Staircase Regulations and Standards

Building codes require that staircases be constructed for safety and ease of use. If you're thinking about replacing a staircase or just the railing, find out all you need to know.


Photo by: Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009

Do It Yourself Home Improvement, Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009

The layout of your home is generally designed around the staircase, so it is unusual to replace it unless it is unsafe or if you are doing extensive remodeling. Staircases are custom-built. Installing a staircase is a complex job and may be best left to a professional who will measure and build the stairs. Replacing the balustrade can update a staircase, and with a kit it is fairly straightforward. Staircase design must meet local building codes.

Staircase Regulations

The staircase should comply with these rules:

  • The top of the handrail must be located between 34 and 38-inches (860 and 970-mm) above the pitch line.
  • Along any open side of a stairway, the balusters must be located such that a 4-3/8-inch (110 mm) sphere cannot pass through.
  • The riser height is limited to 7-3/4 inches (200 mm).
  • A minimum tread depth of 10 inches (250 mm) is required, measured horizontally between the nosings of adjacent treads.
  • The headroom clearance along any point of the must be at least 80-inches (2 meters).

Replacing a Staircase

Most specialty manufacturers will measure and install a new staircase for you, and ensure it complies with building codes. If you are building stairs yourself, always read any manufacturer's instructions — they will explain where and how to take the crucial measurements. Generally, you will need to measure from floor to ceiling to get the "rise" — the height of the staircase. Remember to take the thickness of the finished floor into account. The advance of the staircase across the floor is known as the "run." It is measured as the distance between the face of the first riser and the face of the last riser. If you are building a staircase between two walls, measure the width of the space in several places and work with the smallest figure.

Installing Replacement Balustrade

Installing Replacement Balustrade

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Replacing a Balustrade

You may wish to replace a balustrade if it is broken, or purely for cosmetic reasons. Traditionally, balustrades are secured into the staircase, and require considerable expertise to replace. An alternative is to purchase replacement newels, balusters and rails. These can be adapted to fit around most stairs and landings. Make sure you buy the right kind for your stairs — the system needed will vary depending on whether the staircase is closed- or open-string. If your stairs have an open string, then metal balusters are ideal because they can be attached directly to the treads with brackets.

Removing the Old Balustrade

Before you can install new stair accessories, you need to use a pry bar to remove the old balusters and handrail. Strip back the baserail. You should be left with the bare string and old newel post.

Installing a Replacement Balustrade

You should comply with building regulations and you should install it using the instructions supplied. It is particularly important to cut the old newel at the right point to avoid weakening the structure.

Removing the Old Balustrade

Removing the Old Balustrade

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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