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How to make your stairs and hallways safer

Stairs and hallways should be kept free of clutter, toys, laundry baskets, or any of the typical items that seem to accumulate there. Make sure the stairs and hallways are well-lighted: switches should be installed at the top and the bottom of the stairs to prevent climbing up or down simply to turn the light on or off. Properly anchored railings should be installed on all stairs; consider railings in hallways for family members who are infirm.

Stair Construction

Staircase dimensions and designs are strictly controlled by building codes, which govern such measurements as tread size and shape, rise and run, minimum headroom, handrail position, and spacing of balusters. Consult your local building department before building or remodeling any staircase.


Handrails are required on staircases according to building codes. If the staircase is narrower than 40 inches, only one handrail is needed. Staircases wider than 40 inches require two handrails. Staircases with tapered treads or winders must have a handrail on the side where the tread is widest. If the widest part of the tread occurs against the wall, two handrails are needed: one on the wall and one as part of the balustrade. The end of the handrail should extend beyond the top and the bottom of the stairs.

Handrails can help you keep your balance, but to protect from injury in case of a fall, any handrail must be strong and securely anchored enough to support an adult’s weight. Most building codes state that a handrail should be at least 30 inches but no more than 36 inches above the treads. Standard handrail diameter is 1-5/8 inches, large enough to support an adult’s weight but small enough that the hand can completely encircle the rail to grip it securely.

The screws holding handrail brackets must be anchored into wall studs and must be long enough to pass though the bracket base and the plaster or wallboard — a total of to 1 inch of material — before they reach the studs. Screws must be at least 2 inches long in order to penetrate the solid wood base. If the bracket screws do not penetrate at least 1 inch into the wood stud, replace them with longer screws.

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