While the home inspectors of Building Pros thoroughly inspect all areas of your home, this blog post is dedicated to the potential hazards that can result from unsafe stairs. Every year individuals have preventable falls on their stairs due to outdated, damaged, or structurally inadequate stairways. Are you wondering how inspectors can help keep your home safe, one step at a time? Here are some of the elements of stairways that are often evaluated within your inspection. Some of the most common safety concerns for stairs include:
- Handrails are loose, incomplete, missing, splintery, or has insufficient finger clearance for proper grasp
- Treads are cracked, uneven, worn, loose, or poorly supported
- Risers are of uneven height increasing the risk for tripping
- Lighting is poor, shadows are numerous, or the area leading to the stairwell is dark
- Exterior steps are not properly sloped to prevent water settlement and icing
- Stair carpeting slides or is not properly affixed to the stairs
- Pickets are spaced more than 4 inches apart, or missing allowing a child to fall through the opening
- Stairs are too steep and uncomfortable to ergonomic standards
- Nosing is missing, broken, worn, patched, loose, slippery, or installed improperly
- Head clearance is insufficient with the potential for taller individuals to risk injury
Rise and Run
The rise of each stair, in laymen’s terms the height of each step, should consistently be 8 inches. Often located at the top or bottom of the stairs, depending on how they were finished, inconsistencies in height become apparent as the builder attempted to close a 1 to 2-inch gap difference. While you might think this is aesthetically unnoticeable, this slight variation in rise can cause tripping. A trained building inspector will walk the steps to feel for inconsistencies and if one is apparent will pull out the measuring tape to ensure your safety. If you are obtaining a building inspection for renovations, we recommend always hiring a trained contractor with experience in stairs to limit the chances of discrepancies.
Landings and Railings
All stairways should have a proper landing located at the top and bottom. This space is important for home safety, especially if a doorway is located within a landing. Older properties typically turn at one side, leaving 1 to 3 inches along the corners which is no longer permitted in new builds due to the potential for slipping. Again referencing older properties, many stairwells are not equipped with adequate railings, or are void of railings completely. Proper railing height in relation to the rise should be 36 inches. If your stairwell is open on one side, pickets every 4 inches should be inserted to prevent the chance of falling into the opening. While this fact may seem obvious for stairways from the main entrance to the top level of the home, it is a common occurrence in basements to be void of pickets completely.
Structure and Maintenance
While they may seem obvious, stairs should be secure and offer no movement. If stairs are located outside, the posts should be placed in proper footings and the stringers adequately secured for safety. Wood stairs should not be placed within contact of cement. Between the two construction elements moisture can seep into the wood and cause premature rot and damage the structural integrity. In the event of exterior wooden stairs, the wood should be treated, painted, or stained to improve longevity. For residents in the Okanagan Valley facing a four season year, the Building Pros recommend placing non-stick adhesive treads to prevent slipping due to snow, rain, or dew gathering on the steps.
The main reason we dedicated an entire blog post to stairs in the hope we can avoid one preventable fall. Falls on stairs depending on the age and condition of the individual can be a threat to health, independence, and confidence. The physical damage can be serious including soft tissue and structural damage. In a commercial setting, the National Safety Council and the Bureau of Labour Statistics of the US has documented falls as the number two cause of fatalities in the workplace and falls have consistently been in the first or second spot for workplace deaths for the last forty years!