through to precise installation we can provide a comprehensive service including:

  • Full site survey
  • Lighting and structural design
  • General arrangement drawings
  • Bespoke manufacture
  • Installation by our specialist stainless steel contractors
  • Full project management, support and guidance throughout your project

Specifying an illuminated handrail isn't easy. The bespoke nature opens many possibilities, it can be hard to know where to start and important features can be overlooked. To help, our dedicated Garda team offer further training on specifying and using our Garda illuminated handrail. 

To arrange training or to see samples of all Garda modules, then please  contact us

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