Everybody has a claim to fame. Sometimes they change, and I hope mine does, but here’s what it was back in the old days: I was the guy who could figure out how to add a second floor onto any house, even after other contractors said it couldn’t be done.
There were usually two issues. The first was support and foundation. It was too expensive to augment the existing footings to support a two-story. (I shared the secret solution to that here)
The second, sometimes harder to solve, problem was the stairs. Often, the existing house just didn’t have a decent place to put the stairs. Building codes have strict standards on the width of risers and treads.
Riser: The part of a set of stairs that you see facing you when you look at the steps from the ground floor. Often painted, these are the boards that fill the space between each step. “Open Stairs” have no risers, but the code applies as-if one was there.
Tread: You guessed it, the part of the stair you tread upon. The step.
The code is kind of complicated so that it can cover all sorts of circumstances, but a classic stair configuration is a 7/11 stair. 7″ risers and 11″ treads. In my neck of the woods, the rule-of-thumb was this “two risers and one tread should add-up to between 24 and 25 inches”
Width requirements are also an issue. The one that can stump even brilliant designers sometimes (or so I’ve heard) is the headroom requirement. I still remember my shock and fear after the stairs were installed on one job and, as I descended them, I looked straight ahead at a huge beam. I barely cleared it. A guy an inch taller would hit his head on the way down. (time for the beam relocation plan)
So what’s the secret? Unfortunately there isn’t really one secret. The design of the second floor structure is the key, but one of the tricks I learned to use frequently was “The Winder”.
Winder Steps Shorten Overall Staircase Length
There are often times when you want the bottom of the stairs and the top of the stairs to be in different directions. This is usually accomplished by having a lower section of stairs that climb to a landing, then having an upper section that climbs to the second floor.
Sometimes there is a full 180 degree turn at the landing, but the most common configuration is a 90 degree turn at the landing. This requires a smaller landing and allows the stairs to live in a corner.
Winders are steps that are “in” the landing. More accurately, they are in the place where the landing would be if you had one.
The advantage is that you gain “rise” in a space that otherwise would remain at one level. This shortens the overall staircase length and can greatly increase design flexibility. Like big time.
Check Codes For Minimum Tread Depth
One of the dangers in designing stairs with winders is that in some building code jurisdictions (I work in Florida and this is the case here), there is a minimum depth a winder can be. So you can’t install a pie-shaped or triangular step that runs all the way to a point in the corner, you have to design it so that the narrowest portion of the winder is at least the minimum. I think it is 5″ here, counting the nosing. (the nosing is the part of the stair tread that sticks out past the riser below, often rounded, and is included in the measurement of a tread)
There you have it! On the off chance your weekend includes designing a staircase in a tight spot, you’re all set.
In any case, I hope you enjoyed the pictures!
The pictures for this post were found in a few places:
At a Home-Designing.com post on using the space under the stairs.