A Step-by-Step Guide to Navigating Building Codes and Regulations for Staircase Design

When it comes to designing a staircase, it’s not all about picking out the perfect material or finding the right aesthetic. Believe it or not, there’s a crucial practical element too – understanding and adhering to building codes and regulations. These rules might seem intimidating, but they exist for a reason: to keep everyone safe. So, let’s break them down step-by-step.

Why Bother with Building Codes?

Sure, you might be thinking, “Why let a bunch of rules interfere with my design vision?” The answer lies in safety and legality. These building codes are designed to minimize risks such as falls and ensure easy navigation for all users. Moreover, failing to adhere to local regulations could land you in legal hot water, possibly leading to fines or mandated modifications.

Getting to Know the Codes: A Basic Breakdown

Let’s dive into some common areas of regulation in staircase design. Please note, codes may vary from one area to another, so you should always check the specific codes applicable to your location.

Stair Width

Building codes generally mandate a minimum width for stairs, ensuring they’re wide enough for safe passage. For most residences, stairs need to be at least 36 inches wide. Commercial buildings, on the other hand, may require wider stairs due to greater foot traffic.

Stair Height and Depth

There are also guidelines for stair riser (height) and tread (depth). Risers are usually limited to a maximum of 7.75 inches high, and treads should be a minimum of 10 inches deep. Consistency is key here – riser heights and tread depths should be identical across each stair to prevent missteps.


Handrails aren’t just a design element; they’re a safety necessity. Most building codes require handrails on at least one side of the staircase, and the height is typically mandated to be between 34 and 38 inches.


Ever had to duck while going up or down stairs? The headroom (the height above the stair) is an often-overlooked aspect of staircase design. Most codes require a minimum headroom of around 6 feet 8 inches to ensure people don’t bump their heads.

Keeping Up with the Codes

With so many rules to remember, you might feel a bit overwhelmed. But here’s the good news: you don’t need to memorize the building code book. Whenever a change occurs, local authorities typically provide resources to help homeowners and businesses understand the new regulations. Always be sure to consult these resources or professionals in the field when planning any changes to your staircase.

Finding Balance: Safety and Style

Despite all these rules, there’s still plenty of room for creativity in staircase design. Think of these codes as a basic framework on which you can build and express your personal or brand style. Materials, colors, lighting, and unique design elements can all be tailored to meet both the codes and your aesthetic vision.

Feeling like you’re in over your head with building codes and staircase design? Don’t fret! At Acadia Stairs, we’re experts in both the practical and the aesthetic aspects of staircase design. Give us a call at 845-765-8600 to learn more.