Stairs are essential in any building, and they have to be constructed properly with the right steepness to avoid accidents.

You can add more headroom by making your stairs steeper or by checking your floor plan to see if you can tear down some space.

In this article, let’s talk about the steps on how you can gain headroom on your staircase.

What Makes A Stair Steep?

A staircase is considered steep when its steps consist of a rise greater than 7 ¾ inches and a run of fewer than ten inches. Even with a normal rise, a staircase can still be seen as steep when its run is less than ten inches. 

According to the International Residential Code, the minimum headroom requirement is 6’ 8”. However, requirements in commercial buildings may be different and stricter. 

To know the headroom on your stairs, measure the nosings on each stair step diagonally. From that line, the headroom should not be less than 6’8”. The headroom should also not be below 6’8” from the top of the stair tread. 

Your Options To Gain Headroom On Stairs

There are generally three ways you can gain headroom on your staircase. The first two ways are labor-intensive choices when you want to keep your stairs as they are. 

You have to check your building’s floor plan for the first option to know if something is directly behind the area you want to raise. If there is an available space, you can tear down some of the walls and floor to increase the headroom space. 


After checking the floorplan and deciding how much space to tear down, it’s time to remove around one to two-floor joists and shore them up using heavy-duty cross-bracing fasteners. After, finish off the space by applying a new finishing and a new wall. 

For the floor framing, it’s recommended to hire a professional because it’s structural and may pose safety issues. 

The second option is ideal if you don’t have any plans on changing the space above your headroom. With this option, you can raise the headroom by reframing the joists to create a new frame for the part of the stairs’ ceiling that’s raised. 

You also have to create a new frame for the new space behind your stairs. After reframing, you need to finish the area behind the stairs with a new step and finish. 

Lastly, the third option involves renovating your stairs to make them steeper if they were a little shallow. 

Steps On Adding Headroom On Stairs

The materials you need for adding a headroom space on stairs are the following:

  • Flat Pry bar
  • Spring clamps
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Hand saw
  • Level
  • Hammer
  • Circular Saw

The step-by-step procedure below can serve as a guide when you want to add headroom for your stairs by yourself. 

  1. Pry the old stair treads from your staircase.
  2. Cut and remove the old stair stringers using your reciprocating saw.
  3. Get your circular saw and cut new sets of notched stringers from a 2×12. Refine your cuts using the handsaw. 
  4. On each stringer, attach your metal hanger plates and nail the metal timber hangers to the stringer’s bottom. 
  5. Use the hammer and nail through the hanger plates into the header to fasten the top of all stringers.
  6. To secure the bottom of stringers, nail through the timber hangers.
  7. You need new risers and tear down old treads for your stringers. 
  8. Finally, nail the new stair treads to the stair stringers. 

How To Properly Compute Stair Dimensions?

There are two parts of a stair step that affect its overall dimensions: rise and tread.

  • Tread – the part you step on when you go up and down the stairs
  • Rise – the vertical height between stair treads

Generally, here are the steps an architect follows in building stairs for a building. 

  • The vertical distance between the building floors is measured, and the architect decides on the stair’s rise measurement. 
  • Divide the total vertical distance by the rise to know the appropriate number of steps needed for the staircase. 
  • When the number of steps is determined, you must multiply the tread measurements to get the most appropriate minimum staircase length. 
  • Stairs should also have landings. Landings make stairs occupy less space and provide more safety for the users. They commonly have the same measurements as the width of the stairs. 
  • The measurement of the landing is added to the total length of the staircase. Now that you have the measurement for the total length of the staircase and the width, you can compute the total floor area. 
  • The floor area is the total space you need to compensate on the upper and lower levels of the building. 

Possible Causes Of Steep Stairs

The problem of having steep stairs is common among building owners. Let’s talk about some of the possible causes of having steep stairs. 

Steep stairs are common among old houses because there were no building codes with strict rules to follow back in the days. Today, houses follow building codes because of stricter enforcement and expensive violations they have to pay. 

The architect or the contractor can commit the miscomputation. However, it is almost impossible for an architect to create improper computations because of his software. The software automatically computes given the measurements needed. 

On the other hand, any miscomputation on the contractor’s end should be recognized and fixed before everything else is done constructing the building. 

Unrefined craftsmanship is the most common cause of steep stairs, and it’s commonly because of non-professionals who choose to construct the stairs themselves. 

If you are a non-professional, you don’t have the proper experience and background to build a set of stairs. Non-professionals commonly construct unrefined stairs and are not approved by any building officer. 

The Bottomline

Proper headroom on your stairs is essential to prevent any accidents from happening. Aside from proper headroom clearance, you must also ensure that the stairs on your building are not too steep. When you decide to add more headroom to your staircase, follow the steps mentioned above and hire a professional to ensure proper construction. 

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avatar for Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield is an experienced writer specializing in home improvement topics. He has a passion for educating and empowering homeowners to make informed decisions about their properties. Matt's writing focuses on a range of topics, including windows, flooring, HVAC, and construction materials. With a background in construction and home renovation, Matt is well-versed in the latest trends and techniques in the industry. His articles offer practical advice and expert insights that help readers tackle their home improvement projects with confidence. Whether you're a DIY enthusiast or a seasoned professional, Matt's writing is sure to provide valuable guidance and inspiration.

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