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Designing a Safe Staircase

Posted by Amber Burkhart at

When designing your staircase it may be easy to get distracted by the aesthetics, but don’t forget to consider safety!

The tread is the flat part of the step that you walk on. Risers are the vertical boards at the back of the step that connects the treads to one another. In order to ensure staircases are universally safe and comfortable to walk on, treads and risers have a rise-to-run ratio. As you will have noticed from the staircases you've walked on, the rise and run can vary, but the total of the rise and run should always be the same at 17 inches. This means if your rise (the vertical distance between treads) gets steeper, your run (the space for you to walk on) gets shorter. Most importantly, when it comes to the rise-to-run ratio of your treads and risers, measurements must be consistent. Just a variance of an inch can cause a stumble, so maintaining the same measurements for your rise-to-run ratio is very important.

Another thing to consider when installing treads is the overhang. Modern staircase designs may omit this small detail for a sleeker, clean-lined look, but an overhang will keep heals from rubbing the risers on the way down and help to guide footing on the way up. Another popular trend in modern designs is to remove the risers entirely leaving a vacant space behind treads. To counterbalance this, a staircase without risers should have thicker treads to reduce space between treads. Although you can choose to have a large open space between treads, it is recommended for safety that you follow building codes.

Newel posts anchor the railing. A firmly anchored newel post is critical to making sure your railing is secure. If your newel post is wobbly, you can help secure it with angle brackets into the floor.

Balusters are the jewelry of a staircase, and although they play an important role in the aesthetic design of a staircase, they are also a vital part of making your staircase safe and secure. Not only do balusters help anchor your handrail, they fill the gap between the handrail and treads. Without balusters you greatly increase your risk of falling sideways off of your stairway.

Ceiling height often becomes an afterthought, but it is very important to consider and plan for properly when designing your staircase. In order to allow most people to comfortably and safely travel up and down your staircase, the distance from the top tread to the ceiling should be at least 80 inches.

When designing your staircase, you may not think about lighting, but good lighting is essential. A well-lit stairway can prevent a multitude of staircase related accidents.

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