Let’s talk stairs.
Stairs present a falling hazard.
The vast majority of stairway falls result from a loss of balance. A very common contributing factor is neglecting to use handrails.
As reported in a recent Reuters article, “Stairs are a common source of injury among all ages, and the frequency and rate of stair-related injuries are increasing,” said senior author Dr. Gary Smith of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
About half of homes in the United States contain stairs, according to the Census Bureau, and the direct and indirect costs of non-fatal stair injuries total about $92 billion annually, the study team notes.
“This underscores the need for increased prevention efforts, particularly those related to stair design and construction,” Smith told Reuters Health by email.
Because stairway accidents can cause severe injury and even death, building codes for stairs and ramps are justifiably rigorous. Good design can substantially reduce the potential for falls or slips by providing users with the means to retrieve their balance, but even the best design cannot eliminate falling hazards entirely. The fact is that some incidents can be caused by unsafe behavior, inattention, and inappropriate footwear.
The best approach to minimize the hazard of falling down stairs is to encourage the building of well-designed stairways, combined with training focused on raising our awareness of the potential for disaster.
Stairway inspection is part of a home inspection.
The purpose of a home inspection is to find out if there are severe structural or mechanical defects and/or safety hazards, including at the stairwell. As a home buyer, it is important to remember that no home is absolutely perfect. Even an inspection on a newly constructed home will likely include some noted defects on the inspection report. Most of your inspection will be related to maintenance details and minor imperfections with the property. However, an inspection can help bring attention to possible areas that a buyer might want to (or should) address with the seller before you buy the home.
The home inspection issues that really matter fall into 4 main categories:
- Major defects (i.e. a structural failure)
- Things that LEAD to major defects (i.e. a small roof flashing leak)
- Things that may hinder your ability to finance, occupy, or insure
- Safety hazards (i.e. lack of handrail on stairs)
So what are the general stair requirements & guidelines that an inspector will be looking for?
When inspecting stairs, a home inspector is primarily conducting a safety inspection, looking for defects that may cause a person going up or down the stairs to trip and fall. Below is a list of some of the most common stair safety requirements. (NOTE: This is not meant to serve as a comprehensive listing of all codes and/or requirements.)
6 Requirements & Guidelines for Stairs:
- Handrail height at stairs is required to be between 34”-38” high. Handrails (continuous) are required on at least one side of flights of stairs with ≥ 4 risers.
- Tread depth on stairs must be a minimum of 10”, not including the nosing. Treads should not slope more than 2%. (NOTE: If no nosing & solid risers, tread minimum is 11”.)
- Spacing between balusters (or “spindles”) should not be more than 4 3/8”. A 4 3/8” sphere should not be able to penetrate the spacing.
- If balusters (spindles) are secured to a bottom railing instead of directly to the stair tread, a 6” sphere should not be able to penetrate the triangle created by the bottom rail, tread, and riser.
- The riser on stairs cannot be more than 7 3/4” high and should not vary more than 3/8” in size throughout the run of the stairs.
- Risers on stairs can be open. However, open riser treads must prevent the passage of a 4” sphere. If the riser is more than 4” high, the riser opening must be blocked.
There are also more detailed requirements for nosings & risers, winding stairs, handrails, landings, and stairway illumination that are not listed here.
What can you expect on your inspection report?
Buying a home is one of the most significant investments a person can make in his or her lifetime. A wise buyer is an informed buyer, and a home inspection delivers just that – current information about the property you are interested in purchasing.
Texas-certified home inspector, Micah Stephens, explains, “As your inspector, my focus is to provide a thorough inspection of the home and a detailed report to you within 24 hours. All major structural components and systems will be examined to determine unknown deficiencies and also assess known defects that have been disclosed.” Micah continues, “I then compile my findings into an inspection report. My reports comment on preventative maintenance and present information concerning necessary repairs, current and future maintenance, and safety concerns, including potential safety hazards related to stairs.”
Watch your step.
As outlined above, stairways can pose a serious safety hazard for a home and its residents. However, these potential risks can be minimized by adequate and proper construction, maintenance, and safe practices. The fact remains that using care and paying attention can help prevent accidents on any set of stairs, whether they are up to current code or not.
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Micah Stephens is a certified, professional home inspector who works with home buyers, sellers, and their agents to provide valuable information about a property’s condition at the time of the inspection. Micah knows that buying a home is one of the most significant investments a person can make in his or her lifetime, and he aims to deliver a comprehensive report to his clients so they can make an informed decision.
Micah is certified by the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) and the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI). He is a member in good standing of InterNACHI, the Texas Professional Real Estate Inspectors Association (TPREIA), and is an associate member of the Houston Association of Realtors® (HAR).
Micah successfully completed the Texas Professional Course for Home Inspection (450 hours of combined classroom and field training) and earned his certification from American Home Inspectors Training in association with The University of Texas Arlington. Micah has 20 years of combined experience in technical inspection services, including maritime inspections, general safety inspections, and real estate inspections. He is also a proud veteran of the United States Coast Guard.