Standard Stair Basics for Home Builders

Indoor wooden stairs
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Stair basics for the home owner consist of naming the parts of staircases, calculations for the construction of staircases, and measurements of each of these.

If the parts of the staircase are known and if each is calculated, measured and cut accurately, most home builders can construct a beautiful, efficient and inexpensive customized staircase.

Stair Nomenclature and Their Functions

staircase in new construction

The first part of a staircase is the part that is stepped on and is referred to as the tread of the staircase.

These come in standard 11½-wide pieces, but can be trimmed to a conservative 10 inches to save lumber costs.

Keep in mind the more generous the tread, the more comfortable the staircase.

The piece of wood that separates the steps, the part the toe touches while ascending is appropriately called the staircase riser.

To avoid accidents, each riser must be equally spaced providing a uniformity of 7-1/2 inches between each step.

The first riser rests on the sub-floor. Each subsequent riser will rest on the stringer, and the treads will butt against it.

A stair’s stringers are what hold the stairs and risers up. It is the notched structure onto which the treads rest and against which the risers are attached.

It also defines the leveled angles of both as they are attached to it. The stringers can be bought at a lumber yard, or can be made by a home builder or avid DIY enthusiast.

The key is to make careful, accurate and level measurements, use a sharp marking instrument and make the cuts with sharp tools.

Two pieces of two-by-10-inch lumber will normally suffice, but for stairs that are more than 30 inches wide, coding usually requires three pieces for the stringers.

A newel post, either plain or decorated with a knob on its top, will be placed at the foot of the staircase, to which a handrail and upright baluster posts are attached.

The newel post must be leveled on its side and front to allow for accurately attaching the handrail, which people will hold onto while ascending and descending the staircase.

The upright baluster posts can be plain or fancy, but must be evenly spaced along the stairs to provide for the safety of small children and aesthetic purposes.

Stair Calculations

spiral staircase

The key calculation in building standard stairs is what is called the rise and run measurement.

Considering all risers must be equal, it is necessary to equally divide the total height of the stairs to determine the riser height.

Consider also that most homes usually have approximately nine feet between floors. This usually translates to approximately 15 risers of 7-1/2 inches.

Obviously higher ceilings will require additional floor space, which will allow for more comfortable staircase construction.

Cautionary Note

measuring a stair

Be sure to firmly secure treads and risers to the stringers, thereby eliminating staircase squeaks.

This can be quickly and easily done by affixing construction adhesive between these pieces, and then securely driving screws to hold everything tightly in place.