Asked on Oct 09, 2018

How can I best change a steep staircase into a safer one?

by Donna

We are buying an older house that has a very steep staircase into the finished basement. The treads are less than 7 inches deep, and there are only 9 steps where one would expect 13 steps, so the risers are taller than on a usual staircase which makes this staircase especially dangerous. We need advice on how to safely change the existing staircase into a better and safer one. Closing is on Nov. 5, 2018, and this is probably the first project we would like to do as soon as possible.

  7 answers
  • Cynthia H Cynthia H on Oct 09, 2018

    Hi Donna! We did repair/replace a cellar staircase in our old fixer upper. Unfortunately, due to where the large beam was over the stairs, we didn't have the skillset to do more than rebuild it so that it was safer and sturdy. I would involve a contractor who does stair installation, and see how it could be safely rebuilt. If you do this project I would love to see a posting of it, so I could learn from the process. On another note, you can buy precut parts for a stair rebuild. Just make sure you have safe headroom above the steps.

    • Donna Donna on Oct 09, 2018

      Thank you for your input. There is a closet on the mainfloor above the stairs that compromises the headroom, and we already have decided to change that into a short closet by raising the bottom of it and add an armoire to the room for a full length closet so we can have added headroom. I almost waited to post this question until we were in the house and I could include pictures and truer measurements, but I am so excited to plan that out as soon as possible.

  • Kelli L. Milligan Kelli L. Milligan on Oct 09, 2018

    I'd call a carpenter. The biggest thing is the head room of staircase opening and bottom if you need to make a turn

    • See 1 previous
    • Kelli L. Milligan Kelli L. Milligan on Oct 09, 2018

      I always do a drawing, esp. An elevation to figure steps along with floor plan of area to figure it out on paper. Easier to make changes with an eraser, than wood. I'm sure you'll figure it out.

  • William William on Oct 09, 2018

    Did you have a home inspector and did he/she mention the steps. Bring this up to your Realtor and attorney. Ask for their advise. Those steps are not code. The seller should remedy the situation before closing or offer a credit at closing that you are happy with. You can shake up the deal. You will have a final walk through a day before or the day of closing to make sure everything is in order. You can bring attention to the stairs then if a solution isn't made before closing. The stringers would need to be replaced with new risers and treads. It's possible there wasn't room for standard stringers, risers, and treads to be installed.

    I had buyers that noticed a light fixture was replace during the final walk through on the morning of closing. They refused to close if the original fixture was not put back. The seller removed the fixture which was a gift and put back an old fixture that was originally there. The seller wanted to keep his "gifted" light fixture with no remedy and my buyers were ready to walk away from the closing table. So I slapped $20 bucks on the table told the sellers what they did was illegal and told my buyers they were going to lose a home over a light fixture. Everyone was shocked, especially the attorneys. Everybody sat back down and the closing completed. After the closing the sellers agent approached me handed my $20 back which no one touched.

    • Donna Donna on Oct 09, 2018

      William, We did have an inspection done. They are marked as Marginal, Steep, Low Clearance. Stairway tread width is too narrow; creating steep stairway. We took this into consideration for our offer.

  • William William on Oct 09, 2018

    You did your homework. What you would need is remove everything and start from scratch. New stingers. risers and treads. The new stringers would attach exactly like the old ones. Then the risers and treads. Headroom would remain the same but you have plans to remedy that. The only thing different is that the staircase would be longer into the basement. Great articles from Betty.

    • Donna Donna on Oct 09, 2018

      Thank you for your information. My first thought was it would need a teardown and start from new, but I did want to see if there was anything I had missed that would allow us to use any of the existing work. However, my concern was that using the existing stair stringers, risers and treads would end up with a subpar finished product. I did find a youtube video on how to build a new staircase that I feel is well done and it does not use any precut products so it allows for a custom fit. While this may mean more cutting, I believe that ultimately, the end product will be much better. I do appreciate everyone's input and suggestions.

  • Kmdreamer Kmdreamer on Oct 09, 2018

    Take the threads off and make larger ones about 10 inches

    • Donna Donna on Oct 10, 2018

      Thank you, Kathy. The problem that we foresee with doing that is, with no support under the front of each step, the stairs would be unsafe. Also, when going up the stairs, one would easily trip, catching the front of the foot or shoe on the overhanging step. Thank you for you proposed solution.

  • Ellis Ellis on Oct 09, 2018

    I think the best thing to do is start over, with an all-new staircase. There are many companies/carpenters that do this sort of work. If you want just safe access, you can get stairs made of less expensive/glamorous, but still sturdy and attractive woods. You can't be too careful when it comes to stairs.