Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Avoid missing steps when installing stairs

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Most homeowners just assume a new set of stairs is going to be safe.

Whether they're building new or retrofitting, I never really hear a homeowner ask for safe stairs.

But small shortcuts during construction can compromise their safety, and the consequences from a trip or fall could last a lifetime.

Every step in a staircase should be well-spaced and built right. That means the total length of each stair, drywall to drywall -- or what the pros like to call stringer to stringer -- must be a minimum of 86.4 centimetres (34 inches). The rise, the total height of each step, can be no more than 20 cm (seven inches), and the run a minimum of 21 cm (8.2 inches) with a 23.5-cm (9.25-inch) tread. The tread is the part on the step where you place your foot.)

You'll also need a handrail for two treads or more. In most cases, a handrail should be installed between 86.4 and 96.5 cm (34 and 38 inches) above the stair treads. For small kids who can't reach that high, you can get secondary handrails installed. They can be attached to existing railings or mounted to the wall below the primary handrail.

Well-built handrails save lives. No stair is complete without them.

You should be careful about carpeting; it could hide poor materials and installation. More importantly when it comes to stair safety, one of the easiest things you can do is not have rugs at the top of the stairs. Too many people have tripped and fallen down a flight of stairs because their foot got caught in the rug.

If you are thinking of changing the stairs in your home, just know you might need a permit. If the framing and structure around the staircase is good, and you don't need to reinforce anything around that space, a permit isn't necessary.

But let's say you want to move the location of the staircase. That will most likely involve re-engineering the upstairs floor supports, which not only means a permit, but also more labour, materials and money.

Homeowners should know what they can and can't do when it comes to stairs. For example, a spiral staircase can't be a home's main staircase -- you'll always need another one. There are different ways stairs are built -- learn what they are.

Factory-built stairs are most common in developments, because builders need to make large orders. These stairs are usually put together on the factory floor and shipped to the site wrapped in plastic.

If you're looking to spend a bit more, you can get custom-built stairs, which can make a big impact on your home, sometimes being a great centrepiece. You will need to research the custom-stairs builder. Do a reference and background check, which includes taking a look at their work and speaking to past clients.

Make no mistake, safety is a big factor in the stairs in your home. Stairs built years ago might have been considered safe back then, but not according to today's building codes and standards. If you're thinking of buying an older home or currently living in one, always check with local building authorities to make sure the stairs meet current code requirements and they're built right.

Keep an eye out for loose handrails, worn treads and uneven steps, rises or runs. If you think the stairs in your home could be a hazard, call in a pro for an assessment. The repairs you make now could save you or someone you love from a bad fall.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

Watch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV. For more information visit makeitright.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2014 F5

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