More in Stairs

Unsafe Steps

Risers can vary a little, but these are dangerously mismatched

Ask This Old House Crew
Photo by Matt Kalinowski

We recently had our front entrance rebuilt, but my daughter and I have been tripping on the new wood steps as we enter the house. My contractor says steps always vary a little. Is that true? The height of our bottom step is 7 5/8 inches, followed by 6 7/8 inches, 7 1/8 inches, and 6½ inches. What do you think?
— Cheryl, Ladd, IL


Tom Silva replies: No wonder you're tripping — those steps are way off. The International Residential Code, which is gradually replacing the various regional codes in the U.S., says that step height shouldn't vary by more than 3/8 inch over an entire stair run. I can't imagine the codes in your area would permit steps like yours, so have a building inspector come out and take a look.
The inspector should check the stair handrail, too. (Codes call for at least one handrail wherever there are more than two risers.) With steps like yours, there's no telling what the handrail is like.
Once you've documented all the problems, have your contractor come back and fix those steps right.


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