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Inspecting Staircases

Stairs are in almost every house we inspect. Inspectors are aware of most of the issues with staircases; loose railings, to large a space between balusters, damage and rot. But building standards have changed. And what about spiral staircases – especially those “kits”. We will also outline how to inspect spiral staircases.  First a few changes. A flight of stairs should not have a vertical rise of more than 12 feet. Open risers are permitted, provided that the opening between treads does not permit the passage of a 4 inch sphere. A tread nosing is not required when the depth is 11 inches or more. Enclosed accessible spaces under stairs shall have walls, under stair surface and any soffits protected on the enclosed side with ½ gypsum board. All dimensions are exclusive of carpets, rugs, and runners. Hand railings must be installed on at least one side of the staircase with 4 or more risers, and the triangular openings formed by the riser, tread and bottom rail must not allow a 6 inch sphere to pass through

 Here is what a home inspector should look for in conventional and spiral staircases (they are different) :

What To Look For: Conventional Staircases

  • 36” landings at a minimum and at least the width of the door and stairs served
  • Stairways should be a minimum of 36 inches wide
  • Hand railings should not project more than 4.5 inches on either of the stairway
  • Maximum riser height shall not exceed 7 ¾ inches with differences not exceeding 3/8 inch
  • Minimum depth shall be 10 inches with differences not exceeding 3/8 inch
  • Tread nosing shall be not less than ¾ inch and not exceed 1 ¼ inch.
  • Minimum headroom at all parts of the staircase shall be at least 6 feet 8 inches
  • Winder treads should be at least 10 inches measured at a point 12 inches from the side where the treads are narrower. All winder treads should have a minimum tread depth of 6 inches from any point
  • Landings shall be installed in all areas where a door opens over the stairs
  • Handrails should be at least 34 inches high and not more than 38 inches and should travel directly above the top and bottom riser and should terminate on newel posts or safety terminals. Handrails may be interrupted by a newel post and connected to one over the lowest tread
  • The space between the handrail and the wall shall be at least 1 ½ inches
  • Lighting for an interior staircase shall be located in the vicinity each landing
  • Lighting for an exterior staircase shall be located in the vicinity of the top landing
  • Access to a basement from the outside grade level shall have lighting in the vicinity of the bottom landing

What To Look For: Spiral Staircases

  • The minimum stair width shall be 26 inches with each tread having a 7 ½ inches minimum tread depth at 12 inches from the narrow edge.
  • Treads and risers shall be uniform
  • The rise should be no larger than 9 ½ inches
  • A minimum headroom will be 6 feet 6 inches

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