Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 16









A stair, defined as a series of ascending (or descending) steps, is an important element that
allows occupants to move vertically in a building. Architectural historians claim that the
stair remained a purely functional element (without artistic overtones) until the end of the
fifteenth century. The beginning of the sixteenth century, inspired by Leonardo da Vincis
sketches, however, signaled a new era of expression for the staircase [35.1]. From then on,
the staircase played an increasingly important visual role, often becoming a sculptural feature in a space, an imperial entrance to a public building or a significant facade element.
The birth of the elevatorand, subsequently, the escalatorreduced the importance of
the stair. More recently, the requirement to make buildings accessible to persons with disabilities further eroded its significance.
Because a stair cannot be used by people in a wheelchair, it is no longer a mandatory
feature of an entrance lobby. (Increasingly, entrance lobbies in contemporary public buildings are designed without a stair.) Consequently, stairs are reverting to their purely functional rolefulfilling the requirement as exit stair or standby vertical circulation in the
event of electrical outage or mechanical interruption.
However, despite the stairs decreasing significance, in many contemporary buildings
the rhythm and repetitive features of a stair have been transformed into an important
aesthetic component of the interior space, as shown by the images in Figure 35.1. This
chapter begins with a general introduction to stairs, followed by the details of construction
of simple wood, steel, and concrete stairs.


Part 2
Materials and Systems
of Construction



FIGURE 35.1 Images showing the

aesthetic potential of stairs; see also
Figure 35.20. (a) An entrance lobby
stair with structural steel beams
(stringers) and concrete-filled sheetsteel tread pans (see Figure 35.13).
(b) A highly transparent glass wall
showcasing the stair in the Madison
Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, Wisconsin. (c) Stair in the
entrance lobby of the Madison
Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, Wisconsin with structural steel
beams (stringers) and glass treads.
Architect: Cesar Pelli and Associates.



Tread width

Tread width

Tread width

Nosing projection not
to exceed 1-1/4 in.



Inclined projection not

to exced 1-1/4 in.


FIGURE 35.2 Tread, riser, and nosing configurations in a stair.



Because a stair provides vertical transportation, it is part of the means-of-egress (exit) system
of a building. It is also a relatively hazardous element because injuries due to falls from stairs
are not uncommon. For this reason, stair design is stringently controlled by building codes.




There are two main components of a stair: treads and risers. A tread is the horizontal surface
on which one walks. The riser is the vertical component that separates one tread from
another. Generally, a stair has several treads and risers. For the sake of safety, the dimensions of treads and risers must be uniform in a stair. Building codes allow a small dimensional variation because perfect uniformity is unachievable.
In walking on a horizontal or an inclined surface, an average person can comfortably
traverse a distance of 24 to 25 in. in one step. Therefore, a rule of thumb generally used in
proportioning the treads and risers of a stair is

Treads and Risers of a Stair

The treads and risers of a stair
must meet the following
dimensional requirements:
Minimum tread width = 11 in.
Riser height = 4 to 7 in.

Residential Stair
Building codes are less restrictive for a stair within a dwelling unit:
Minimum tread width = 10 in.
Riser height = 4 to 734 in.

2(riser height) + tread width = 24 to 25 in.

Thus, if the risers in a stair are each 5 in. high, the tread width should lie between 14 and
15 in. The most commonly used dimensions for an interior public stair are 12- to 13-in.
treads and 6-in. risers. Outdoor stairs generally have a smaller riser and hence a wider tread.
Building codes generally require a riser height between 4 in. and 7 in. and a minimum tread
width of 11 in.
In most stairs, the tread is a simple flat surface, and the riser is a solid vertical surface,
Figure 35.2(a). Where space is limited, the effective tread width can be increased somewhat
by inclining the risers, Figure 35.2(b), or by projecting the front edge of the tread beyond
the riser, Figure 35.2(c). The front edge of a tread is referred to as the nosing.
When an inclined riser or a projected nosing is used, the code-required minimum width
of a tread does not change. In other words, the width of a tread is considered the horizontal
distance between the vertical planes of the foremost projections of adjacent treads, as shown
in Figure 35.2(b) and (c).
The nosing of a tread is subjected to the maximum abrasion. In public stairs with heavy
traffic, the treads should consist of a strong, dense material such as granite, highstrength concrete, or steel. Alternatively, a separate nosing (approximately 212 in. wide)
consisting of an abrasion-resistant and skid-resistant material is epoxied or embedded
into the tread.
Stairs can also be constructed without risers, referred to as open-riser stairs, Figure 35.3.
Because of safety concerns, open-riser stairs are subject to more stringent code restrictions than stairs with solid risers. For example, open-riser stairs are generally not
allowed as exit stairs. Additionally, the clear vertical distance between the treads of
open-riser stairs cannot exceed 4 in.

A 10-in. tread is allowed in

a dwelling unit stair, provided
that a nosing projection of 34 to
114 in. is used. If a nosing projection is not used, an 11-in.
minimum tread width is
Some local building codes
may allow a riser height of
greater than 734 in. for a residential basement stair.

The most commonly used stair shape is a U-shaped stair (in plan). It consists of
two flights of stairs between floors with a midfloor landing (or simply a midlanding or

FIGURE 35.3 A stair with open risers.


landing), Figure 35.4. In addition to the U-shaped stair, some of the other
commonly used stair shapes are

Floor level

Straight-run stair with one or two flights, Figure 35.5: A straight-run

stair with more than two flights can be used, but this is uncommon.
L-shaped stair, Figure 35.6(a): Where the space is limited, the landing of
an L-shaped stair can be used for steps, yielding trapezoidal (pie-shaped)
treads, referred to as winders, Figure 35.6(b). Stairs with winders are not
as safe as those with rectangular treads, and their use in an exit stair is
strictly controlled by building codes.
Circular stair: A circular stair may consist of all winders and can take
many shapes. A spiral stair is a special type of circular stair in which
the treads twist around a central column and are cantilevered from it,
Figure 35.7. It is generally an open-riser stair. Again, building codes
have several restrictions on the use of a spiral stair. A helical stair is a
circular stair without a central supporting column (see Section 35.5).


Structural support
generally required
under landing.

Floor level

Thus, each flight is supported at floor

level and at landing level; see also the
freestanding stair in Figure 35.20.
FIGURE 35.4 A U-shaped stair.




Stairs are also described as either open or closed. An open stair is exposed to the area below
on one or more sides, whereas a closed stair is fully enclosed with a stair enclosure (stair
shaft) and is usually accessed through a doorway.




Rise of

Rise of flight

Rise of

The minimum width of a stair is determined by its purpose. When it is used as an exit stair,
its width depends on the number of occupants it serves (occupant load) but is not less than
44 in. clear (between handrail and handrail) for an open exit stair or 48 in. for an enclosed
exit stair. An exit stair for an occupant load of less than 50, or a stair within a dwelling unit,
has a minimum width of 36 in.

(a) A single-flight, straight-run stair

The rise of one flight of stair

is generally limited by codes
to a maximum of 12 ft.

(b) A two-flight, straight-run stair


Pie-shaped treades
called winders


FIGURE 35.6 L-shaped stairs (a) without winders and (b) with winders.


Rise of flight

Rise of

Rise of

FIGURE 35.5 Straight-run stairs; see Fig. 35.1(a).

Chapter 35

A spiral stair with a handrail on the

left allows a right-hand grip on
the handrail when walking down
(preferred by some designers).



80 in. minimum


A spiral stair with a handrail on the

right allows a right-hand grip on
the handrail when walking up.

A spiral stair.

FIGURE 35.8 Headroom in a stair.

The headroom in a stair is the minimum clearance between a tread and a projection above,
Figure 35.8. Building codes generally require the headroom to be a minimum of 80 in. at
any point on the stair.




The edge of a stair exposed to a change in height (i.e., not protected by the wall of the
enclosure) must have a guard unit to protect against falling. The minimum height of a
guard unit is 42 in., Figure 35.9(a). The clear distance of openings in a guard unit must not
exceed 4 in.

A guard unit can be solid or open. A guard unit with an opening may consist of
horizontal or vertical members or both. The clear dimension of an opening in a guard
unit must be less than 4 in. Minimum guard unit height = 42 in.

Vertical members of a guard unit, called balusters

34 to 38 in.
Handrail height


42-in. min.
guardrail height

Newel post

(a) Guard unit and

handrail in a stair

(b) Balusters and newel

post in a wood stair

FIGURE 35.9 Guard unit, handrail, balusters and newel post.

The height of a handrail in a stair is generally required to lie between 34 in. and 38 in.
The cross-sectional profile of a handrail is controlled by building codes to give it the
required graspability.
In some wood stairs, the first and/or the last vertical member of the guard unit (referred
to as a baluster) is highlighted by using a more ornate design. Such a baluster is referred to
as a newel post, Figure 35.9(b).




In preparing a stair layout, we first determine the floor-to-floor height and then calculate
the number of risers and treads. Assume that the floor-to-floor height in a building is 10 ft
8 in., that is, 128 in. Assume further that we would like the riser height to be approximately
6 in. Dividing 128 by 6 gives us the number of risers:
= 21.3
Because the number of risers must be a whole number, assume 21 risers. Dividing 128
in. by 21 gives the exact riser height, 6.1 in. From the tread-riser relationship given earlier,
the tread width is
Number of risers =

24 (or 25) - 2(6.1) = 11.8 to 12.8 in.

We will use a tread width of 12.0 in. Assume further that a U-shaped stair is desired and the
width of the stair is 4 ft. By code, the minimum width of the landing must be the same as the



Summary of Stair-Design Criteria

1. Tread depth and riser height must be dimensionally uniform
2. Minimum tread width = 11 in. Riser height = 4 to 7 in. (See
Section 35.1 for exceptions for residential stairs.)
3. Nosing projection 114 in.
4. Stair width = function of the occupant load, but not less than
48 in. for an enclosed exit stair, 44 in. for an open exit stair,
or 36 in. for a stair serving an occupant load of less than 50
or a residential stair.


Width of landing stair width.

Rise of one flight 12 ft.
Headroom 80 in.
Use of winders is restricted.
Height of guardrail = 42 in. minimum. Height of handrail =
34 to 38 in.
10. Handgrip portion of the handrail must have a circular cross
section between 114 in. and 258 in. Noncircular profiles must
provide equivalent graspability.

Chapter 35



Width of landing
Width of stair












enclosure wall

It is a good drafting
practice to number the
risers in the plan of a stair.

FIGURE 35.10 Plan of a U-shaped

stair (at the second floor level) that
extends only from the first floor to
the second floor.

Guard unit

width of the stair, that is, 4 ft. With these data, a plan of the stair can be drawn, as shown in
Figure 35.10.


There are standard conventions for how stairs are shown in building plans. Figure 35.10 is
the plan at the second-floor level of a U-shaped stair that extends from the first to the second floor only. The plan of the same stair at the first-floor level is shown in Figure 35.11(a).
If the same stair were to extend over several floors, then the plan of the stair at a typical
floor would generally be drawn as shown in Figure 35.11(b).

Omitting a riser at midlanding and at a floor

allows the handrail to turn
without a pronounced
vertical step.

(a) Plan of the stair in Figure 35.10 at the

first-floor level


(b) Plan of a multifloor stair at a

typical floor

FIGURE 35.11 Stair plans at different levels.



Part 2
Materials and Systems
of Construction


Because most stairs in a building are used as exit stairs, they need to be enclosed by vertical
enclosures (also referred to as shafts or shaft enclosures). Generally, a shaft enclosure is
required to be 1-h rated for a building up to four stories tall and 2-h rated for a building
with five stories or more. Shafts are not required for individual single-family dwellings (up
to four stories tall).
Building codes also contain several other exceptions to the requirement of shaft enclosures. For example, shafts are not required if the stair connects only two floors and is not
used as an exit stair.


Each question has only one correct answer. Select the choice that best
answers the question.
1. An approximate formula generally used in determining the tread
dimension (T) and riser dimension (R) in a stair is
a. 2T + R = 24 to 25 in.
b. 2T + 2R = 24 to 25 in.
c. 2R + T = 24 to 25 in.
d. R + T = 24 to 25 in.
e. none of the above.
2. The minimum tread width required by building codes for a
nonresidential stair is
a. 11.0 in.
b. 11.5 in.
c. 12.0 in.
d. 12.5 in.
e. 13.0 in.
3. The minimum riser height required by building codes for a
nonresidential stair is
a. 6.0 in.
b. 5.5 in.
c. 5.0 in.
d. 4.5 in.
e. 4.0 in.
4. The maximum nosing projection allowed for a stair is
a. 3.0 in.
b. 212 in.
c. 2 in.
d. 112 in.
e. 14 in.

7. The rise of one flight of stair is generally limited by building codes to

a. 7 ft.
b. 8 ft.
c. 10 ft.
d. 12 ft.
8. Given a multistory building with a floor-to-floor height of 10 ft and
an optimal riser height of 7 in., how many treads would you use for a
U-shaped stair with a midlanding between floors? (The landing is not
counted as a tread.)
a. 15
b. 16
c. 17
d. 18
e. None of the above
9. A handrail and a guardrail in a stair are synonymous.
a. True
b. False
10. The minimum height of a guardrail in a stair is
a. 34 in.
b. 36 in.
d. 40 in.
c. 38 in.
e. none of the above.
11. A stair constructed without risers is generally called a
a. no-riser stair.
b. closed-riser stair.
c. open-riser stair.
d. hollow stair.

5. A riser must be vertical. It cannot be inclined.

a. True
b. False

12. A stair with treads cantilevered from a central column is a

a. circular stair.
b. U-shaped stair.
c. L-shaped stair.
d. spiral stair.
e. helical stair.

6. A U-shaped stair has been provided between the first floor and the
second floor of a building with a midlanding. This stair has
a. one flight.
b. two flights.
c. three flights.
d. four flights.

13. The minimum width of a stair in a dwelling unit is

a. 2 ft 6 in.
b. 3 ft.
c. 3 ft 6 in.
d. 4 ft.
e. none of the above.


The most important parts of a wood stair are the carriages (also called rough stringers). Carriages are the structural elements of a stair (inclined beams) and are specially cut to support
the treads. Figure 35.12 shows a commonly used method of framing a wood stair.


There are several manufacturers who supply prefabricated wood stairs per the architects
design. Prefabricated wood stairs are usually transported in a knocked-down (KD) version,
where each part is uniquely numbered for assembly on site. They are commonly used for
more ornate stairs requiring detailed millwork and craft, which are not usually possible at
the site.


Floor frame

Floor frame

Stringer (or finish stringer);

see detail sketch below.
Gypsum wallboard

Wood ledger support for carriages.

Alternatively, use joist hangers.

Wall frame

Carriage (rough stringer), generally of 2-by lumber (or equivalent

LVL member). The number of carriages required depends on the
width of the stair and the spanning capability of the material used for
the treads. For most residential stairs, three carriages are common.
Landing frame supported on
stud walls.
Wood ledger support for carriages.
Alternatively, use joist hangers.

Stud wall

Thrust blcok

(a) Framing of a typical wood stair

Gypsum board
Stringer (or finish
stringer), generally of 1-by
finish lumber, nailed to
wall frame over gypsum
Space between finish
stringer and rough
stringer is covered over
by treads and risers.
2-by nailer block nailed
to wall frame along
the slope of the

Carriage (rough
stringer) nailed to
nailer block

(b) Detail of rough stringer and finish stringer

FIGURE 35.12 A commonly used framing system for a wood stair.


Finished wood tread


Stud wall

Finished wood riser

Guard unit

Rough riser
Rough tread

Omitting a riser at the landing

(as shown here) allows the
guardrail to turn without a
pronounced vertical step

4 3 2 1

Rough stringer
Finished wood flooring applied
over rough treads and risers

Finished wood tread

wood riser

(c) Plan of stair

Finished stringer height

to match wall base
Stud wall
Finished wood treads and
risers applied directly over
rough stringers

Nailer block
between studs to
support handrail

Chamfer front edges of
rough treads to allow
carpet to wrap over neatly

Carpet applied over rough

treads and risers

(e) Three alternative details

at P

(d) Section A-A

FIGURE 35.12 (continued)

A commonly used framing system for a wood stair.


Stairs in public buildings are generally constructed of steel or concrete. Because steel stairs
can be shop fabricated and brought to the site ready for installation, they are far more commonly used than concrete stairs. Another reason for the lack of use of concrete stairs is that
their formwork is complicated and expensive.
Prefabricated steel stairs are used in all types of public buildings, that is, steel- and concrete-frame buildings and load-bearing masonry buildings. They are particularly popular
for exit stairs.


Chapter 35

One-piece, sheet steel bent

to form a tread-riser unit
Tread pan (in a thread-riser
unit) to be site-filled with
Stringer. In this case, a
structural steel channel section
has been used, but the use of a
steel plate is also common
FIGURE 35.13 A typical prefabricated steel stair consists of two stringer beams (stringers) to
which tread-riser units made from sheet steel are welded; see Figure 35.14 for details. (In this
stair, the guard unit and handrail have not yet been installed.)

Site-filled concrete in tread

pan; 1-1/2-in.-thick concrete
fill is typical
Sheet steel bent to
form tread-riser unit.
Sheet thickness is a
function of stair width

concrete in
tread pan




Stringer (generally a steel channel; a

steel plate may also be used); depth of
stringer is a function of stringer span

FIGURE 35.14 Typical detail of tread-riser units welded to stringers. In this detail, tread pans are site-filled with concrete;
see Figure 35.15 for alternatives.

A typical prefabricated flight of a steel stair consists of two stringer beams (stringers) to
which tread-riser units made of sheet steel are welded, Figure 35.13.
The tread pan is generally site filled with concrete, Figure 35.14. For good wear resistance, a concrete strength of 5,000 psi is generally specified. Other tread finishes include a
precast-concrete drop-in tread with a slip-resistant broom finish, Figure 35.15(a), and sheet
steel with a raised, diamond-shaped checkered pattern, Figure 35.15(b). Factory-installed
epoxy-aggregate fill or wear- and slip-resistant coatings can also be used.

Stringers in a steel stair function as inclined beams, spanning from the floor to the landing
and from the landing to the next floor. They generally consist of a structural-steel channel


Precast concrete tread (5,000psi concrete with broom finish

for slip resistance, wire mesh
reinforcing) adhered to steel
tread with epoxy cement

Sheet steel with checkered or

raised diamond pattern for slip
resistance, bent to form treadriser combination




FIGURE 35.15 Two alternative details of tread-riser units in a steel stair (precast concrete treads and checkered steel treads); another detail is
shown in Figure 35.14.

or steel plate (16
in. or 14 in. thick is typical). The depth of stringers is a function of the
stringer span and the structural loads required by codes. The tread-riser units span between
the stringers. Figures 35.16 and 35.17 show typical details of support connections between
the stringers and the floor of the building.

The landing of a steel stair is generally framed with structural steel members as a unit,
called a landing frame. Typical details of connections between stringers and landings are
shown in Figure 35.18. The finish on the landing is generally the same as that on the
treads. Thus, where site-cast concrete is used on treads, the landing is also topped with
The landing frame may be supported on a beam (specially introduced for the purpose) between the upper and lower floors of the building, on (masonry or concrete)
stair-enclosure walls, or on columns independent of the structural frame of the building. In most buildings, however, the landing frame for a prefabricated steel stair is
supported by suspending it from the upper-level floor beams with steel hanger bars,
Figure 35.19.
A major advantage of a suspended landing is that it allows adjustment of the height of
the landing with a few turns of the nuts. Additionally, the entire stair can be erected before
constructing the walls of the stair enclosure.


Although concrete stairs can be precast and prefabricated, their use is limited because they
are heavy, which increases the cost of transportation and installation. Most concrete stairs
are site cast. As previously stated, the formwork for concrete stairs is intricate, which
increases the cost and causes construction delays. Their use is, therefore, infrequent, even in
buildings with a reinforced-concrete structural frame.


Block-out in floor beam to be filled

with concrete after installing stair
Steel angle end support welded to

Steel angle
embedded in
reinforcedconcrete floor


(a) Connection between stair

stringer and upped reinforcedconcrete floor beam

Block-out in floor
beam to be filled with
concrete after
installing stair

Steel angle end support

welded to stringers

(b) Connection betwen stair

stringer and lower reinforcedconcrete floor beam

Steel angle embedded

in reinforced-concrete
floor beam

FIGURE 35.16 Typical details of the connection between stringers and a reinforced-concrete floor.


In the various stair types discussed so far, each flight is supported at the floor and landing
levels. The use of steel and reinforced concrete, however, allows the stairs to be constructed
without any supports at the landings (designed as cantilevers and supported only at the
floors). Cantilevered stairs, also referred to as self-supporting stairs, can either be U-shaped
or circular in plan.
A cantilevered, self-supporting, U-shaped reinforced stair is shown in Figure 35.20(a).
Figure 35.20(b) shows a cantilevered steel stair. In this stair, the stringers (of structural-steel
channels) function as continuous spatially bent beams that are rigidly connected to the
floor beams at both floors. Tread-riser units that span between stringer beams are made of
structural-steel plate.
Self-supporting circular steel or concrete stairs can be constructed with or without landings. Called helical (or helicoidal) stairs, they are fairly common in steel, concrete, and
wood. A helical stair is similar to a spiral stair but has no central column support.


Steel angle end support

welded to stringers

Floor beam

(a) Connection between stair

stringer and upper structural steel
floor beam
Steel angle end
support welded
to stringers
Floor beam

(b) Connection betwen stair

stringer and lower structural steel
floor beam

FIGURE 35.17 Typical details of the connection between stringers and a steel-framed floor.

Metal deck supported by landing

frame and topped with concrete
(2-1/2-in. concrete fill typical)

Structural steel channel

as front header of
landing frame
Metal deck
supported by
landing frame and
topped with
concrete (2-1/2-in.
concrete fill

Landing frame
headed by structural
steel channel



Structural steel
channel as front header
of landing frame
Landing frame headed by
structural steel channels

FIGURE 35.18 Typical details of the connection between stringers and the landing frame.


bar for


FIGURE 35.19 A typical steel stair with a suspended landing a commonly used landing support system for exit stairs in concrete and steelframe buildings. (Guard units and handrail have not yet been installed.)



FIGURE 35.20 Two examples of

cantilevered freestanding stairs,
which are supported on
the upper and lower floor structures,
with no supports provided at midlanding levels.




Each question has only one correct answer. Select the choice that best
answers the question.
14. In a typical wood stair, inclined beams that are cut to allow for the
support of treads are called
a. rough stringers.
b. finish stringers.
c. balusters.
d. all of the above.
e. none of the above.
15. In a typical wood stair, the number of stringers required is
determined by the
a. width of the stair.
b. spanning capacity of the carriage material.
c. floor-to-floor height.
d. thickness of the treads.
e. all of the above.

c. floor-to-floor height.
d. spanning capacity of the tread-riser units.
e. all of the above.
18. In a typical prefabricated steel stair, the stringers are cut to
accommodate treads and risers.
a. True
b. False
19. The stringers in a typical prefabricated steel stair are generally
made of
a. wide-flange sections.
b. channel sections.
c. plates.
d. (a) and (b).
e. (b) and (c).
20. The landing frame in a typical prefabricated steel stair is generally
hung from the buildings structural frame.
a. True
b. False

16. In a prefabricated steel stair, treads and risers are generally two
separate components.
a. True
b. False

21. A self-supporting cantilevered stair is supported on intermediate

landings only.
a. True
b. False

17. In a typical prefabricated steel stair, the number of stringers required

is determined by the
a. width of the stair.
b. spanning capacity of the stringers.

22. A self-supporting cantilevered stair can be made only of reinforced

a. True
b. False

1. Provide the approximate expression used in proportioning the dimensions of the treads and risers of a stair. What is
the basis for this expression? List building codes restrictions on the dimensions of treads and risers.
2. With the help of at least two sketches, explain what a flight of stairs implies. What is the code-mandated maximum
height of a flight of stairs?
3. Using a sketch, explain the difference between a handrail and guardrail of a stair, and give their code-mandated
4. List the factors that determine the width of a stair.
5. Using sketches, explain how a steel stairs landing frame can be supported. Which one of these support methods is
most commonly used?
6. Explain why a prefabricated steel stair is most commonly used even in buildings that are built with a reinforcedconcrete frame structure.
7. Using a sketch, describe a cantilevered freestanding stair.