Stairs are a necessary component in homes and businesses. Although functional, they can also be a design statement. The building of stairs, as well as most construction, has mandatory guidelines regarding how they are built, and they can often be confusing, misinterpreted, and complex, although as we will see below, extremely important. Their are international codes, national and state codes and and local codes that can sometimes seem contradictory. Their main purpose, even if often seems misdirected, is aimed at safety. Doing the research for this article, it was difficult to come up with the most current code, as they have changed. Residential is different than commercial. On top of that you have OSHA input. This post is being done at reader request. I am not going to deal with the technicalities of building stairs, but with the issue of how to make them safe, using good design and hopefully some common sense, so that a fall is less likely, while keeping in mind architectural and design decisions as well. Thankfully, this reader had a spouse who took a fall but was unhurt, and they are looking for some ideas for their front and back stairs. I had actually had this post on a list, but moved it up. If you are looking for some technical info, I will provide links, the most current I could find, at the end of the post. This post will offer some design solutions for your consideration. Below are examples for most decor preferences.
There are stairs that are modern, traditional, transitional, and more. No matter their design, here are some sobering statistics: among unintended injuries, stair falls are second only to automobile crashes. Children and seniors are at greatest risk, and the greatest risk is due to slipping. source. The National Safety Council reports 12,000 deaths a year from stair falls, with half of these deaths in the home. source. I myself had no idea it was that many. There is some thought it may be even higher because some of these stair accidents and deaths go unreported as such for many reasons. Although obstacles such as toys or items left about caused some, most were due to lack of handrails and incorrect riser or tread measurements, as well as variability of the bottom riser to the first step. Varability of even one quarter of an inch can cause an accident….yes, 1/4 inch. Also, unexpected location of stairs leads to many falls. For example, stairs of just one or two steps in a hallway or doorway can be especially hazardous. source. One of my concerns personally as a designer has been the one or two steps we often see from the garage to the house. So easy to trip on.
Visual and or tactile clues will help and that is what I have included below, as well as some considerations for design choices, including some that are common, but potentially serious safety hazards. Design considerations do inform safety. For example, besides riser height, the shape of the stair rail also does. Grip strength has been studied on varying shapes of rail both in children and adults. The distance of the rail from the wall as well. This is why the codes are so specific. source.
I certainly gave you a lot of illustrations, but in the hopes that if you are considering carpeting your stairs, you will find some information here to proceed with enough information that safety will inform your choices.
Thanks for stopping by. Laters, charisse
additional stir info: 2013 building code