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How to Build a Staircase

How to Build a Staircase

Interior renovationsHow to Build a Staircase

Building a staircase is somewhat of an art form. In fact, a staircase is an architectural feature distinguished by its design. Whether it’s made of wrought iron, wood, concrete, or steel, it has led many skilled professionals to create real masterpieces.

Prior to building a staircase, one must draw up a detailed plan or blueprint to know the exact measurements of the stairwell, number and height of risers, and number and depth of treads. This article will focus specifically on how to build a staircase, on paper that is.

The Different Types of Staircases


Source: Canva

No surprise here, but there are different types of staircases. In Canada, the National Building Code has established a set of regulations to ensure all staircases are built safely. You can also peruse a document issued by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to gain knowledge about the different types of staircase configurations, or you can check out our article 7 Unique Staircase Designs for Your Home.

Residential Staircase Standards


There are numerous staircase building methods, whether it be regarding their configuration or choice of materials. However, there are certain standards to follow during the building process. 

  • Going (run): must be 8 ¼ in. and 14 in. nosing to nosing (210 mm - 355 mm);

  • Rise: must be between 5 in. and 8 in., from the top surface of the step to the top surface of the step above (125 mm - 200 mm);

  • Depth of tread: must be between 9 ¼ in. and 13 15/16 in. (235 mm - 355 mm);

  • Height of riser: must be between 7 in. and 7 7/8 in. (178 mm - 225 mm). Board that forms the back portion of the step;

  • Headroom: minimum clearance of 1.95 m (6 ft. 5 in.) from the nosing to the ceiling; 

  • Nosing: at least an inch;

  • Width of landing: at least 34 in. (863 mm) wall to wall;

  • Length of landing: at least 33 7/8 in. (860 mm) wall to wall.

Ideal Measurements

The ideal measurements for a run and riser are 9 ¾ inches and 7 inches, respectively. However, consider the headroom to ensure the staircase meets regulations and is safe to use by occupants.

Intro to Building a Staircase


Source: Canva

To build a staircase, you first have to determine the number of steps needed. If you’re in the prep stage of designing the blueprints, that’ll allow you to adjust your plans to meet standards. If you’re working towards replacing a staircase, you can take the measurements for the new staircase on-site. Whether the purpose is renovating an existing staircase or building a new one, the measurements are the same and are applicable for all staircase types. 

Calculate the height and number of risers

Figuring out the number of risers needed will allow you to determine the right height for each and help you meet standards.

Formula 1: Number of risers = Height of staircase / Height of ideal step

Note: If the answer is 14.34, round down to 14 risers, since you can’t have 0.34 risers.

Formula 2: Height of riser = Height of staircase / Number of risers

Note: Given that the answer will be the height of the tread, make sure it meets standards.

Calculate the number and depth of treads

Once you’ve figured out the risers, you can now move on to calculating the treads. For the latter, you’ll know whether the stairwell is big enough, or too small. 

Formula 3: Number of treads = Length of staircase / Width of ideal tread

Note: If the answer is 15.44, round down to 15 since you can’t have 0.44 treads.

Formula 4: Depth of tread = Length of staircase / Number of steps (rounded number)

Note: The answer indicates the depth of each tread. Check to make sure the value meets the minimum requirements.

Check the headroom

Once you’ve determined the right amount of treads and risers, you can go ahead and prepare your blueprint. Furthermore, you’ll have to ensure your staircase is compliant in terms of headroom. The minimum headroom is 6 feet, 5 inches. The latter was determined based on individuals of tall stature, ensuring they can use the stairs without banging their heads.

Begin by tracing an imaginary continuous diagonal line from the edge of the tread nosing to establish the starting point. Next, measure from the nosing to the ceiling to assess headroom clearance. If it falls short of the required standard, you can either increase the size of the stairwell or reevaluate the treads and risers again to find the perfect formula.  

Stringer, Handrail, and Guardrail

A staircase needs sturdy support. Typically, when building a wooden staircase, 2” x 12” boards are used to support the structure. These boards are doubled on either side of the staircase and affixed to the walls to ensure a sturdy structure. If your staircase is wider than 34 in. (860 mm), you can affix another stringer to the middle section of the structure to enhance its load-bearing capacity. Make sure the balusters are no more than 4 inches apart. 

As for the handrail, it must be installed at least 32 to 38 in. (800 to 965 mm) off the staircase nosing. Make sure the handrail is installed at a consistent height, from top to bottom. 

Hire a Skilled Contractor

As you’ve probably gathered, there are several factors to consider when building a staircase. Since it’s an accident-prone installation, it’s best if a skilled and qualified contractor carries out the installation. Once on-site, the contractor will assess the situation, measure and calculate every component to ensure a safe and compliant installation.

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Last modified 2023-11-07

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