Bellingham, Wa. Home Inspector and the Stairway to Heaven

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Yes, I do look fondly back on the days of tripping out to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and Cream, but today I am referring to the stairs and stairwells of the homes we inspect. While, generally, inspectors do not cite code, it is important for homeowners to understand all possible safety concerns when it comes to stairs. Since 2009, modern safe building practices require a minimum ten inch tread run, and a maximum seven and three quarter inch riser height, with a variance of no greater than three eighths of an inch. Any greater variance results in a tripping hazard, as a persons’ stride naturally adjusts to a certain height. Having size fourteen shoes, I actually prefer a tread width of eleven or twelve inches, which is possible if there is enough room for the overall run of the stairs. In addition, modern building requirements call for a minimum of eighty inches of headroom clearance from the outside end of a tread to a ceiling, beam, or anything overhead. Which means if you’re tall and have big feet, it could get a little dicey navigating narrow stairs and low ceilings. Obviously, many older homes do not conform to modern codes, and are not required to, but it is beneficial to note to our clients that a trip down the stairs may involve a trip down the stairs and a large knot on the forehead. At the very least, we should recommend a large DUCK sign on low ceilings and a soft pillow at the bottom of the stairs. I have been in old homes with a tread width of barely seven inches on very steep stairs. It gives a whole new meaning to tip-toeing up and down the stairs. There are also minimum requirements for balusters or spindle spacing, banisters or railing, and handrail width. It is not unusual for inspectors to find handrails that are poorly connected on stairwells, breezeways, and decks. This is a major safety concern if these areas are several feet off the ground. Many jurisdictions require railings if the stairs or elevated surfaces rise more than thirty inches or four risers off the ground. Two more factors that are safety concerns are the positive connection that the stair stringers have at the top to a beam, joist, or LVL, and an outward swinging door that opens over the stairs. Most framers prefer pressure blocking at the stringer top connection for interior stairs, and pressure blocking or approved hangers on decks. In summation, there are many factors to consider when building and inspecting stairs and stairwells. No one wants their next trip down the stairs to be their Stairway to Heaven. Allmann Home Inspection Services in Bellingham and Blaine, Wa. 360-371-0260 or 360-739-7361.

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