Stairs | Stairways

Stairs, stairways, staircases, or stairwells, are building components that provide users with a means of vertical movement with the distribution of separate and individual vertical steps. In a building setting, a flight of stairs refers to a complete series of steps that connects between two distinct floors. Either as conscious design decisions or as reactions to existing spatial conditions, stairs can take on a variety of organizational types from straight runs to spiral, L-shaped, U-shaped, or circular forms. Each stair step is typically comprised of a horizontal tread and a vertical riser.

Stairs are designed to establish a route or bridge between vertical levels by dividing the distance or height into steps feasible for occupants to travel. Stairs refers to a stairway, staircase, or stairwell while steps refers to the individual vertical distances that make up the stairs. There are many various types of stairs that can be straight, curved, or a set of straight pieces connected at a turn or landing. There are general requirements for a stair’s minimum and maximum tread depth and riser, with a tread being the component of the stair that the occupant steps on and a riser being the vertical component between each tread. 

Stairs Guides
Browse through our curated Stairs Guides for additional categorizations, tips, details, variations, styles, and histories of Stairs. Guides provide additional insights into the unique properties and shared relationships between elements.
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Spiral Staircase (Residential)
Dimensioned drawing of Spiral Staircase with measurements for width, height, and stair risers

Spiral Stairs follow a helical arc, and the treads radiate around a central pole. They are often found in industrial contexts, and the reduced tread width allows for a very compact design. However, this can be a disadvantage as it can be very steep. A Spiral Staircase typically has a handrail on only the outer side; the inner side just has the central pole. As the central pole provides the structural support for the stairs, it does not need many additional support structures, which makes installation easier than other types of stairs.

Spiral Stairs follow a helical arc, and the treads radiate around a central pole. They are often found in industrial contexts, and the reduced tread width allows for a very compact design. However, this can be a disadvantage as it can be very steep. A Spiral Staircase typically has a handrail.

Spiral Staircase (Residential)
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Drawings include:
Spiral Stair elevation (person)

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Three-Quarter-Turn Stairs
Side elevation illustration of a woman climbing a set of Three-Quarter-Turn Stairs

Three-Quarter Turn Stairs change their directions through 270° by the time the stair reaches the next floor. The direction is changed three times through three right angles, with the upper flight crossing the bottom one. In this type of construction, an open well is formed. This type of stair is normally used when a space has a greater vertical distance but a limited length. Some flights have very few risers, and the landings can provide a place to stop and rest during ascension.

Dimensioned plan and elevation drawings of Three-Quarter-Turn Stairs measuring height and width
Three-Quarter Turn Stairs change their directions through 270° by the time the stair reaches the next floor. The direction is changed three times through three right angles, with the upper flight crossing the bottom one. In this type of construction, an open well is formed.

Dimensioned plan and elevation drawings of Three-Quarter-Turn Stairs measuring height and width
Three-Quarter-Turn Stairs
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Width (Min.): 36” | 91.4 cm
Rise (Max.): 7” | 18 cm
Run (Min.): 11” | 28 cm
Landing (Min.): 36” | 91.4 cm
Handrail Height: 34”-38” | 86.5-96.5 cm

Drawings include:
Three-Quarter-Turn Stairs side elevation, side (person), front, plan

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Quarter-Turn | L-Shaped Stairs
Illustration of a man walking up a Quarter-Turn | L-Shaped Stair viewed in side profile

A Quarter Turn staircase changes its direction to the right or left, but the affected portion of the turn introduces a quarter space landing or winders. The flight of stairs turns 90°, as it rises to connect two different levels, so it is also called a L-stair. L-shaped Stairs have many advantages; they provide a visual barrier between floors to add privacy, and they can somewhat aid in sound transmission between floors if the stairs are contained within walls. The landing can provide a place to stop and rest when ascending, and the staircase is safer than straight stairs, as the central landing can reduce the number of treads when falling.

Dimensioned plan and elevation drawings of a Quarter-Turn | L-Shaped Stair measuring height and width
A Quarter Turn staircase changes its direction to the right or left, but the affected portion of the turn introduces a quarter space landing or winders. The flight of stairs turns 90°, as it rises to connect two different levels, so it is also called an L-stair. L-shaped Stairs have many advantages.

Dimensioned plan and elevation drawings of a Quarter-Turn | L-Shaped Stair measuring height and width
Quarter-Turn | L-Shaped Stairs
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Width (Min.): 36” | 91.4 cm
Rise (Max.): 7” | 18 cm
Run (Min.): 11” | 28 cm
Landing (Min.): 36” | 91.4 cm
Handrail Height: 34”-38” | 86.5-96.5 cm

Drawings include:
Quarter-Turn | L-Shaped Stairs side elevation, side (person), front, plan

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Z-Shaped Stairs
Illustration of a woman climbing a flight of Z-Shaped Stairs in elevation

A Z-Shaped Staircase is a specialized staircase that is occasionally needed to fit around awkward architecture. It uses two parallel 90° turns that create a shape similar to that of the letter “Z” if seen from above. The stairs follow a zig-zag line with the tread and the rise continuous from start to exit. It is also referred to as a Double L Stair, as it is very similar to the L Stair but with two intermediate landings, one near the top and one near the bottom with a 90° change of direction at each landing.

Collection of plan and elevation drawings of Z-Shaped Stairs with dimensions
A Z-Shaped Staircase is a specialized staircase that is occasionally needed to fit around awkward architecture. It uses two parallel 90° turns that create a shape similar to that of the letter “Z” if seen from above. The stairs follow a zig-zag line with the treads and rise.

Collection of plan and elevation drawings of Z-Shaped Stairs with dimensions
Z-Shaped Stairs
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Winding Steps:
Narrow End (Min.): 6” | 15 cm
Tread Run (Min.): Must meet required tread dimensions 12” | 30.5 cm inward from narrow end

Width (Min.): 36” | 91.4 cm
Rise (Max.): 7” | 18 cm
Run (Min.): 11” | 28 cm
Landing (Min.): 36” | 91.4 cm
Handrail Height: 34”-38” | 86.5-96.5 cm

Drawings include:
Z-Shaped Stairs side elevation, side (person), front, plan

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Egress Stairs
Dimensioned section drawing of vertical Egress stairs with people

Egress Stairs are exit access stairways that incorporate an area of rescue assistance within an enlarged floor-level landing. It provides a protected path that is continuous and unobstructed of egress travel to the exit discharge or public way. The means of egress consists of the exit access, the exit, and the exit discharge. Egress Stairs do not have to be enclosed. With occupant loads for 501 to 1,000 there need to be three exits or exit access doorways, and in spaces with occupant loads greater than 1,000, there need to be four exits or exit access doorways.

Egress Stairs are exit access stairways that incorporate an area of rescue assistance within an enlarged floor-level landing. It provides a protected path that is continuous and unobstructed travel to the exit discharge or public way. The means of egress consists of the exit access and discharge.

Egress Stairs
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Drawings include:
Egress Stair elevation (person)

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