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Steep Stairs in Older Homes

Questions, answers and advice for people who own or work on houses built during the 20th century.

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Steep Stairs in Older Homes

Postby falcon_flight » Mon Jan 25, 2010 6:40 pm

There is older home that I'm looking at that was built 1932 with pretty steep stairs. I would like to rebuild the stairs so that they are safer and closer if not up to code. The problem is that you would really have to duck in order to get the right pitch.

Is there a trick to rebuilding stairs, like removing a joist/beam or having the stairs turn 90° after a few steps to get around this?

I've read a few forums that say it can be a major expense. How major? over $5k?
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Re: Steep Stairs in Older Homes

Postby frameteam2003 » Tue Jan 26, 2010 12:03 am

Problem with staries is they take about 2 or 3 feet of floor for every foot of rise.So going up a standard 8 foot celing takes 16 feet(6" rise) + two more feet for the joist.And old houses have high celings.Landing mean your stairs will be twice(or more) wide.

Just takes room(& money),How much you got?
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Re: Steep Stairs in Older Homes

Postby 1922Colonial » Tue Jan 26, 2010 4:48 am

I have steep stairs in my house also. It's not so much that mine are steep, as in a tall rise, but the tread is too shallow. Which makes for what feels like a steep and dangerous climb. I have often wondered if the treads could be replaced with deeper treads and leave the rise as is?? Maybe someone here might know the answer to that.
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Re: Steep Stairs in Older Homes

Postby Mury » Tue Jan 26, 2010 11:21 am

1922Colonial wrote:I have steep stairs in my house also. It's not so much that mine are steep, as in a tall rise, but the tread is too shallow. Which makes for what feels like a steep and dangerous climb. I have often wondered if the treads could be replaced with deeper treads and leave the rise as is?? Maybe someone here might know the answer to that.

That would help going up, but not going down as your heel would still not reach the back of the tread because of the overhang of the tread above.
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Re: Steep Stairs in Older Homes

Postby lavender_bush » Thu Jan 28, 2010 3:27 am

falcon_flight wrote:There is older home that I'm looking at that was built 1932 with pretty steep stairs. I would like to rebuild the stairs so that they are safer and closer if not up to code. The problem is that you would really have to duck in order to get the right pitch.

Is there a trick to rebuilding stairs, like removing a joist/beam or having the stairs turn 90° after a few steps to get around this?

I've read a few forums that say it can be a major expense. How major? over $5k?


Before you begin this you might want to take a want to check out local codes, if you re-build stairs you will probably have conform to new codes in which case chances are that your footprint will be bigger - especially since you know already that you have pitch issues. This will probably encroach into the space in the rooms/corridors because the stairs will need to be wider. You don't say if they are narrow stairs?

These are our construction stairs - they will eventually be finished but for now we have enough projects.

This is the view in the basement to the ground floor - as you can see there used to be plumbing above - that had to be removed due to headroom issues (and our basement is nearly 10ft tall), this was the only wall that we could put stairs on - once we put a deck on the back we will probably enclosed the window that they obscure.
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As you can see we do have two steps and then a landing, we have stairs directly above that lead to the second floor and this is where we had pitch issues which impacted both sets - well either that or have them looking seriously 'off'. Both of these pictures show the LVL's that we had to have installed for structural integrity. They are an expense :(

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This is the view of the top of the second set of stairs as you can see to the right the roofline slopes and we had to have a certain amount of landing with sufficient headroom, we didn't quite make it but the Town cut us a break. Phew!

When you look carefully at the room you can see where the fir flooring ends - there used to be a wall there and that space had a staircase (opposite direction to ours) and a corridor - No way would that be up to code but if the PO had just left it alone we would have been 'grandfathered' and the town would have had no interest in our second set of stairs or the headroom :evil:

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Having said that - this is the best use of space, we needed stairs from the basement because going outside to access the main house was getting old and we figured that a second set of stairs to the bedroom floor would improve the Purple House's flow. 8)

We did have some other work done at the same time so I don't know how much the stair part was - sorry, but I think that just for the construction stairs and the LVL's it was close to 10K - 3 guys took over a week. Obviously if you do it yourself you'll save $$$.
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Re: Steep Stairs in Older Homes

Postby oldhouseluvr » Thu Jan 28, 2010 8:35 pm

At some in our home's past, the stair treads were replaced with deeper treads. The structure of the staircase appears to be unchanged and the risers look like they land in the same place.

Here are a couple of pictures I took. You can see the gap where a shallower but thicker tread was. It looks like the new treads extend beyond the riser. If your tread is shallow and squared off with the riser, you may be able to do the same with your steps.
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Re: Steep Stairs in Older Homes

Postby Don M » Fri Jan 29, 2010 1:59 pm

Be very careful rebuilding stairs. If they are off by even 1/2 an inch you will create a trip hazard. I didn't believe this but friends have basement stairs that have first floor hardwood extending over the top step of the basement stairs and everyone trips over that step going up :shock: ! Don
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Re: Steep Stairs in Older Homes

Postby James » Sun Jan 31, 2010 5:27 pm

If you start to rebuild those stairs, unless I am very much wrong, you WILL HAVE to meet code. If you leave them alone you won't because they are grandfathered in. Is a second staircase an option? In an addition maybe, if you have any plans for one? Old stairs can be scary, luckily mine are not to bad in that respect. Tho very inconvenient for furniture since they are 30 inchs wide with a 90 degree turn, and a beam that even I can hit my head on, and I'm five foot six. The top run of those was rebuilt by the PO, but in the same foot print. But if you start to change the foot print, then I don't think you can get closer to code, without having to meet code, tho check with you local inspector to be sure. Personally, I would learn to live with em. Definitely cheaper. Tho if you have addition plans including a second one would be an idea worth considering.
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Re: Steep Stairs in Older Homes

Postby Trevi » Thu Feb 25, 2010 11:54 am

we have two sets of stairs in our home and both are steep. I've seen steeper but they are definitely NOT up to code. A PO changed them in the 1930's but they are still steeper then today's standards. The back stairs are curved too which makes them like climbing a ladder! It's a historic site so we can't change them even if we wanted to but like lavender_bush said, if you rebuild them you'll have to comply with the modern codes. Trust me- complying with modern codes has delayed our move-in date from last June to (POSSIBLY) this weekend!
Here are the back steps(BEFORE we changed anything), in the middle of all the work
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and the finished steps (yes, that IS a bubbler and yes, it DOES work)
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I don't have pictures of the front steps yet but you get the idea. They don't look as steep in the pics but trust me- they are!
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Re: Steep Stairs in Older Homes

Postby Don M » Thu Feb 25, 2010 12:41 pm

Trevi,
What an improvement in the appearance of your back stairs. We too have two sets & our back stairs are similar to yours.
Our front stairs are also not as deep as stairs found in newer homes. Our old Corgi fell down them when we first moved in. I had them carpeted which gives the dogs some traction :wink: .Don
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