Building Codes for Stairs

This is my first attempt to make a design for a house with SketchUp. It’s a design proposal for a small house on a small piece of land. Please let me know what you think.

My first attempt to design a house with SketchUp

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Looks good for a first attempt. How do the Dutch manage to survive their houses without breaking their necks, as the stairs they build are so steep, even in public buildings?


I hope I will use the right words to translate from Dutch in English.

We have a building code in The Netherlands what tells us how steep our stairs may be. In our public buildings the stairs are less steep than in our homes of commercial buildings.

The building code tells us that the tread (where it say’s aantrede in the picture) is min. 220 mm and the rise (ware it say’s optrede in the picture) has a max. of 188 mm for home.

I compared the Dutch stair code to that of my state of Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Uniform Dwelling Code allows 8" rise x 9" tread, which is steeper than the Netherlands.

Quote from an article about Architect John Templer.
Smithsonian Magazine June 1993

“In the United States alone, at least 4,000 people die every year from injuries suffered in stair falls.
Another two million Americans are hurt badly enough in stairway falls to require a physician or at least one day’s recuperation.”

The Staircase by John Templer — The MIT Press

stair porn™ is a weblog showcasing cool stairs from around the world.
I often wonder how some designers can sleep at night, knowing the stairs they have created are lethal contraptions not worthy of a cow barn.

Is this different between building types or is it the same?

Because the rise for commercial buildings is max. 210 mm and the tread is min. 185 mm in The Netherlands. So there is a different between residential and commercial buildings. And is there a max. or a min. for the rise and tread?

At times it has seemed to me that to get a house published in an architectural magazine you will have to leave out railings from your stairs.

My remark about the stairs in the Netherlands was from memory, but of course most of the houses I went to there were old ones. We Finns are also allowed a stair comparable to the Dutch one inside a home, but in a staircase leading to multiple apartments or elsewhere where accessibility rules apply a stair of 300 mm /160 mm is the practical minimum.


There is a big differents between buildings that have been build 50 vears ago and today. And the railings on our staircase is mandatory. The staircase with out any railing looks beautiful but not very safe.

Wisconsin has different code requirements for different types/uses.

Our Uniform Dwelling Code applies to one and two-family residential construction.
SPS 320-325 — UDC Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services
SPS 321.04 — UDC Stairways and Elevated Areas

Our Commercial Building Code applies to public buildings, multifamily dwellings and places of employment.
It is based upon the International Building Code 2009, subject to certain modifications.
SPS 361-366 — Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services

The International Building Code 2009 — 1009.4.2 Riser Height and Tread Depth.
“Stair riser shall be 7 inches (178 mm) maximum and 4 inches (102 mm) minimum.”
“Tread depths shall be 11 inches (279 mm) minimum.”

Our National Association of Home Builders has vigorously resisted safer residential stair codes.
For a long time we know 9”min. tread x 8”max. riser is too steep for safety.
But NAHB complains the little bit of extra space required for a safer stair will add too much cost.

I refuse to design/build a stairway with <10” tread, and so I refuse to be a member of the NAHB.
Some of those I’ve built are here along with a lot of other ‘unrelated stuff’.

Here in Virginia it looks like the code allows for a rise of 8 1/4" and tread of 9". I would personally never build such a stair. I like them around 6 1/2" R and 11" T but of course this takes more space. There probably should be a (and may be) a separate standard for secondary stairs where space and room shape require special consideration.

Being the Netherlands such a flat country recourse to an artificial sensation of climbing is understandable, right?

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You know that average the Dutch are the tallest people in the world and the climbing for us is really great. When we go to an other country we often have problems with climbing the staires because they are often less steep.

In the UK (if you have the space to build your ‘private staircase’…) you will make the steps more ‘easy going’

Optrede=riser closer to 170mm or increase the aantrede=going to more than 220mm
Trede=tread will overlap by no more than 25mm, otherwise you will get a tripping hazard
Open optrede=riser treads will overlap by min.16mm and no more than 25mm

If you don’t have the space…
Aantrede=going will be 220mm and the going set by the pitch of the staircase at max. 42 degree.

It seems the same is true of stairways depicted in instructional videos.
Along with another obvious fatal design flaw.

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And the notched railing posts won’t cut in these parts either.

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2 *rise + the going should be between 550 mm and 700 for comfort, even for the Dutch.