Why is a single step dangerous in a house?

Sunday, August 5, 2018

A single step up or down in a home may be familiar to the homeowner, but is often a surprise to a visitor. When there is just one step, it often lacks the visual cues that stairs provide, such as a railing and clearly defined, significant change in level.

     We encountered an extreme example of a dangerous single step recently during a home inspection in Gainesville. The blue tape shown in the photo was added by us to make it recognizable to everyone attending the inspection. But it is an amazing example of just about everything you could do wrong to make a step dangerous:

  1. No nosing to define the edge. You can see at the part of the edge where there is no blue tape that the change in level is practically invisible.  
  2. The step is at the end of a hallway that opens onto a living room, but not perpendicular to the walking path.
  3. No change in texture or color between the two levels.
  4. It is only a short four-inch step, which is easier to miss and more likely to cause a trip-and-fall accident than a normal height step. See our blog post What is the building code for the minimum height of stair steps (risers)? to learn more.
  5. A large window at the opposite wall means you walk from a hallway with low-level light into a harsh glare of sunlight when you approach the step in the afternoon. 

    Although this is an extreme example, any single step is a safety hazard. A minimum of three risers (steps) is recommended by safety experts, which provides both the visual cues and significant enough change in level to make it hard to miss. Here’s a few ways to make a single step more obvious:

  1. A nosing at the edge that is lighter or darker than the surrounding floor.
  2. No distractions, like a large window or cluster of furniture, ahead in the path.
  3. A short handrail on a post makes the step easier for the elderly and provides a signal that your are approaching a step.

    But not having any single steps in a house is the best solution of all.

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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about STAIRS:

What do home inspectors check when inspecting stairs?

Is a landing always required at the top and bottom of stairs? 

When is a railing required at stairs?

What is the building code for the minimum height of stair steps (risers)? 

When is a nosing required on a stair tread?

What is the building code requirement for receptacle outlets at stairs and stair landings?  

Are open stair risers acceptable?

What is the steepest residential stair allowed?

 Do I need stairs at all exit doors from a mobile home? 

The stairs feel too steep. What's the building code? 

• What is the longest stair run allowed? 

• What is the lighting requirement for stairs?

• A light is required over a stair after how many steps/risers? 

• When is safety glass required for windows at stairs and stair landings?

   Visit our STAIRS page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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