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Master Brian
01-18-2009, 07:35 PM
I am trying to figure out what to do with a staircase that goes down to my basement. Part of the problem is that there is dirt in direct contact with wood and there has been past termite damage. The other part is at the top of the landing is an exterior door. This is a low point outside and I get water intrusion under the door. I have a termite solution and my thought for the water intrusion is to cap the landing, which is already concrete, with about 2-3" of concrete and then raise the door up the same amount. If I determine the pad on the landing isn't very thick, it will get torn out and totally repoured vs. capping it.

Currently none of the steps are equal heights or depths. The bottom two steps in the basement are cement, the rest are wood.

I am including a quick sketch, I hope it is clear enough, but to help....
The last step, in the basement, is sandwiched between cinder block walls. It stops 5" from the inside edge of the wall. The last 2-1/2" of that step has 74" of headroom, the rest of the tread has more than that. Like I said, there is a door at the end of the landing, so it is 23" from the stairs. There is also a door at the top of the stairs if that matters. The only headroom issues are the last 3 steps in the basement side.

My question is does anyone have a good solution to reworking these stairs? If my math is correct my treads going from landing to main floor will be 8.4" deep(+overhang) and the distance between treads will be 6.67". I think that seems fine and makes them actually less steep, which is good. I have little children.

Then the ones going from landing to the basement will be 8.2" deep and 8.67" between treads. That is a pretty steep step and a 2" height change per step from the other stairs. Doesn't sound safe. Could I add a step to the lower flight?

If I come out 5", to the inside edge of the block wall, that gives me approx. 73.82" of headroom on the last step, and steps with treads of 7.666" and heights of 7.428". Much better. Problem is that puts the edge of the 2nd to last step at 66.22" of headroom. IF I stay at the 41" space I have and add a 6th step, then I have a height of 7.428", but a tread depth of 6.833". Of course if I overhang each tread about 1-1/4", then I have 8"+ of tread width.

What would any of you recommend? Are my figures correct? I'm not overtly concerned with codes as this is an old house and I have to do what I have to do. It will not be inspected!

Also, how hard is it to pour concrete steps? That would drastically help keep the termites at bay. If I pour the steps would it be possible to cap those with oak treads? Thought on that is construction adhesive the heck out of the tread, then drill 3-4 holes and tapcon screw the oak tread to the concrete base. Thoughts??

Master Brian
01-18-2009, 07:43 PM
BTW...that 74" height on the last step is on the last 2-1/2" of the tread.

I can change the headroom on all but the very last step, unless someone has an idea of a way to change that. The sill plate and rim joist are what is in the way, but directly above this area is a built in pantry cabinet, so I am assuming there is a header of some sort above it, but I haven't torn into the wall to find out, but am not opposed to doing that as the kitchen is one of my next projects and this cabinet is going to be completely redone. My big fear on cutting this section out, is I am guessing it also helps somewhat hold the block wall in place.

Gary Swart
01-19-2009, 01:40 AM
This is a fairly major job and just like plumbing, there are many ways for a DIYer to screw up. In my opinion, you should hire a building contractor to do this job.

jar546
01-19-2009, 04:41 AM
Did you have the foundation/soil/slab and affected area treated for the termites?

Don't do anything until you do or has been treated within the past 5 years.

Thank you for being forward about no inspections. I will not offer any advice if it will not be inspected. Good luck.

jimbo
01-19-2009, 06:41 AM
Regardless of whether it will be inspected, there are very sound reasond for the codes covering stairs. Inconsistent rise and run on the steps is very dangerous, as is low overhead clearances. Why not get help from a good carpenter. They learn about building stairs in Carpenter 101, and could probably come up with a solution for you.

Master Brian
01-19-2009, 08:00 AM
There is no reason to have it inspected. Overall, it is a very simple job. Yes there are safety concerns and they will be addressed. I don't want to make it unsafe and all the steps will be the same. If someone doesn't want to offer advice, that is fine, let's not clutter the forums with those posts.

I've tried the contractor route and no one seemed interested in coming out to look.

The terminte thing is under control. Long explanation...

Scuba_Dave
01-19-2009, 09:03 AM
My wife hates our 2nd floor & basement stairs
Only 9.5" run & 8.25" rise
Compared to our deck stairs of ~7.75 rise & 12" run
Older house we are stuck with the stairs & headroom - 72" 2nd floor stairs - 63" to the basement
What I found for code, but it seems different areas have different code. Anyone care to confirm?
MAX rise 7 inches, Min tread width 10
Min head room clearance of 6 8 (80")


I'm a little puzzled by your diagram, do the blocks indicate the concrete steps you wish to pour?

Is the dirt contact at the side of the steps, or the top?
You said the bottom steps are concrete

If there is dirt on the side I would put concrete board on the side
Pouring concrete steps (except the bottom few) I think would be problematic. That's a lot of weight, you'd need rebar - I myself wouldn't do it
As far as Oak on top of concrete you need PT on concrete

Gary Swart
01-19-2009, 10:48 AM
Since you are not going to follow codes, it doesn't matter how you do it or what materials you use. Just use whatever construction methods seem easy and have at it.

Master Brian
01-19-2009, 12:07 PM
My wife hates our 2nd floor & basement stairs
Only 9.5" run & 8.25" rise
Compared to our deck stairs of ~7.75 rise & 12" run
Older house we are stuck with the stairs & headroom - 72" 2nd floor stairs - 63" to the basement
What I found for code, but it seems different areas have different code. Anyone care to confirm?
MAX rise 7 inches, Min tread width 10
Min head room clearance of 6 8 (80")

I just spoke to my contractor friend and though I don't remember the exact specs, he said 9" tread width and that risers couldn't be more than 8". Head room he said unfinished was 6'8". Again, I might have those off a bit, but very close. I didn't pay much attention or write them down, because it's impossible for me to get those sizes.


I'm a little puzzled by your diagram, do the blocks indicate the concrete steps you wish to pour?

Is the dirt contact at the side of the steps, or the top?
You said the bottom steps are concrete
The blocks represent the steps. The dirt contact is pretty much all around the steps for the lower level of steps and within the 5" point on the 1st step on the upper level.


If there is dirt on the side I would put concrete board on the side
Pouring concrete steps (except the bottom few) I think would be problematic. That's a lot of weight, you'd need rebar - I myself wouldn't do it
As far as Oak on top of concrete you need PT on concrete

Would the concrete board be a good enough barrier?

I doubt I pour concrete, it's just an option, I am weighing. Most likely I will build a cinder block retaining wall behind where the stairs are going and cap that with concrete. My neighbor is a brick mason and I can get his input on this. This wall wouldn't be structural in any sense, just a barrier to hold the dirt back and provided a termite/mouse barrier.

Per my friend, I will likely use treated lumber for the framework.

What is PT?

jar546
01-19-2009, 12:07 PM
If it is a very simple job then why are you here asking questions about what to do and how to do it?

How do we know this is not part of the egress from the house? There are very specific rules about stairs, stairwells, rise/run, tread depth and handrails all for safety reasons.

Most of these rules are written in blood. A simple item like returns on handrails so nothing gets caught on them can be a big deal. Want to know why? I will tell you anyway. It is because more than once someone was found dead after a fire and their clothing was caught on a handrail keeping them from egressing the house so they inhaled more smoke and died trying to free themselves. The SCBA packs from firefighters has been known to catch on these things.

It is all simple and easy until someone gets hurt or worse.

The only reason people don't want to get something inspected is because they do substandard, unsafe work. If you take care of this simple, easy project and have nothing to hide then there is no reason why you can't pull a permit and get it inspected.

Master Brian
01-19-2009, 12:26 PM
Since you are not going to follow codes, it doesn't matter how you do it or what materials you use. Just use whatever construction methods seem easy and have at it.

These are the comments I don't understand....

I never said I wasn't going to follow "Codes". I simply said I am not overtly concerned with them. I said I wasn't going to have it inspected!! I'm not overtly concerned with codes, because current codes won't apply. Maybe to some extent as far as equal distances, etc, but not as far as code requires minimum height of X or depth of X, with X # of inches of headspace. I can't change those things!

I guess I can leave it as is with variances of up to 1" per tread height and tread width, with some termite damage and wood that is still in contact with dirt and a back door that is in a location with crappy drainage, so that my basement takes on water. All of that was passed by a code at one point and inspected, so it must be better than what I can do!!!

Get over it! I'm not having it inspected, because there is no need. I'd be willing to bet if I hired a contractor they wouldn't have it inspected either. I am also not having it inspected, because there is absoutely no way it is going to be up to current code, unless I tear the back of my house off and take it back 5' or tear out my basement floor and drop it down a foot or so. This is a 100y/o house, you have to make do with what you have.

Each step will be of equal distance and with the maximum space for headroom, I am just trying to decide is adding an extra step to make less steep stairs with a narrower tread with better or worse than steaper stairs with wider treads.

Basically, I can go with a rise of 8.67" and a run of 8.2"(+any overhang on tread) with the current 5 step configuration or I can go with a rise of 7.43" and a run of 6.83"(+any overhang on tread) with 6 step proposal.

Scuba_Dave
01-19-2009, 12:35 PM
PT is pressure treated wood - which you said you will use
The concrete board come sin 3x5 sheets ( I would use the 1/2), so you would probably need a few pieces to run along the side of the stairs. I would seal any place where 2 boards meet with masonry. Your neighbor should be able to help/provide instruction on this

You are repairing/rebuilding pre-existing steps in an old house
According to the past 3 building Inspectors I have talked to: If you can change the steps to meet code then you can be required to do so. If space does not allow then you are allowed to rebuild/repair the stairs as is

Stair treads are supposed to be within 3/8" variance from shortest to longest is what I have found. IMO wider tread is better

Actually the main reason I have found most people do not want to get many things Inspected is it can trigger a Tax increase

Master Brian
01-19-2009, 12:42 PM
If it is a very simple job then why are you here asking questions about what to do and how to do it?

How do we know this is not part of the egress from the house? There are very specific rules about stairs, stairwells, rise/run, tread depth and handrails all for safety reasons.

Most of these rules are written in blood. A simple item like returns on handrails so nothing gets caught on them can be a big deal. Want to know why? I will tell you anyway. It is because more than once someone was found dead after a fire and their clothing was caught on a handrail keeping them from egressing the house so they inhaled more smoke and died trying to free themselves. The SCBA packs from firefighters has been known to catch on these things.

It is all simple and easy until someone gets hurt or worse.

The only reason people don't want to get something inspected is because they do substandard, unsafe work. If you take care of this simple, easy project and have nothing to hide then there is no reason why you can't pull a permit and get it inspected.


I am actually beginning to wish I hadn't asked. I thought this was a place with people whom wanted to be helpful, but obviously some are threatened by people whom are capable "DIY'ers".

You ask why I'm here asking....because I know I don't know and can't possibly remember everything I've ever learned and I like 2nd and 3rd opinions. I guess you were born, knowing everything and never ask for anyone else's input! WTF?

That is not the only reason. The main reason I don't have something inspected, is because I don't think the Gov't needs to be involved in every aspect of my life! So many things in this house have been inspected within the last 10-15yrs prior, without me living here, but I've seen that inspections were pulled, and the things that were done and passed make my head spin! These were things done by licensed pros and signed off by the city!

I don't think the city needs $50-$100+ to tell me my stairway is safe, so that they can then raise my taxes as well. I don't need them to tell me a 2x4 stud wall in my basement is safe, when I've framed dozens of houses from the ground up. I don't need them to tell me my hot water heater is installed safely or that this outlet or that is to code. I'd ask if you get the point, but you likely won't. I realize by law the pros need to get inspections....sorry, don't take that out on me! I'm sure you've never gone round and round with some inspector who read something in a book and now thinks he knows it all.....

All-in-all, I just don't think the city needs to come into my house! Just like I don't think the cops don't need to search my car! That doesn't mean I have done anything wrong, it just means they don't need to come in and snoop! It also helps, that as a homeowner, I don't have to have every single little thing inspected!! Not all DYI'ers are screwups, just like not all pros are con-men hacks!

Master Brian
01-19-2009, 12:48 PM
PT is pressure treated wood - which you said you will use
The concrete board come sin 3x5 sheets ( I would use the 1/2), so you would probably need a few pieces to run along the side of the stairs. I would seal any place where 2 boards meet with masonry. Your neighbor should be able to help/provide instruction on this

You are repairing/rebuilding pre-existing steps in an old house
According to the past 3 building Inspectors I have talked to: If you can change the steps to meet code then you can be required to do so. If space does not allow then you are allowed to rebuild/repair the stairs as is

Stair treads are supposed to be within 3/8" variance from shortest to longest is what I have found. IMO wider tread is better

Actually the main reason I have found most people do not want to get many things Inspected is it can trigger a Tax increase

The PT is probably a good point on the cement, hadn't thought of that. Thanks!

Can't make code, not a doubt in my mind! They barely allowed the electrican to upgrade me from 60amp to 200amp service because my panel is on this landing! I can however keep well within the 3/8" variance!

BINGO on the inspection thing!! People don't want them in their houses! I just successfully fought my taxes down, I don't need them raising them again!

frenchie
01-19-2009, 09:50 PM
Basically, I can go with a rise of 8.67" and a run of 8.2"(+any overhang on tread) with the current 5 step configuration or I can go with a rise of 7.43" and a run of 6.83"(+any overhang on tread) with 6 step proposal.

The traditional rule of thumb, from before we had building codes, is that rise + run should total about 17 or 18.

Stick with the 5-step.

Master Brian
01-20-2009, 08:53 AM
frenchie, thanks for that! I am sort of think of framing up both setups and seeing which feels the best. I should have enough scrap to do some temp treads so all I would be out is $10-$15 for the lumber to build an extra stinger....

I also have one other question. I believe I mentioned that I will be building a short block retaining wall on both sides of the lower level stairs to keep the dirt off the wood framing. I spoke with my neighbor whom is a brick mason.

He suggested digging down about 4" (minimum), below the grade where I want to start the block wall, and pouring a small concrete footing. He said, once the hole was dug, drive several 4' sticks of rebar into the ground about 2', then pour the concrete around the rebar. Let it setup, then start laying the wall on top of that. With the rebar going through the blocks and adding rebar as needed. He said this will keep the blocks from tipping outwards. This would be done on both sides of the staircase.

I am including a picture to show the lower flight that direly needs work. I am unsure at this point, how high this block wall might go, but the trick will be keeping the sandy dirt out of the hole. If possible I'd like to go 6" down for the footing.

The question is does that sound good or from the pic given would someone do it differently. My neighbor hasn't actually looked at what I have, he went off a description, but said he'd come down and help me lay the block when I am ready, since I admittedly am horrible about laying bricks and blocks.

I have a few other pictures if need be. And I plan on trying to tie the white block wall on the sides of the picture to the new wall.

GabeS
01-20-2009, 09:57 AM
Why isn't there a slab on your basement floor? Why is there dirt there? Is the entire floor dirt? If so, that can also cause moisture problems on your joists. If it's all dirt you might consider laying plastic down to keep moisture from coming up out of the dirt.

Adding an extra step would make the headroom problem worse since total run would be greater. Reducing a step might make the staircase too steep.

You can't include the overhang on your calculation for tread depth because every step will have an overhang thereby allowing less room for your foot to land. Only the top step would be easier to step on because of the overhang. Not sure if you get what I'm saying.:eek:

Scuba_Dave
01-20-2009, 10:05 AM
Many older houses had dirt floors in the basement
Concrete was an added cost & at times every penny counted
I 2nd the plastic on any exposed dirt floor
Maybe the dirt has just spilled in from the sides covering the cement?

If the dirt is on the sides (walls) then I would do what I could to seal those areas. My old house (1905) had a dirt floor crawl space 1'-5' deep. The 1/2" cement board was the only thing keeping the dirt out of the crawl space. There were piers at intervals around the outside of the house (and inside holding the house up). The plywood someone used in one area did not hold up too well :(

Master Brian
01-20-2009, 10:17 AM
Why isn't there a slab on your basement floor? Why is there dirt there? Is the entire floor dirt? If so, that can also cause moisture problems on your joists. If it's all dirt you might consider laying plastic down to keep moisture from coming up out of the dirt.

Adding an extra step would make the headroom problem worse since total run would be greater. Reducing a step might make the staircase too steep.

You can't include the overhang on your calculation for tread depth because every step will have an overhang thereby allowing less room for your foot to land. Only the top step would be easier to step on because of the overhang. Not sure if you get what I'm saying.:eek:


I get what you are saying about the overhang and I'm trying not to figure it into the calculation, but having it is better than not.

The dirt, is just dirt that has spilled out of the area I need to add the block wall to. It was held up with the wood panels on the side. I took two of those panels off and the dirt is what I got!!! Basement floor is cement.

Adding the extra step, could run into headroom problems, but I wasn't planning on changing the total run, only the total rise. [unless there was a way to cut out the sill plate and the rim joist, which probably isn't easily possible if possible at all] The dilema is what is better deeper treads, with steeper rise or shallower treads with less steep rise. Does that make sense?

frenchie, kind of seconded what my friend whom is a contractor said. I'll probably have him give me his opinion when I make the final decision, I just want other opinions.

Master Brian
01-20-2009, 10:21 AM
Many older houses had dirt floors in the basement
Concrete was an added cost & at times every penny counted
I 2nd the plastic on any exposed dirt floor
Maybe the dirt has just spilled in from the sides covering the cement?

If the dirt is on the sides (walls) then I would do what I could to seal those areas. My old house (1905) had a dirt floor crawl space 1'-5' deep. The 1/2" cement board was the only thing keeping the dirt out of the crawl space. There were piers at intervals around the outside of the house (and inside holding the house up). The plywood someone used in one area did not hold up too well :(

Like I just said, it is just spill over. I do have some dirt in other parts of the basement and I am covering that with plastic. I was actually concerned about radon, but I recently tested the house and the level came back very low. That was a relief!

GabeS
01-20-2009, 10:29 AM
I understand what you're saying. I ran into a similiar problem and ended up with 9 inch tread and 8 inch rise which worked but is not ideal. Only other way to make the stairs better would have been to remove joists and reframe which would have affected 1st floor living space.

I would try and split everything between the rise and run. For me, I think have a longer tread is safer than having a shorter rise. With a shorter tread, when you go to put your foot down and can't place it you can easily trip. Taking a deeper step also can cause you to trip, but less so in my opinion.

You have to put a one inch overhang. I wasn't saying to omit the overhang, just saying when you calculate the tread length, don't include the overhang into the calculation.

Also, this is just a worst case scenario: Make the treads and risers comfortable and with the last step make it a bigger drop.

Reasoning: If you fall on the last step, you can't go rolling down the stairs.:)

Master Brian
01-20-2009, 10:40 AM
Yea, I know you aren't saying to omit the overhang.

The last step thing does make some sense. I just wish I could cut into the rim joist and sill plate. Maybe I'll snap some pics of those and see what you guys think.

The crazy part, is my dogs are the ones who trip up over the current setup....

It's amazing how quickly your brain adjusts to things such as steps. My parents had 3 step redone off their back door leading to their patio. They were all slanted different directions and not the same height. They now have deeper treads and are all equal heights. It took weeks to get used to them....

GabeS
01-20-2009, 10:51 AM
Definitely better to reframe if possible. One more thing you can do to gain an extra inch or two of headroom is to cut the bottom of the joist on a 45 degree. In other words, bevel the bottom of the joist(the one your head gets close to towards the bottom of the staircase).

Master Brian
01-20-2009, 12:48 PM
On the reframe idea, which would solve a lot of issues and get me somewhat closer to new code guidelines, here are a few pics I snapped at lunch. I hope they are clear.

The 1st picture, stairway 001, is showing a wall pantry that is directly above the headspace going down this last flight of steps. This pantry is scheduled to be totally redone and I don't mind tearing into the plaster/drywall to see how the wall is framed. I do know there is no framing several inches to the left of this cabinets frame as the cabinet goes to the left several inches behind the trim. The right side, I'm not as sure about. I am actually wondering if there isn't one header that goes accross the door, pantry and the opening on the right. If not, then whomever put this in, just cut a stud out, which isn't good and will be redone at a later date.

The 2nd picture, stairway 002-1, shows the view going down the last flight of stairs. I've labeled all of the parts. It is clear how questionable, although it's holding up great, the pantry framing from the rear is. All the electrical shown will be removed as it's safety is a concern to me and I'm taking steps to have new it replaced. So it shouldn't be of concern regarding a possible re-frame.

The 3rd picture, stairway 003-1, shows the view going up the last flight of stairs. Again, parts are labeled and again, the electrical will be reworked along with the air duct shown. *The 2x4's shown in yellow are just a really short wall that goes from the sill plate to the sub-floor. They are like this all around the outside walls. I should also state, since the floor joists show a different picture, the wall that sits above all of this is the wall perpindicular to the gables. So it is the load bearing wall for the house! With that said, this short section of sill plate really has no load above it, except for the floor and the pantry.

The 4th picture, stairs3, show what I would like to do if possible. Cut the sill plate and the rim joist, that are directly above the staircase. My thoughts, if it would work and remain structural, would be to cut that section out. Then install doubled up 2x8's tied into the rim joist and the sill plate, extending over to the 1st floor joist. Do this for both sides, then I would also double up the floor joist they are attached to. This pic shows what is there in dark brown, with proposed work shown in orangish brown and a black X across the part to be cut out. The gray/black parts, represent the block wall everything sits on.

I might also go back 2-3 joists and install solid blocks between the joists where I cut this out, to prevent any racking. I have "X" bracing in there now, but just an idea for extra beefiness. My concern is that cutting out this section might cause the block wall to want to shift inwards and collapse. I think that with what is there the sill plate and rim joist help hold it straight. Is that a valid thought?

Again, I'll likely pass all of this by my friend, just playing with ideas and trying to get 2nd/3rd opinions....