Most people don’t think twice before climbing up or down a set of stairs, but the truth is a lot of thought and careful consideration needs to go into how a set is designed in order to ensure they are safe. Stairs that are too steep or don’t give you enough space to place your feet (a surface known as “tread”) could potentially lead to slips or trips and falls, which often mean injury. The risk is even greater for outdoor stairs where water from rain could make stairs slippery and even more risky. On this blog, we’ll go over what need to be taken into consideration in order for a set of stairs to be safe so you can make good decisions when remodeling or resurfacing your stairs.
Anatomy of a Set of Stairs
A simple set of stairs isn’t too complicated. Think of stairs as the hypotenuse of a right triangle, with the horizontal length of the set of stairs being one side and how far up they climb being the other. Of course there are rounded or spiral stairs, but many of the principles are essentially the same.
Each step over the distance between the top and the bottom has two dimensions: rise (how far up each step climbs) and run (how far forward each step carries you). These measurements on each step are extremely important because going too large or too small on either one of them could lead to serious issues, both with construction and with injury risk.
If the rise between steps is too steep, climbing the stairs will not only be extra tiring, but the risk for serious injury also increases in the event of a trip and fall. Not to mention, those who already have trouble climbing an average set of stairs may not even be able to successfully get up a set of stairs with too steep of a rise. However, too small of a rise and you’ll have to stretch the staircase out horizontally to have enough stairs to get to the correct height, which adds a ton to your construction costs and may not even be possible.
If the run between steps is too small, those climbing the stairs won’t have enough space to get a proper foothold, and that means a significantly greater risk of tripping or slipping and falling, especially when going down that set of stairs (though up is also certainly dangerous). Too wide of a run presents a similar problem to having too low of a rise: your stairs will have to increase in number, which means the staircase will increase in horizontal length to the point where it’s more expensive and may not even be possible to construct given your location.
Building a Safe Set of Stairs
So you need to build a set of stairs, and you want to make sure it’s done properly. What should you do? The first step is to learn more about local building codes to learn what the minimums and maximums are for stair rise and run in order for your building to adhere to safety requirements. In California, the rise between stairs cannot be less than four inches and cannot be more than seven and a half inches. The run of each stair cannot be less than ten inches. As a result, California prefers that all staircases have an incline that measures between 30 and 37 degrees.
In addition, consistency between rises and is extremely important, as one step being significantly different from another is a huge trip-hazard for those going either up or down a set of stairs. California code says that the greatest rise cannot exceed the lowest rise and the largest run cannot exceed the shortest run by more than 3/8 of an inch.
The handrail that lines each set of stairs needs to be durable and capable of supporting a good amount of weight without buckling. The rail must be between 34 and 38 inches above the stair surface, measured from the furthest-forward point of each run, including any nosings. It’s strongly advised each rail have a minimum of four to six inches
Finally, there’s another parameter you need to consider, particularly on outdoor stairs: step surface. The surface of each step on a set of stairs should be constructed of a material that encourages grip, and when outdoors that means something that also needs to be durable and minimizes the impact that water can have on the surface. Many contractors will mix fine sand with the paint they coat the tops of these steps with and then use a durable sealant over this surface in order to prevent it from smoothing out or losing grip for as long as possible. Some people will even take things a step further and place a piece of high-visibility grip tape to make edges clearly visible.
Waterproofing a set of outdoor stairs also goes a long way to preserving them and preventing them from losing their structural integrity. Waterproofed stairs will last longer and be less prone to damage from the sun, rain, dew, and other elemental factors that are traditionally hard on anything left outside for long periods of time.If you need your set of stairs waterproofed, call Capital Deck & Stair Waterproofing today at (310) 912-7737 to request a service estimate!