Most of us go up and down stairways everyday without thinking much about the planning and construction of them. One of the leading causes of injuries in the home comes from slips and falls on stairways. And one of leading causes of these slips and falls is improper design and building of the stairways.
You probably don’t realize it but as you are going up and down flights of stairs your mind and feet expect consistent changes in level for each step you take. These changes in level are referred to as the “rise” between the levels of each step and each step is commonly called a “riser”. A properly built stairway will have the same amount of rise with each step so we can move up and down without stumbling.
Unfortunately, a very common defect with stairways is for the risers to vary excessively which throws people off as they are walking up and down. The problems are often made worse by poor lighting, people carrying things, being in a hurry, or just not being careful.
Current building codes specify that the variation between the tallest and shortest riser in a flight of stairs should be no more than 3/8”. While this seems like a small amount of variation, amounts greater are quite noticeable and can lead to slips and falls.
The obvious question is, “why would stairways be setup incorrectly?” and there are many answers. Something as simple as changing floor covering types can cause the stair risers to be incorrect due to variations in material thickness. Other times, houses have been remodeled and stairways get incorrectly modified. Lastly, things are often just built incorrectly.
The problems with inconsistent stair risers are particularly problematic for elderly folks, children and others who might not be surefooted and nimble.
So, next time you’re heading up or down a flight of stairs, check out the risers to be sure they are consistent. And if you discover problems with the stairs in your own house we encourage you to get them corrected so your family and guests safe.