There are a few designs where stairs are unnecessary, but the majority of decks will require and in fact, function better with stairs. There are tricks and tips to stair design that will make your Northern Virginia deck much more usable, attractive and safe for family and friends of all ages.
Following Building Codes
Deck stairs need to comply with state building codes in every situation. The code lays out the minimum and maximum measurements allowed for the rise (height) and run (tread depth) of each step. The 2×12 stair stringers are also required, allowing for the minimum 5 inch width of the cut stringers.
Any railing on your stairs must also meet code, including the total height, size of pickets, spacing of posts and pickets and the height off the stair tread. Guardrails have a separate and detailed code that applies, including the proper fastening method, size and shape of the guardrail and post spacing.
All of these specifications have been carefully calculated to provide the optimum levels of safety. Most premade stair railings available at building supply stores are built to code and professional decking contractors make a practice of designing deck stairs to follow code.
The size and placement of your deck stairs are also important factors. Stairs need to be built wide enough for an adult to travel comfortably and safely up and down. Generally stairs are not built less than 3 feet wide and wider stairs often create better traffic flow. When building stairs off of a walkout deck (more than 5 feet off of the ground), most people find 48 inches to be a good width.
Design your stairs to be in the line of traffic, but not in the way of your view. You can build extra wide or wraparound steps to compromise between both a good view and decent traffic. This will work well on decks less than 3 feet off the ground, providing a view that is clear of railings and allows for stairs in any direction. Multiple stringers are required and often guardrails or handrails can be installed for safety.
Where the Stairs End
Deck designers need to take the bottom of the stairs into account on walkout decks. A long stretch of 13 rise steps will spill out quite a distance from the deck and is not a good option for smaller yards. In that case a landing can be put to good use to turn the stairs any angle from 45 to 180 degrees.
Be sure that any landings are built large enough to accommodate the stairs on either end. You can also use landings to connect narrow stairs to a wider set or vice versa. Landings must be built using the same building codes that apply to decks.
Stairs are required on your Northern Virginia deck to provide a path into the yard. They are also useful for directing traffic and can even provide impromptu seating. Be sure they are built to code and designed for a comfortable width. Use landings where necessary to change the direction of the stairway and control where the stairs spill into the yard. Well designed stairs will compliment a well designed deck perfectly.