How to Make Stairs Less Steep (9 steps)

Steep stairs are a difficult thing to climb, and can even prove dangerous for young children and older seniors, so it isn’t a bad idea to decide to fix them. There is a lot of measuring and planning that needs to go into this project but it isn’t too difficult to accomplish. Below are 9 steps to help you as you go through the process of planning and remodeling your steep stairs.

1. Understand Local Codes And Regulations

It’s important to check the codes and regulations where you live before taking on any big house projects, and adjusting your staircase in any way is no exception. This is something that should be done before you begin planning or reconstructing the staircase. The reason for this is because the laws surrounding the depth and steepness of stairs, and the regulations for refashioning them, may vary from area to area.

Check with your local building official or someone from your city to go through what you can and can’t do, and if any documents or permits are needed for this project. They can also help give you information on how to take your old stairs down safely or recommend you to someone who can help.

2. Take Measurements

There are many different measurements that you have to take care of when reconstructing your stairs, including how much farther you need to extend them and your desired width for the staircase.

First of all, to get an idea of how many stairs you should have to make up your staircase, measure from the spot of the wall where the staircase first starts at the top to where it touches the floor at the base of the wall. Next, divide that number by seven, and that should give you the number of stairs you will need.

Then, if you measure that original height by the number of stairs you previously got, you will get the average height between each stair. This will help you to determine the rise and run of your stairs (as well as the desired length and depth).

Some other things to think about during this step would be what you would like the width of your staircase to be, and if you want or need any sort of handrail on either side of the stairs. Deciding these things early on will make it much easier to complete the project.

3. Follow The 7 – 11 Rule

This is a rule commonly used when someone is constructing or reconstructing a staircase in a home. Basically, the 7 – 11 rule means that the vertical boards (otherwise known as the risers) at the back of each step are 7 inches tall at the most and that the flat surfaces that you actually step on (also known as the treads) are at least 11 inches deep.

This is a good rule to follow when reconstructing a staircase that you want to be less steep and can serve as a good model as you plan out your specific measurements.

4. Allow Headroom

Headroom is the space that you have above your head while you are going up or down the stairs – the space that guarantees you won’t bash your head on the ceiling.

Typically, there should be about 80 inches, or about 6 feet and 8 inches, between any stair and the upper surface above it at any given point along the staircase. Keep these measurements in mind as you plan your staircase so you can make sure people won’t have to bend over or anything when walking down your stairs.

5. Replace Stringers

Stringers make up part of the structural framework of stairs while also improving their integrity based on how strong of a foundation they are. They are the housing on either side of a flight of stairs and outline the shape of the stairs, providing the notches where the treads and risers will be fixed on each stair. Stringers play a crucial part in the steepness of your stairs.

If you are planning on reconstructing your stairs to make them less steep, you will need to take out the old stringers and buy or make new ones that are proper to the measurements of your improved staircase.

6. Fix The Nosing

The nosing is the part of the stair tread that hangs over the edge of the risers. They help provide a more comfortable look and feel to your stairs rather than just ending at the intersection of the riser and tread. If you decide to include them while you are remodeling your stairs, subtract their length from the overall depth of the stair to make sure the staircase still won’t be too steep.

For example, if you have an overhang that is just 1 inch, while your treads are 11 inches, the depth of your stairs would be 10 inches. Take into consideration how deep you want your stairs to be and if you would like them to include nosing as well, so you aren’t caught off guard if you suddenly realize that your measurements cause nosing to appear.

7. Reconstruct Your Staircase

If you are simply planning to reconstruct your staircase in its original form by elongating it, there are certain things to take note of.

You will want to extend the staircase from the lower floor, as the upper floor likely contains many important structural frameworks that are necessary to the top of the staircase, and trying to change those will probably lead to damage on your upper floor. Choosing to change the staircase from the top would mean a lot more work would need to be done to the house and area surrounding the staircase.

Expanding the staircase from the lower floor will make it a lot easier and won’t require that extra work. This is the best option for making your staircase less steep unless your floor plan just doesn’t allow it, or you want to remake your staircase differently. In that case, there are some other options to choose from when it comes to reframing your staircase. 

8. View Options For Your Staircase

Besides just having a straight staircase, there are many other options that you might like better while reconstructing a staircase, and ones that might work better for your home. Some of these include switchback, spiral, L-shaped, and Winder staircases.

Switchback staircases: If extending your straight staircase just doesn’t work, choosing to reconstruct it as a switchback staircase would be the next best option. These staircases are also known as U-shaped or scissor staircases because of how they split halfway down the level.

These types of staircases definitely wouldn’t be as steep but would take up a lot more space width-wise, because you have to include a landing halfway down and then another set of stairs to make it the rest of the way down.

Spiral staircases: These staircases are another great option. It’s definitely one of the fanciest types of staircases, but it is also the one that takes up the least amount of space. Spiral staircases can be built into the wall if it fits the shape of your house, or simply constructed away from the wall. Just make sure that if you make it detached from the wall, the landing is big enough for the stairs not to touch the wall.

Check that you can actually build a staircase like this before planning to since many areas might restrict them because of local fire codes and housing regulations. This would usually be the case if the staircase is the only exit to and from the floor it’s on, as that could be a safety hazard.

Keep in mind that spiral staircases also make it hard to move furniture and big items, so think about the structure of your house and if it would really be the best match when considering one.

L-shaped staircases: Just like the name makes it sound like, these are staircases formed in an “L” shape. While they might be similar to switchback staircases when it comes to width, they differ because instead of two sets of stairs that go parallel to each other, they descend perpendicularly with a landing halfway down or most of the way down. 

This type of staircase, along with switchback and straight staircases, is the most helpful way to reconstruct your staircase if you want something like a closet under the stairs.

Winder staircases: These staircases are just like L-shaped ones, except with triangular-shaped stairs in place of a flat landing to make the curve gentler, and to keep it closer to the wall.

9. Considerations

In closing, there are some things to keep in mind while you are deciding what type of staircase to go with as you remodel, and what other specifics might be needed according to the structure of your home.

When deciding which staircase would be most helpful for your home, think about a variety of emergencies that could take place and if that staircase would provide a helpful exit, or prove a hindrance. Also think about your family, children, and pets, and how each staircase would work for them.

Take time to figure out the specifics of your staircase. Consider if this is a project you wish to take on by yourself, if you would like professional help, or even if you would like someone to do the whole thing for you.

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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