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Follow Safety Rules and Building Codes with Deck Stairs

A good portion of decks and patios require stairs. It is important to remember that the same rules that apply to stairs inside the home apply outside as well. Therefore, if your new deck is even a foot off the ground, you will probably need at least one stair. But all deck stairs are not that simple, especially for second story decks.

There are a slew of building codes governing deck stairs, which are usually made from wood (iron or steel stairs are possible but must be prefabricated and are much more expensive). These building codes are fairly universal because of the similarity of deck building materials in common use, but that is no excuse not to check with your local building department before construction.

A stairway is the sum of its parts. Those parts are posts, stringers, treads, risers, and railings. The posts hold up the stringers on which you’ll fasten the treads (horizontal) and risers (vertical) with the railings bringing in safety to the equation. Building codes will address everything from the thickness of treads to rail heights. Some common deck stair codes are as follows:

  • At least 35” between rails (width of walkable portion of stairway)
  • Stringers must be at least 1.5” thick with no more than four feet between them
  • Maximum stair rise of 8”
  • Minimum tread width of 9 1/4”
  • Rails must be 36” above landings/4” maximum space between spindles/balusters
  • No handrail required if stairs have less than three risers.

These are just the highlights. More specific information for deck stairs is available through your local building department or by speaking with an inspector.

Concrete patios often need stairs and railings as well. In this case the stairs are usually poured by the concrete contractor and are subject to the same codes as wood stairs.



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