A plethora of stair defects.

9 Stair Defects Found During Home Inspections

Stairs are often a place I find defects while conducting the home inspection. Here’s a list of the most common defects found in stairways.

  1. By far the most common problem I find during an inspection is the lack of a proper handrail. The standards state that all stairways with three or more risers, (the vertical portion of a step) have a graspable handrail. For example, a round profile rail of 1 ¼’ to 2” in diameter. The handrail must be securely attached and run the entire length of the stair
  2. Open stairway. The stairway must be enclosed on both sides. Very often I see basement stairs during inspections with one open side, this is a hazard, especially for small children.
  3. Baluster spacing. The balusters, or vertical components of a railing, must be less than 4 inches apart. Older homes often have balusters that are too widely spaced, presenting a hazard to small children who may get their head caught in the opening.
  4. Open risers. Similar to widely spaced balusters, open treads present a hazard to small children, who may get their heads caught between the steps.
  5. Uneven treads. Stair heights should be no more than 7 ¾”, with no more than a 3/8” variation between the largest and smallest step.
  6. Low clearance. Another favorite on basement steps. Any less than 6’-8” is considered low clearance. This is not typically a correctable defect, but the stairs should be used with caution.
  7. Shallow stairs. Older homes may have tread depths that are too shallow and may be a tripping hazard. If they cannot be replaced, use with caution.
  8. Tilting steps. Steps that have settled unevenly over time may present a trip hazard.
  9. Slippery treads. Wooden stairs are often treated with sealants that are quite slippery, especially in socks or slippers. Consider adding securely attached carpet tread covers or a non-skid finish.

While not an exhaustive list, the nine items above are some of the most common I find while inspecting homes. See  how many you can spot in the photo above.