Quick Handrail question

dhustonApril 5, 2012

I have a question about if I need a handrail on one side of this landing. I have attached a picture of the stair layout. The side in question is the side that is closet to the door. The landing is 15 inches off the ground. The house is being built in NW Florida. Sure would be nice for moving in furniture without a handrail there. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.

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A residential stair is only required to have one continuous "handrail" but it also needs a "guard" when the tread or landing is more than 30 inches above the adjacent floor surface.

You would not be required to have a handrail or guard at the location in question but it would help make the situation clear if the lowest tread wrapped around the corner of the landing and continued to the wall. Adding a handrail at the wall would then be possible although not required.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 2:18PM
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Thank you for the response. I see what you are saying about wrapping the tread around but I dont think it will have enough room with door swinging that way. Will have to measure when I get home.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 2:55PM
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Since you only have the landing plus one more step down, it seems to me like you would be better off to just get rid of the lower landing and go straight down from the upper landing. You would have more clearance between the door-swing and the bottom step than you now have between the door-swing and the edge of the landing. And you would not have the single step sticking out into the hallway space. Without a newel post on the side of that riser that is closest to the door, I fear that folks entering the door and walking down the hallway could trip over the bottom step if they're not paying close attention to their feet.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 4:17PM
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Bevangel - stairs are already framed, so don't want to change much now. We wanted the landing to be able to turn the stairs back to the hallway. Kids bedrooms are upstairs and to have to walk all the way around the handrail to get to the stairs would be a pain. Since the kids and us will be going up and down the stairs much more often than there will be people using the front door we chose the option that we did. As far as people tripping I am a little concerned as well. Trying to think of some way to highlight the tread without resorting to yellow and black caution tape!!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 11:53AM
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If the door hits an added tread and you can't move the door to the left and swing it against the wall, you will need to add a railing for safety.

I'm curious why handrails weren't required to be shown on the permit drawings since they are required by the building code. That might have alerted you to this issue. Drawings are too valuable too skimp on.

Not using a lower landing would have caused your adult family members to take two additional half steps but it would have created a much nicer entry area. Frankly, I would remove the landing or move the door over and add a decorative window. A good entry area is more important than saving a step since stairs and halls require a lot of steps so one more shouldn't matter.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 12:49PM
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I agree with R-8. If you straightened out the bottom of the staircase, it would mean walking maybe an additional 22 inches of distance to walk to reach the bottom of the stairs. That's less than ONE stride for the average adult. Even if you were to go up an down the stairs 20 times a day, that extra stride won't burn off 10 extra calories a day. So, how much of a "pain" could it really be?

Conversely, if someone trips over that unprotected bottom step sticking out into the walkway, they could very easily wind up with a broken leg. Now THAT would be a pain!

I understand that the stairs are already rough-framed but pulling out the landing and re-framing the bottom two steps would take almost no time and should cost very little. By not having to purchase materials to finish the bottom landing, you'ld probably save almost as much as the reframing would cost. And you would wind up with a much more functional entry way. (BTW - I also agree that the entry would look nicer with a window or, if you prefer the door centered, with sidelites on either side of the door.)

Alternatively, if you're adamant about keeping the lower landing, then you need to go ahead and run a railing across landing AND put newel posts (attached at floor level) on both ends of that bottom step.

Newel posts stick up about 48 inches so you don't have to be looking down at the floor to see them. People walking in from the front door would automatically move to the left to avoid the newel posts and that would keep them from tripping over the bottom step. However, if you only have a newel post and railing on one side of the staircase you'll actually be making it MORE likely that someone will trip over the bottom step. This is because the subconscious message sent by a single post would be "the stairs start here... no need to worry about them till you reach this point." Does that make sense?

Without a newel post on side of the bottom step nearest to the door, I can't think of much you can do to highlight the tread so it won't be a tripping hazard. Since most of us don't really look DOWN much when walking around inside a house, it would have to be something that would catch people's peripheral vision. And since peripheral vision is mostly sensitive to motion, maybe some of those flashing "runner" lights wrapped around the step might work - if they were bright enough to catch your eye even in the daylight. I don't know tho.

Me? I'd just straighten out the bottom of the staircase.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 2:18PM
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I guess I should have been more clear on the status of the house. Pretty much just waiting on cabinets, flooring, plumbing trim out, and a CO. The plan all along has been to put a railing on the side in question but I wanted to know if I HAD to have one. I called the building department and there answers are always YES if you ask them do i have to. They recently told me I had to have a letter from the AC manufacturer because I am putting in old (1 year) AC equipment from the house we tore down!

Bevangel - I don't need your info on exercise physiology! I am a physician and know a great deal on the subject. As far as tripping over the last tread, I took a closer look last night and someone would have to run through the front door to be close to that tread. It isn't as close as it looks in the plan. The side of the landing and the tread will have a painted white skirt board running along it so that should be enough to set it apart from walnut stained floor. On a side note, I feel that your use of capitalized words is uncalled for. There is no need to shout.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 3:56PM
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i'm sorry if you feel my use of capitalization in my previous message was "shouting". since i only capitalized occasional words rather than full sentences, i personally felt that the capitalization was simply a matter of emphasis - much as your capitalizing the words "had" and "yes" in your response was simply for emphasis and was not shouting. obviously one could insert html code to bold or italicize word for emphasis but it easier to just use capitals. had i capitalized whole sentences, i would agree with you that i was shouting unnecessarily. as it is, i don't think i was but since you did, i am sorry. i've turned off the caps key while typing this message to make sure i don't make the same mistake again.

i'm also sorry that you took my "physiology lesson" as an insult. it was meant as a way of pointing out that any "pain" involved in walking that extra stride was more a matter of perception that of reality.

as for one needing to enter the house at a run in order to be close to that tread, i am sorry but that statement simply doesn't make any sense. the front door is a certain distance from the stairs. it looks to be about 3.5 to 4 ft based on a comparison with the width of your front door (which is probably 3 ft) and the width of your stairs (which are probably 42" or 48" wide.) the distance from front door to stairs is unaffected by whether one enters at a run or very slowly. the only thing that changes based on the speed one is going is how quickly one reaches the step in question and therefore how much time one has to notice the step and avoid tripping over it. (actually that previous statement isn't quite true... if someone should enter the house at speeds approaching a reasonably high percentage of the speed of light then, yes, relativistic effects would cause a noticeable foreshortening of the distance between door and step. but i'm pretty sure we really don't need to get into relativity theory here. lol!)

the problem remains, if a vistor is not looking downward as he comes thru the front door and does not look downward within his first two or three steps (such as could easily happen if, for example, he were engaged in a conversation with his host or were looking about admiring the new house) - then regardless of whether he is running or moving at a slow stroll, he is simply not going to see that step.

i'm sure that as a physician, you have a thorough understanding of peripheral vision and useful field of vision. you know that an object 3 to 4 feet in front of one's toes and at ankle level is within the ambit of most people's peripheral vision but not really within their ufov. thus, if a thing in that position moves we tend see it; if not, most of us will never notice it unless we look down so as to move the object within our ufov. you also know, or should know, that ufov tends to decrease as people get older...putting them at greater risk for falling over unnoticed objects near the floor. more than anything else, imho, this may explain why older people tend to watch the floor as they walk.

a painted white skirt-board running along side the step will set the step off from the walnut stained floor - but only for folks who happen to look down. it will do nothing to help those who stride confidently into your house without looking down at their feet.

frankly, it is a good that you are a physician. if/when someone gets hurt tripping over that step, perhaps you'll be able to treat them.

since the landing appears to be low enough that code doesn't require you to have a railing, you can do whatever you want. it is your house. but doc, if/when someone gets hurt, i do hope my warning haunts you.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 6:16PM
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Are you planning on moving furniture into the house through the front door? If so, you might want to put up some kind of barrier for the furniture movers to insure they don't trip on that stair trend while they are trying to maneuver furniture through the doorway.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 7:28PM
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I totally agree that the landing and step is an accident waiting to happen. You should redo it as a straight run instead. This should have been caught at design stage, but it's not too late to fix it now.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 7:52PM
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