The space occupied by stairs can be minimized in three ways: by constructing stairs in accordance with the boundary dimensions defined by the standards, by constructing stairs outside the standards but sufficiently accessible and finally, by using the space occupied by stairs for another purpose.
By incorporating standard design constraints and following local building code requirements, you can plan a functional, convenient and safe staircase. However, sometimes the available space is simply strictly limited, especially when adapting the attic space to the living space or when building a tiny house. In such circumstances it is often necessary to be very creative and find an unusually functional solution…
How much space standard stairs take up the least?
For a ceiling height of 9 ft (in new construction this is the most common height on the ground floor), a usable area of at least 22 sq ft is required to install the straight stairs in accordance with OSHA regulations, ie 12 * 1.8 ft space. The height of the ceiling can vary as well as local regulations so you need to check if there are any peculiarities in your case, but this is an approximate size. The calculation was made on the basis of the boundary allowable dimensions of OSHA stair requirements.
If you have at least this much space then it is best to make a staircase like this. If it is not possible to make the straight ones then it should be considered to bend it and make it one of the usual types but respecting the standards.
What are the usual types of staircase?
We basically distinguish five types of stairs, in relation to the direction of propagation in the horizontal plane.
- straight (with or without intermediate landing),
- L-shaped (with one or more change of direction),
- winder and
- curved or arched stairs.
People tend to complicate things and therefore you can find countless different classifications of stairs on the internet that don’t make much sense and are inconsistent. All the other types you can come across can essentially fall under one of these five.
What if there is no room for a standard staircase?
The lack of space to build a standard staircase does not mean that adequate access to the upper floor cannot be made. On the contrary. It is even possible to obtain all the necessary permits. OSHA and IBC define different types of stairways and ladders that are not classified as standard stairs. Here is a list!
1. Spiral stairs
Spiral stairs have a wide range of benefits compared to other solutions. The small footprint of a spiral stair frame makes it easy to fit into almost any space and different materials and styles allow it to fit into any interior design. The cost of your staircase solution is driven by the complexity of the design and options you choose, but most often does not exceed the cost of standard staircases. If you want to save money, think about some of the ready-to-install spiral stair kits, of which there are many on the market.
2. Alternating tread-type stairs
Alternating tread stairs have their advantages as well. They have a smaller overall footprint than standard stairs because of their steeper slope of either 56 or 68 degrees. Although steeper, they are not more difficult to climb and they are designed to be used as standard stairs with users facing the direction of travel when climbing up and down.
3. Ship stairs
Ship stairs take up even less footprint because they are even steeper with an angle of inclination of up to 70 degrees. Ship stairs are a hybrid. Part stair and part ladder, they make vertical circulation more comfortable and generally are preferred to normal ladders since they are more like stairs. They are most commonly used in tiny houses or to access galleries.
4. Fixed ledder
They are typically installed in mechanical spaces or on rooftops, and they are also sometimes used to access roof hatches. They take up the least space but are also the most difficult to use.
Keep in mind that, although they are not classified as standard, all of these types of stairs must meet certain conditions in order to be legal and safe, so you need to check local regulations or OSHA!
Are there stairs that don’t take up space at all?
Yes, there are! Actually, there are two types of such stairs.
5. Folding staircase
This is a movable stair that can be folded or retracted out of the way. There are those that fold upwards and those that fold to the side. There are also variants that are mounted on sliders so that the entire ones are pulled into a designated space. In any case, the folding staircases are perfect space saveur!
6. Storage staircase
The basic idea of this type of staircase is to make the space below for some useful purpose. The most common and easiest way is to make shelves (open or closed) and thus get storage, which is why they are so called. There never seems to be enough storage space in the house.
However, the space can also be used as a fireplace, library, etc. Ideas are countless.