Understanding Staircase Building Codes: Key Aspects That You Should Know
Stairs have been around for centuries, but the building codes that govern their construction have changed significantly over the years. Stair building codes are essential to ensure the safety of both the people occupying the building, and those who are actively building stairs. It’s important to understand the various building codes set forth by the International Building Code and by individual states in order to build a safe and legal staircase.
One of the most common stair building codes is the minimum headroom requirement. This code states that if the floor above a staircase is higher than 8 feet, the headroom must be no less than 6’8”. This minimum headroom not only allows individuals to pass more comfortably, but also allows for a shorter maximum riser height, which improves overall safety. The shortest rise a staircase may have, according to the International Building Code, is 4”. On a steep staircase it is ideal to keep the rise as close to 4” as possible, however steeper rise heights may be utilized if a wider tread is required for a safe walking path.
Another important code for stairs is the minimum tread width. This code is set to ensure the safety of stair users and create a comfortable walking path. According to the International Building Code, the minimum tread width is 10”. However, it’s important to take into account any obstruction or projections like a thick carpet, molding, or any protruding parts of the floor-above (such as hardwood flooring). Depending on the obstruction, the tread width may need to be increased to 12” or 14” if needed to safely walk up the stairs.
Finally, there’s the baluster spacing code. Balusters are placed on staircases typically between the tread and the handrail to offer support and stability in place of a wall. According to the code, baluster spacing must be 4” or less. The baluster can also extend up to 4” above the finished floor if no structural components are behind them. In addition, the code requires that any stairs wider than 44” must have a handrail on each side of the stair for extra support.
Stair building codes are there for a reason–to protect the safety of people in the home and building. Understanding these codes and practicing safe building techniques such as proper riser and tread dimensions and proper handrail placements can help ensure that a staircase is safe to use and meets building requirements. Working within the codes set forth by the International Building Code and individual states can help to protect both builders and occupants of the home.