Ask an expert: Can stairs be load-bearing?

Houses are heavy. They require heavy-duty walls to support the roof and trusses. This gets more complicated when you throw in the idea of stairs being load-bearing.

Stairs themselves cannot be load-bearing. The walls surrounding them however could be load-bearing. Determining this depends on whether the stairs go to a basement or upstairs, as well as if the wall has studs.

We will discuss more below on whether or not stairs can be load-bearing.

Load-Bearing Stairs

Stairs cannot be load-bearing. That’s that. So let’s talk about what load-bearing means. Load-bearing refers to an object supporting a large amount of weight to uphold a structure. It usually refers to walls.

With that in mind, stairs cannot be load-bearing simply because the only thing stairs will support is moving objects and not permanent structures.

If your stairs are long they will most likely be constructed with multiple stringers. A stringer is a type of wood frame that is designed specifically to support stairs.

The stringers will be supporting your stairs and whatever you put on them. This could be something you are seeing if you are taking your stairs apart.

These usually span from the platform on top to the platform on the bottom. If they don’t, your stairs are most likely broken and should be fixed.

These are very strong and sturdy frames and have to ability to last the entire life of a house if they are properly constructed and taken care of.

Now, the walls around your stairs could be load-bearing. If they are, it should be fairly obvious so long as we know the criteria that make a wall load bearing.

If your stair walls are studded with joists attached to the top (and bottom if they span more than one story) chances are they are load-bearing. The problem here is that most walls will have studs. We’ll talk about that in a minute though.

That’s a long answer to a short question. From here we will be talking about how to identify if your stair walls are load-bearing. Going into this, keep in mind that the fastest and easiest way of figuring out if your stairs are load-bearing is to have your house inspected by a contractor.

Studded Walls

Luckily, we have building codes to help keep us safe, a side-perk of them though is that building codes can help us easily identify a load-bearing wall.

Building codes can vary from area to area, so it would be wise to figure out your personal area building codes by contacting your local Building Code Department.

In general, an interior non-bearing wall will have studs about two feet apart, and be the 2×3 in stud size. These can also be up to ten feet tall. If a wall has any of these features it is not load-bearing.

If it has one or more of these features it may still not be load-bearing, and just be joined to a bracing wall. This is why contacting a contractor would be easiest.

If trusses, joists, or rafters rest on the wall they will be load-bearing. So if your stair walls experience any of these they will likely be load-bearing. These could be interior walls or exterior walls.

If you are looking to remove the wall around your stairs you but a truss is resting on it, you will not be able to do so. However, you could still open your room up by removing the drywall covering the studs. This can be done easily and wouldn’t affect your structural integrity.

It is best to leave studs where they are unless a contractor has told you otherwise.

How To Remove/Replace Studs

If you have been cleared by a contractor then removing and replacing studs is pretty easy.

To remove them, all you have to do is yank them out. This will likely require the use of power tools, pry-bars, and hammers. Have fun but don’t go too crazy.

If you need to replace studs, you will need a few more tools as this is a little harder.

If there is no sagging on the wall then you should just be able to pop them in. If, however, there is sagging on a load-bearing bar, you will need some jacks.

Put the jacks on some scrap wood, jack the sagging porting up, then replace the stud. This may take a little longer because if you need to move the wood too much you should jack it up slowly to help prevent further damage.

Jack it up, let it rest, repeat. It may also require that supporting beams be fixed. That can be a big hassle. If your stairs have supporting beams they will be integrated and either landing platform into the wall surrounding the stairs.

When you replace studs or fix beams make sure that they are up to code. Otherwise, the same problem will happen and you’ll be replacing them again.

If your stairs have supporting beams at the landing, they will likely end where the next floor starts. They will probably be braced, meaning they attach to other studs and beams in a way that allows for flexibility.

Supporting Structure Basics

Joists, trusses, and rafters are some of the most important features to understand when dealing with load-bearing walls. They play a big role in modern home design and construction. These are basically what make the multi-level home with a pitched roof the common house.

Thus they need to be properly supported with beams and studs. We’re going to go into a little detail here, but we won’t do this section justice.

Joists are what make your floors stable and sturdy. They are constructed with boards flipped on their sides (so that they would have the skinny part on the ground) and formed into a kind of lattice.

Trusses and rafters are similar in look and construction, but very different in approach and use.

In short, trusses are pre-built and prevent attic space. Rafters are built on-site and can enable attic use. Both are used for your roof.

These are all supported by beams and studs. Both of which may be found in your stair walls.

So no, your stairs will not be load-bearing, but the walls around them might be. Check your building codes to learn how to determine if a wall is load-bearing. Call a contractor if you can’t figure it out.

Ricky Kesler

With all of the projects I've done over the years, you'd think that I work on my house full-time. But I actually enjoy other things like spending time outdoors and time with my family.

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