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Community and Q&A

Stairs for Walk-Out Basement

thomaskansas | Posted in Plans Review on
Hello GBA,
I’m working on a plan with a walk-out basement and am unsure where best to locate the stairs. It seems to me there are usability, structural and mechanical considerations.
I think from a user’s perspective stairs are best placed near the circulation space as they can be thought of as a hallway to more living space. Near the entry also seems convenient. Where the stairs enter the living space in the basement also seems relevant. From a mover’s perspective I’d like to avoid turns in the staircase and at the top and bottom landings.
A steel girder and HVAC trunk line in the basement ceiling seem like obstacles to a staircase.
In “Building An Affordable House“, Fernando Pages Ruiz recommends a straight stairway and framing it parallel to floor framing and on module to avoid interrupting joist layout.
Where do you all prefer to locate stairs?
Thank you.

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  1. Expert Member


    I would never use the location of stairs as a driver for a floor plan, or fit them into a framing module. Plan your room layout taking into account all the relationships between the spaces you want, and between the various spaces and the site. The stair layout will come from that.

    There is a long learning curve designing houses. Your first design will not be as well thought out as subsequent ones. That's fine for architects who get to go though that process in school, but for owners who only get one shot at it I think they are better off finding an existing one that works, and modifying it to better suit their needs.

  2. thomaskansas | | #2

    Thanks Malcom.

    I designed and built a slab house this last year and can attest to the difficulty of design. I still think there are likely some principles around stair location and can't find as much information online about house design as other topics like building science, construction methods, etc.

    For anyone reading I do like the short videos posted by Slow Home on Youtube and have their book ordered.

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #3


      The footprint of my own house was constrained by setbacks to the lot line and a riparian zone, meaning it could only be 24'x28'. That rectangular shape meant that the upstairs circulation was best situated in the middle, serving rooms on both sides - and the stair that made that possible as U-shaped, something I generally avoid.

      My point is, much like the circulation within a floor space, the location and shape of the vertical circulation grows out of the plan. Where it goes is primarily architectural problem. It isn't something you can start with, or approach from a building science perspective, and it is too important to limit by trying to optimize things like mechanical or structural systems.

      1. thomaskansas | | #5

        That makes sense, thanks Malcom.

  3. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #4

    For the absolute lowest cost I would agree with Fernando's recommendation on placement, but it doesn't cost that much more to locate stairs where they make the most sense. I design homes and renovations and think of floor plans in terms of public vs. private spaces, among other things; I like to have the stairs to the second floor land in a private zone on the main level, not next to the entry door which is the most public part of the house. Others disagree with me and that's fine, and occasionally I put stairs next to the entry door when other aspects of the design are more important, but in general that's my approach.

    When stairs from the main level to a lower level are important, such as when there is living space in a walkout basement, I also think about where the best place is to arrive at the top and bottom of the stairs. In those cases I try to have the top of the basement stair land near the kitchen or a central hallway.

    I also agree with Fernando that a straight run of stairs is much easier to build than other shapes, but especially with the popularity of high ceilings, flights can get quite long, so I often include at least one landing. Landings use up floor area, though, so I try to avoid switchback or U-shaped stairs, but still do them when the situation calls for it.

    1. thomaskansas | | #6

      Thanks Michael, that's really helpful. Are there books/resources you like for home design?

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