Building Stairs with Landings Part 1 of 4

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A landing functions essentially as a large step that interrupts a tall stairway. For the builder, the landing provides a convenient spot from which to change the direction of the stairway. For the homeowner, the landing provides a spot to catch your breath momentarily while climbing.


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Designing and building a stairway with a landing can be one of the most challenging elements of a deck project. Precision is crucial, since building codes have very exact standards for stairway construction. To ensure that the steps for both the top and bottom staircases have the same vertical rise and tread depth, the landing must be set at the right position and height.
Even for professional builders, designing a stairway layout is a process of trial and revision. Begin by creating a preliminary layout that fits your situation, but as you plan and diagram the project, be prepared to revise the layout to satisfy code requirements and the demands of your building site. Measure your site carefully, and work out all the details on paper before you begin any work. Accuracy and meticulous planning will help ensure that your steps are level and uniform in size.
Remember that local building codes may require handrails for any stairway with three or more risers.

Stairway Basics

The goal of any stairway is to allow people to move easily and safely from one level to another. When designing a deck stairway, the builder must consider the vertical drop—the vertical distance from the surface of the deck to the ending point; and the span—the horizontal distance from the starting point to the end of the stairway.
During the planning stage, the vertical drop is divided into a series of equal-size steps, called rises. Similarly, the horizontal span is divided into a series of equal-size runs. On a stairway with a landing, there are two span measurements to consider: the distance from the deck to the edge of the landing, and from the landing to the end point on the ground. In general, the combined horizontal span of the staircases, not counting the landing, should be 40% to 60% more than the total vertical drop.
For safety and comfort, the components of a stairway must be built according to clearly prescribed guidelines, as listed in ‘Anatomy of a Stair with Landing’.

Anatomy of a Stair with Landing

The challenge when planning a stairway is adjusting the preliminary layout and the step dimensions as needed to ensure that the stairway fits the building site and is comfortable to use.
Rises must be no less than 4" and no more than 8" high.
Runs, the horizontal depth of each step, must be at least 10". The number of runs in a staircase is always one less than the number of rises.
Combined sum of the step rise and run should be about 18" to 20". Steps built to this guideline are the most comfortable to use.
Variation between the largest and smallest rise or run measurement can be no more than 3⁄8".
Stair width must be at least 36" so two people can comfortably pass one another.
Stringers should be spaced no more than 36" apart. For added support, a center stringer is recommended for any staircase with more than three steps.
Landings serve as oversized steps; their height must be set as precisely as the risers for the other steps in the stairway. Landings should be at least 36" square, or as wide as the staircase itself. U-shaped stairways should have oversized landings, at least 1 ft. wider than the combined width of the two staircases. Landings very often require reinforcement with diagonal cross braces between the support posts.
Concrete footings should support all stringers resting on the ground.

What You'll Need


Circular Saw
3" deck screws
3⁄4"-long lag screws


Circular Saw
3" deck screws
3⁄4"-long lag screws


Step 1

Code Update: Stair Pads

Some local building codes now prohibit the use of a concrete stair pad to support the bottom run of stair stringers. The “floating” nature of a slab like this allows it to move up and down as the ground freezes and thaws, and that causes the stairs to shift as well. Use full-depth concrete footings instead of a pad to support your deck stairs.

Step 2

Construction Details

Stringers for the top staircase rest on a 2 x 4 cleat attached to the side of the landing. The stringers are notched to fit around the cleat. On the outside stringers, angle brackets support the treads.

Step 3

Construction Details

Steps may be boxed in the riser boards, and may have treads that overhang the front edge of the step for a more finished look. Treads should overhang the riser boards by no more than 1".

Step 4

Construction Details

Concrete footings support the stringers for the lower staircase. J-bolts are inserted into the footings while the concrete is still wet. After the footings dry, wooden cleats are attached to the bolts to create surfaces for anchoring the stringers. After the staircase is positioned, the stringers are nailed or screwed to the cleats.

Step 5

Construction Details

Center stringers are recommended for any staircase that has more than 3 steps or is more than 36" wide. Center stringers are supported by a 2 x 6 nailer attached with metal straps to the bottom of the rim joist. The bottom edge of the nailer is beveled to match the angle of the stringers. The center stringer is attached by driving deck screws through the back of the nailer and into the stringer.

Step 6

How to Create a Preliminary Layout

Evaluate your building site and try to visualize which stairway design best fits your needs. When creating a preliminary layout, it is generally best to position the landing so the upper and lower staircases will be of equal length. Select a general design idea.

Step 7

How to Create a Preliminary Layout

Establish a rough starting point for the stairway on the deck, and an ending point on the ground that conforms with your design. Mark the starting point on the rim joist, and mark the ending point with two stakes, spaced to equal the planned width of your stairway. This is a rough layout only; later calculations will give you the precise measurements.

Step 8

How to Create a Preliminary Layout

To determine the vertical drop of the stairway, extend a straight 2 x 4 from the starting point on the deck to a spot level with the deck directly over the ending point on the ground. Measure the distance to the ground; this measurement is the total vertical drop. Note: If the ending point is more than 10 ft. from the starting point, use a mason’s string and line level to establish a reference point from which to measure.

Step 9

How to Create a Preliminary Layout

Measure the horizontal span for each staircase. First, use batterboards to establish level layout strings representing the edges of the staircases. Find the span for the upper staircase by measuring from a point directly below the edge of the deck out to the edge of the landing. Measure the span for the lower staircase from the landing to the endpoint.

Step 10

Create Final Stair Landing Layouts

Find the total number of step rises you will need by dividing the vertical drop by 7, rounding off fractions. Next, determine the exact height for each step rise by dividing the vertical drop by the number of rises (B).
Find the horizontal run for each step by adding the spans of both staircases (not including the landing), then dividing by the number of runs (C). Remember that the number of runs in a staircase is always one less than the number of rises.
If the layout does not conform with the guidelines found in ‘Anatomy of a Stair with Landing’, adjust the stairway starting point, ending point, or landing, then recalculate the measurements. After finding all dimensions, return to your building site and adjust the layout according to your final plan.



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