How Wide Should Residential Stairs Be?

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When it comes to residential design and architectural planning, stairs often become more of an afterthought. So many people view them as a means to an end, and that’s often the case. But they can also be so much more! Stairs can function as the perfect accent for your home, and you can design them with a nearly endless array of options. Your home should be a reflection of your personality, and your stairs are a part of that. So getting a design, material, and style you like is essential. After all, you’ll probably have to look at them every day. 

Whatever style you prefer, there are some things you need to keep in mind before getting the planning out of the way and making final decisions on your stair construction. Of course, the most important things you’ll need to consider are the residential stairway codes that you have to follow. Violating the rules established for construction both internationally and specifically for the state of Maryland (and Washington D.C.) can have significant repercussions. 

One of the main specifications of these rules and regulations is the acceptable dimensions that your stairway can or must-have. Whether you have limited space or not, there are the minimum and maximum acceptable measurements for the width and length of your stairs. For now, we’ll focus on the range of widths you can have for your steps. And remember, if you get confused at any point or struggle to make these required measurements fit into the plan you had for your space, the expert designers and construction workers at Winthorpe Design and Build are here to help. 

What Factors Go Into Determining Stair Width?

Although Winthorpe Design and build will be here to help you through every step of the process, it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the codes and requirements for your construction project. Our team of designers is highly skilled and has years of experience, but knowing the dimensions of your stairs before we begin the design process will save time and open the door for a bit more creativity.

It may sound strange, but some laws limit stair dimensions put into place on an international level. You also need to follow the rules specific to the state in which you’re building that can affect what you can and can’t build. State regulations can vary a bit, so it’s always a good idea to check with someone knowledgeable. We’ll be focusing on international laws and laws that apply to construction in Maryland, so if you’re going to be doing construction in another state, you may want to check for variances in the laws at the state level. 

Another thing that factors into what the laws will require of your staircases’ dimensions is the location they will be placed (for example, exterior/outdoor stairs v.s. indoor stairs). For example, exterior stairs (which typically refer to exit stairs on a residential lot, which the occupants rent) may have different requirements than outdoor stairs (a staircase on a residential building with one or two families and an occupancy of less than 50), or interior stairs.

That leads us to our next point: the occupancy levels of the building for which you are building the stairs will affect which rules apply to it. For example, if a residential building has more than 50 people in occupancy or is three or more stories tall, it must follow the requirements stated in the International Building Code (IBC) rather than the International Residential Code (IRC). 

General Requirements for Most Stairways

These codes may vary, but these are generally the rules you should follow if you cannot find any specifications otherwise. For example, for the majority of stairs on a residential building with more than 50 residents, the minimum width of your stairway may be no less than 44 inches, as stated in the IBC. 

In contrast, the IRC states that the minimum width of stairs in a residential lot with less than 50 occupants is 36 inches. Furthermore, outdoor staircases must have 36 inches of clear width at all points above the permitted handrail height and below the required headroom height.

As for the required dimensions of an average stair landing, the width is to be the same as the attached stairs, and the length is not required to be over four feet. 

Exterior stair railings on exit stairs shall be open on at least one side except for required structural columns, beams, handrails, or guardrails specified in other building codes.

Winthorpe Design and Build

Winthorpe Design and Build has been in the construction and design business for years. We serve clients in the Maryland and Washington D.C. areas. We make high-end custom designs, perform top-quality renovating, and custom homes to fit your needs and dream home designs. We’ve got decades of experience and a team of experts that are ready and willing to help you with almost all of your design and build needs. There is nothing more important to us than a happy client, so please don’t hesitate to contact us and set up a consultation.

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