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Rick A. Harrington of Patch Independent Home Inspections, LLC in Pickerington, Ohio (via The Money Pit). Used with permission of the ASHI Reporter.

Is this curious structure actually a staircase? Apparently, this DIYer didn't have ample room for a "traditional" staircase and decided to split the difference with a staggered design -- an accident waiting to happen. There isn't even a railing! Someone can easily trip on the way up or down.

This creation has basically broken all the rules of proper stair design. Besides the concentration it would take to successfully ascend or descend this staircase, the design doesn't incorporate the standard tread depth and riser height that we humans are used to when moving to another level. When steps are too shallow, wide, high or low, it's hard for our bodies to accommodate the change and thus easier for us to get tripped up.

The most likely scenario here is an an obstruction within the framework of the stairs that made traditional stair impossible to build. To build a staircase that's safe, comfortable and definitely to code, you simply have to have the proper amount of space available for its footprint. Without that, it's time to move onward and upward to other staircase options.

The idea here is to select a stairway design that fits into the limited space and safely gets you to where you're going. For a finished living area, choosing a spiral staircase is a stylish, versatile solution that claims only about half the space of a traditional staircase. Used indoors or out, a spiral staircase can be made of metal, wood or both, with a diameter and other dimensions suited to the area you have available. You can also adjust the position of the first tread relative to the last for a comfortable, logical travel pattern.

For upward mobility in an unfinished space, such as an attic, try such options as fold-down, pull-down or telescoping stairs. With any of these, make sure you've got enough room below for the staircase mechanism to unfold or untelescope completely and solidly, as well as proper clearance above for when the stairs are stored. Plan properly, and you won't have to think too hard about putting one foot in front of the other when taking the stairs!

Skill Level
This one can have you going in circles...literally! Upper-division DIY experience suggested.

Tom Kraeutler delivers home improvement tips and ideas each week as host of The Money Pit Home Improvement Show, a nationally syndicated radio program. He is also author of My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure. You can also subscribe to Tom's latest home improvement podcast or free home improvement newsletter.

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  • OM

    This stair does reflect the way humans climb stairs; try observing next time you're climbing a stair. An Italian architect, Carlo Scarpa, did incorporate this type of stair into his designs; it is easy to climb and not "an accident waiting to happen."

  • Jim

    This is nothing new. The alternating tread device is addresses in section 1009.9 of the International Building Code. This code is used by the majority of the states in the USA.

  • Ram1

    This type stair case has been used for many years and is even offered today in rolling staircase platforms for storage areas etc. Very easy and safe to use.

  • Motorpro

    They have stairs like this for thousands of years. they are used extensivly on ships because they take up less room

  • Penelope

    I think this staircase is great for its purpose. Think what healthy thighs you'd have after a few times! Wouldn't want to try going up in a hurry though.

  • JoyRptr

    Or in high heels after a night of drinking! (LOL)

  • fred thomas

    Just add Handrails.

  • Sue

    I have bad knees and hate climbing stairs. When I had a porch added to my house, I had the carpenters make the steps 5" high, instead of 8", and they're great. I think these stairs would be wonderful for someone with knee problems.

  • Steve

    Old geezers like me need real stairways, preferably 5 inch rise and 12 inch tread, continuous handrail with no hook ends. Especially coming down for morning coffee before the legs are fully warmed up.

  • Crusty Old Carpenter

    I'd like to try out those stairs before making any judgements. They look like they'd need a few climbs and get used to the difference from a more typical layout. The shorter than normal rise between treads would be an advantage for both younger and older people. Of course a handrail is mandatory, preferably one on each wall. All in all, they look safer to me than a spiral or winder staircase, both of which I've built. BTW, stairbuilding is the most demanding kind of carpentry, not a weekend DIY project.

  • Mark S

    The "Rx" of using a spiral staircase is, in this situation, absurd! While the shortened run of a spiral might solve one problem, a SPIRAL STAIRCASE IS TWICE AS WIDE as its traditional counterpart. If you look at the photo, you can see how squeezed the treads are from side-to-side. No way a spiral staircase would solve anything in this space.

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