Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Have you considered changing the location of your basement stairs to the opposite side? You’re not alone. Many people find that the current location of their basement stair doesn’t work well with their house layout. In this blog post we’ll go over what it takes to move your basement steps.
Moving the basement stairs is possible, but you’ll want to check your local building codes and make sure that doing so won’t affect egress from the basement. You’ll also want to ensure that there are no obstructions that might interfere with the new location of the stair. Lastly, you’ll need to check to see if there is enough room for the width, run (length) of the stairs, and landings.
In addition, you’ll want to make sure that there is enough head clearance available – the vertical distance between treads and landings to the ceiling above – for the stair to work. Keep reading as we’ll cover some additional things you should look out for.
Why Move a Stair?
There are many reasons that a basement staircase may need to be moved. Perhaps the original staircase was not properly designed and built for the current layout of your home. Maybe you want to shift things around so that there is space for additional living area.
In most cases, the reason for moving a stair is because the existing location interrupts the flow of a space. It may, for example, break up a room and create a barrier between one space and another. In this scenario, you may wish to move the stair to create a more open layout.
Whatever the reason, moving a stair is possible, but does require some planning. You’ll want to take inventory of things that may interfere with the stair. For example, there may be a mechanical unit or piping in the spot where you wish to move the stair. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it just requires re-routing the services which can be costly.
With this in mind, it may be a good idea to have an experience professional take a look to alert you of potential interferences. A local building inspector, contractor, architect, or engineer can do this for you. If you have the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing drawings available, this can also contain valuable information.
Before you decide to move your stair, however, you may want to consider whether your best option is to completely relocate it or rather to reconfigure it in the existing location. We’ll take a look at that next.
Should You Relocate the Stair or Reconfigure it?
There are instances where the general stair location itself is fine, but the landing either at the top or at the bottom doesn’t work or takes up space that could otherwise be used for a better purpose. In such cases, you can consider reconfiguring the stair rather than moving it altogether.
Let’s say you have a stair that runs straight down. You could consider creating a landing with a 90-degree turn towards one direction or another. You could also consider adding a landing and creating a switch-back stair configuration.
While these types of configurations can work well, you need to keep in mind that they may require resizing the opening above in order to allow for head clearance. Head clearance refers to the distance between the step or landing below and the ceiling or stair treads above. The International Building Code (IBC) requires a minimum of 6′-8″ (2.03 m) head clearance for stairs.
Types of Stair Configurations
When it comes to reconfiguring an existing stair or redesigning a new one, there are many options in terms of the layout. Each stair type has its advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to note that you should check your local codes to make sure they can be used in basements.
Straight Runs: Straight stairs are the most commonly used stair types in basements due to their simplicity and ease of construction. As the name implies, they run straight down from the landing at the top to the landing at the bottom. The advantage of these stairs is they can be made fairly narrow.
Switchback Stairs: Switchbacks, also known as U-Shaped stairs, are a variation of the straight run where there is a landing midway and the stair switches back in direction to underneath the starting point. The advantage of these stairs is that they are shorter in distance. However, they are also wider than straight runs.
L-Shaped Stairs: These types of stairs are a variation of the switchback stair, where at the midway landing they turn 90 degrees rather than 180 degrees. These types of stairs are most commonly used in corners. They can take up less space than straight runs and switchbacks if laid out properly within a space.
Square-Shaped: Square-shaped stairs are less common, and usually are created around an existing structural element such as a shaft or large column. Nonetheless, they can be an option to avoid long runs and maintain a more compact footprint. One challenge with square-shaped stairs is maintaining sufficient headroom.
Bifurcated (Split) Stairs: These types of stairs are often used as grand entrances to a mezzanine above. Their use in basements is less likely, but what they offer is two entry points which then meet at a single run at the bottom. This makes them ideal in situations where you need two access points to the stair.
Alternative Stairs: Alternative stair types include winding stairs, circular stairs, and spiral stairs. These are rarely used for basements and may in some instances not be allowed by code. Spiral stairs in particular, can be extremely space-efficient as they take up only a fraction of space compared to other types of stairs.
Stair Design Recommendations
While there are many configurations that can be used for basement stairs, it’s a good idea to use best practices and to design and build the stairs so that they are code-compliant. Below is a chart that can help you achieve this with general recommendations on stair component sizes and allowable projections:
Recommended Stair Dimensions
|Stair Width||36 inches||Minimum clear dimension for basement stairs|
|Headroom||6′-8″||Minimum head clearance. Aim for 7′-0″ clear or more|
|Handrails||34″-38″||Height measured from the nosing of the step to the top of the railing|
|Balusters||4 inches||Minimum clear spacing between balusters|
|Landing||varies||At least as wide as the stair width|
|Risers||4″-7″||4″ minimum and 7″ maximum riser height|
|Treads||10″-11″||Measured from riser to riser or nosing to nosing|
|Nosing||1.5 inches||Maximum projection beyond the riser|
|Misc. Projections||varies||Railings can project 3.5 inches and stringers 1.5 inches into the stair|
These general dimensions should help you in getting started with the stair layout. Keep in mind that codes may vary slightly from state to state. For this reason, it’s always important to check your local code for specific requirements and variations. In most cases, however, these dimensions should work.
As you can see, moving your basement stairs is possible. But before you proceed, be sure to consider all of your alternatives and take inventory of any potential interference or clearance issues. You want to make sure you have enough space for the stair to work.
Moving a basement stair can be a great way to maximize your living space and improve the flow. If done correctly, a relocated stair can add value to your home and make your basement and the space above more efficient and more visually appealing.
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