One step at a time: Staircases and Landings22/02/21
At first glance, most properties look to be perfectly safe to the untrained eye. It’s only an expert property surveyor who would notice that the risers on a staircase were dangerous, or the balustrades were incorrectly spaced on a landing. But these are the kinds of issues our team encounters on a daily basis when carrying out Home Buyer surveys. Here are some of the potential hazards that can be lurking in even the safest looking home.
Scaling new heights
Staircases can conceal a myriad of hazards, especially in older houses. One fault that is instantly recognisable is when walking up them resembles scaling the north face of the Eiger, or at least clambering up a loft ladder. Staircases that are steep are not uncommon, even in estate houses built in the 1970s and ‘80s. Space-saving is always on a developer’s agenda and staircases require quite a large footprint within the house. The stairwell itself is a ‘lost space’, an open void that is difficult to use effectively. Some homeowners have ingeniously positioned shelving or some form or storage in the space. But the steepness of a staircase can be a real danger, especially to children or the elderly – particularly if it is coupled with a small landing, with little turning space.
It’s difficult to rectify the steepness of a staircase without a major redesign, so bear in mind who will be living in the property when you are looking to buy. According to Building Regulations – Part K: Protection from falling, collision and impact (which covers staircases), they must have a maximum pitch of 42°. A minimum of 2,000 mm of clear headroom is required above the staircase – the equivalent of ceiling height in a normal room, which is why so much overhead space is lost above the stairs.
On the Rise
Risers are another aspect of staircases that can be problematic. The riser is the height of the step that makes up each ‘stair’. The tread is where you place your foot. According to UK Building Regulations, the riser should be level and should have a maximum rise of 220mm and a minimum going of 220mm (the going is the depth of the tread, front to back, less any overlap of the tread above). Very old buildings can have a wide variety of different risers and treads, so these may need to be altered, if they are deemed a hazard. This is especially true if the stairs will be used on a regular basis by a wide range of ages and abilities, particularly if the building is open to the public.
Mind the gap
If a flight of stairs is less than a metre wide, it should always include a handrail on at least one side. If they are wider than a metre, they should have a rail on both sides. The minimum height of handrails in stairs or across landings is 900mm. Any gaps between the upright balusters, the pieces of wood that hold the handrail in place, should only be 100mm. It’s sometimes found on landings for example, that there are wider gaps than this between the uprights, which can be a real concern if children use the building and could climb through the space. In this case, sheets of Perspex or other material can be used to close off the space, to make them safe.
Staircases should be created with a number of factors in mind – practicality, style and safety. There was a time when staircase designers looked at style and maybe ignored the other two factors, to create spiral or open riser staircases. Some of these may look spectacular, save space and allow more light into a room, but they may not comply with Building Regs. It’s possible to modify open risers easily enough, with the addition of solid timber boxing, but spiral staircases would need to be replaced in their entirety and an alternative stairway built instead, if they are deemed a safety issue to the present users.
Whatever the age and style of property you are considering buying, if you are looking to have a Home Buyer survey carried out, contact us at our Staffordshire or Shropshire offices.