Spacious Back Deck and Stairs by Deck Creations.

Deck Stairs Q&A with Deck Creations

Stairs for your upcoming deck build or remodel might be little more than afterthought as you plan your outdoor addition, but this should not be the case.  Steps that lead from your deck to your home, another deck level or your yard are a critical consideration in both the appearance and safety of your outdoor project.

There are several choices you will need to make when designing deck steps:

Q: Where should I put deck stairs?

A: In some cases, the necessary location of your deck stairs will be obvious.  For example, if your deck’s elevation is different from that of its connection to your home, you will need stairs from the house door up or down to the deck.  However, there may be other locations where stairs would be convenient.  If you often walk down to your yard, pool, or a fire pit, consider steps leading directly to those areas.  Having more than one set of steps off your deck may make the most sense for your lifestyle.  If you frequently entertain outdoors, pay special attention to stair locations: ease of traffic flow makes a large gathering more enjoyable for everyone.

Q: What wood should I use for deck stairs?

A: Stairs can be built out of pressure treated lumber; this is a straightforward, inexpensive option.  Wood stairs will, however, require more maintenance than some other materials.  Concrete, rock, or stone steps can be unique and beautiful and are often easily maintained with a garden hose.  Another option is wrought iron stairs.  These are low maintenance and generally less expensive than rock or stone.  Finally, cinder blocks topped with brick are an attractive and durable option for deck stairs.  Brick is available in a myriad of colors from which to choose.

Q: What finishing touches should I include with my outdoor stairs?

A: Once you determine the location and material of your deck stairs, consider a few added details to make your stairs safe and beautiful.  Lighting designed specifically for installation in the toe kick of exterior steps is available to increase visibility and safety.  If you have access to electricity on your deck, an electrician can easily wire these lights into your home’s power supply.  If this is not a feasible option, solar powered in-step lights are also available.  Finally, consider adding non-slip rubber mats to each step to prevent slips and falls, especially if you live in a climate that regularly gets snow and ice.

Q: How do I build deck stairs to code?

A: Building codes for exterior stairs are especially stringent as they are considered a critical health and safety issue. (These do not necessarily encompass legal code as dictated by the International Building Code, which is developed by the International Code Council.  Rather, they are general guidelines.  Refer to your locality’s building code for specific information.)

  • Steps should generally be 36 inches wide to meet code requirements, but 48 inches wide is recommended to avoid feeling cramped. Consider what objects you might be moving up and down those stairs — a grill or deck furniture, for example — as you decide on the width of your steps.
  • The tread (or depth) of your steps should be ten and a half inches.
  • The risers (or toe kick) must be between seven and eight inches high.
  • A handrail is only required if your deck is more than thirty inches off the ground. However, guardrails (used to prevent falling from an elevated surface or walkway) and handrails (specifically referring to sloped rails for holding onto while walking up or down stairs) are not a place to skimp.  Proper railings ensure the safety of your family and guests, especially that of older adults and children.
  • If you’re building your deck as a DIY project, there are multiple sources online to help with the math involved in designing and constructing stairs. Prefab stringers, the outer pieces of the stairs that form the outline of the steps, are available.  However, do careful research regarding issues like midspan support in long steps and rot prevention with the use of joist protection tape.  When in doubt, consult a local deck builder for help.

Building or remodeling a deck is an exciting project that adds both value and enjoyment to your home.  The result is an outdoor space you will use for years to come, and the stairs attached to your deck are an important element.  With a bit of thoughtful research, your deck stairs will be both beautiful and functional.

For help building your next project or to answer any additional questions about deck construction, contact the professionals at Deck Creations!

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