Stair design requires attention to all of the usual rules of residential design. Stairs should be graceful, useful, and comfortable. In addition, stairs must also be safe. Clearly, safety is more important for stair design than for most design issues (for example, ceiling height or window orientation).
Once you understand the basic principles of stair design, you’ll probably notice that lots of stairs lack a graspable handrail, or have inconsistent riser heights, or are dimly lit. Examples of flawed stairs are unfortunately common.
Why should green builders care?
Is stair design a green issue? Perhaps. There are at least two ways that stair safety principles are in mild conflict with green construction principles:
I don’t want to belabor these two points, because the conflicts are obviously minor. Safety clearly trumps building size targets or energy use targets.
There are lots of good online documents on code requirements for stairs; for example:
Stair safety basics
I won’t try to recreate these guides here. Instead, I’ll focus on the most common stair safety issues.
Designers and builders need to get these important details right:
The 7-11 controversy
Jake Pauls, a safety consultant from Silver Springs, Maryland, has carved out a niche as one of the nation’s most vociferous advocates for stair safety. He has been waging a tireless campaign is favor of the 7-11 stair for more than 30 years. Pauls argues that 7-11 stairs result in lower injury rates than steeper stairs.
Pauls (and other 7-11 advocates) won an early victory in 1991, when BOCA, one of the model code organizations that pre-dated the establishment of the International Code Council, voted for a code change establishing a maximum stair riser height of 7 inches and a minimum stair tread width…