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denkyem

Basement stairs and storage access puzzle

denkyem
last month
last modified: last month

Edits for clarification: I'm not building these myself, I'm paying an expert to design and build. And I am not interested in any options that pose a safety risk.


I am preparing to build new stairs between my basement and main floor. They will sit in a small extension off the back of my house which has about 7'x7' interior dimensions. In the diagram below they run from my kitchen door (top right, where the orange line is) to a landing with double glass doors accessing the backyard, and then onwards to the basement. I've attached a diagram from the person contracted to build the stairs, with some blue and orange annotation by me.

My puzzle is in building these safely and more or less to code (we will avoid an inspection) while preserving as much access as possible to storage space under the stairs. Unfortunately no access is possible from the basement (right) side as that's a solid foundation wall, and we've built a bathroom behind it. The only access will be from the landing at the bottom of the stairs. As currently drawn, there access area at the bottom of the stairs only looks about 20" wide.

The stair builder has drawn the stairs in an open "U" shape, with a space in the middle (see arrow pointing to the "awkward gap"), which means we'll need a railing on the lower stairs there. I'm concerned a railing will really limit what we can do with creating access to the storage space. I'm wondering if there's a way to close that gap by pulling the stairs right across so that a wall enclosing the upper stairs prevents any risk of falls, and then we could run a railing along the other side (bottom of the drawing as shown here). Then maybe we could have an opening to the storage space which extends above at least the bottom stair, taking the opening from 20" to more like 26" which would be much more functional.

In terms of use of the storage, I'm anticipating pantry shelves across the back wall (top of the drawing) and then an open crawl space area on the left which can store bins of camping gear, our shop vac, winter sleds, gardening items and other rarely accessed things. Storage in our home is very scarce so we really need to maximize wherever we can!

I'd be grateful for any thoughts on what I'm proposing (is this safe or insane?) or other ideas of how to make the most of this quirky spot. I'm having such a hard time visualizing it all in 3d!



Comments (45)

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect
    last month

    "we will avoid an inspection"



  • Jennifer K
    last month

    If you think you can build the stairs, then you can build a scale model of the stairs. That will let you understand exactly what you're trying to do in real 3D.


    And btw, leaving aside your own safety, doing a reno like this without inspection leaves you open to risks that, if realized, will not be covered by your insurance. Better to do it right the first time. Permits really don't cost that much!

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  • kandrewspa
    last month

    Your first priority should be building the stairs according to code, whether they're inspected or not. There are good reasons for the codes. If the storage doesn't end up being as useful as you were hoping that is a small concern compared to someone falling down the stairs because they don't feel right due to compromises on the rise or stair tread size. I hope you're not so starved for storage space that an understair area is of paramount importance. You're also running the risk that an out of code condition will be discovered when you go to sell the house and you would end up having to redo the stairs.

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Ok, let's say we leave out the question of whether these stairs have to be 100% to code and assume they do. I'm not interested in building dangerous stairs! Given that, is there a SAFE way to do something inventive that would open up marginally more access under the stairs? Some google image searching is suggesting to me that it must not be necessary to take a railing right to the bottom step -- can I stop it on the second-from-bottom? And I can see that even if we closed in the "awkward gap" between the two flights of stairs we'd need something to prevent people falling over the edge from that one stair that is at a right angle to the others in the middle of the "U".

    Regarding the question of a scale model, I am not building these stairs myself! I have none of the skills to build stairs in either full or miniature scale. I am paying an expert professional who designs and builds beautiful staircases and I'm betting would refuse to build anything unsafe. But he doesn't do 3-d modelling and he doesn't speak excellent english so I'm finding it tough to explore this particular issue in detail with him.

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @kandrewspa no we're definitely not messing with the code on rise or run of stairs! As currently drawn these meet code and I'm considering the general layout in terms of number, direction and rise/run of stairs to be fixed, as it's a small space and I know no other plan will work. These new stairs are replacing 80+ year old stairs which wouldn't meet modern code.


    It's just the question of configuring railings/wall/closing in that awkward gap somehow that I'm trying to make sense of.

  • PRO
    PPF.
    last month

    Your drawing is not very clear, but maybe this helps.





  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month
    last modified: last month

    @PPF. This does help, thank you so much! How kind of you to do this. You're right that the original drawing isn't very clear -- I guess I'm only able to interpret it because I know the space. A few differences between the actual space/design and what you so kindly drew here (although the drawing as it is is close enough to be quite helpful in helping me visualize!)

    • There is one more step down between the half-way landing and that first triangular stair, and that step is at a 90 degree angle to most of the rest of the stairs. It's in the drawing where the point of the arrow lands for the note "up 7 stair". That's what creates the "awkward gap" at the bottom of the U i was referring to.
    • The glass doors are sliding, and only open on the landing side (nobody will be opening a door right over a stair)
    • There is no access to the storage in the place you drew it -- that's a solid foundation wall. There's only access through the wall to the left (on the way down) of the bottom landing.
    • The upper landing isn't enclosed by a narrow wall like that
    • At the front of the drawing (where it seems like you could step off the lower stairs into the abyss) there's actually a wall. These stairs are enclosed in a 7x7-ish structure with walls all around except for a doorway at the top to the kitchen and a doorway at the bottom to the basement. Although maybe you knew that and didn't draw that wall so the cross section would be visible!

    Very generous of you, much appreciated!

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Just wanted to say one more thing on the permitting question here... we are engaged in a multi-step renovation and have pulled permits for the big important things (structurally underpinning the basement, anything electrical or plumbing) but have made an informed decision together with our (very reputable) contractor to skip them in a few other areas such as these stairs, mostly in the interest of expediting the process rather than really as a cost-saving measure. We are replacing some ancient very-not-to-code stairs with these stairs which I think will likely end up being entirely to code, but by not pulling permits we also give ourselves a tiny bit of wiggle room if we need it, with any "wiggles" to be performed in a very safety-conscious manner. Much of the challenge arises because the stairs have to fit inside a very tightly dimensioned structure which was designed to house stairs 80+ years ago when none of our modern codes existed. The person building these stairs definitely knows his stuff and is not prepared to build anything dangerous. He just doesn't do 3-d digital renderings, isn't prepared to dedicate a lot of time for design consultations on this job (we're very small potatoes for him) and doesn't have great English communication skills, which is why we've had trouble working this out directly with him. We are hoping to come to our next meeting with a very clear proposal and ask, hopefully informed by feedback gathered here.

    And on the question of resale... in our super HCOL urban housing market it has been years and years since anyone has considered a conditional offer on a house like ours. We bought this house three years ago very aware that the basement stairs were sketchy, not at all to code and in the process of collapsing, but wouldn't have considered adding a condition to our offer to address that (or any of the other myriad of issues like knob and tube wiring or crumbling plaster ceilings or asbestos flooring, all of which we have since fixed)-- we would have instantly lost the bidding war. The house is 112 years old, as is much of the equivalent housing stock in the area, and a bit of weirdness is expected. We anticipate being in this house 20+ years but of course I recognize lives and plans can change, however in our market it would be totally shocking to have a minor detail around the configuration of a basement hand rail (for example) have any effect on a sale.

    And to answer one last question, yes unfortunately we ARE starved for storage space! We're a family of 4 and our two story house (plus currently-being-finished basement) has an 18x30 footprint. Only 2 of 3 bedrooms have closets and they're 24"x30". No attic, no garage, no entryway closet. Currently paying $300/month for an 8x10 offsite storage space until the reno is done. If I can create a space here where I can shove 4 big rubbermaid bins, stow the shop vac and keep all the extra tins and packages of food and pots and pans that don't fit in my 9'x13' kitchen that is worth $$$ to me!

  • 3onthetree
    last month

    "The person building these stairs definitely knows his stuff and is not prepared to build anything dangerous."

    Then that person should look up code for winders, as they do not meet it in the sketch and are dangerous.

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @3onthetree Thanks for taking a close look and flagging the concern. Here's what I could find in our local building code about winders within a dwelling unit: https://www.buildingcode.online/1318.html


    Is there in fact a problem or might our code be different from yours? I see two winder treads each turning at a 45 degree angle which seems to comply with regulations a, b and c -- but there could be a technical aspect here I don't understand.

  • 3onthetree
    last month

    Oooh, I don't speak Canadian. IRC has something like this:



  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @3onthetree got it. I'll ask the contractor about it but it certainly looks like this design is in line with our local codes. The Ontario code says winder stairs are allowed to "converge to a centre point" if they meet the right conditions so I assume that means no minimum inside width.

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    Just coming back for one more bump for my original purpose here... beyond the initial pile on of thinking we weren't building safe stairs (we are), no-one seemed to have ideas or examples of how to make this under-stair storage space work for us. There has to be a way!

  • Lorraine Leroux
    last month

    MY personal thoughts are build the stairs then deal with the storage. The under the stairs hole from the landing down can be used for storage either pull out or a simple door accessed on the other side.

  • Sandra Guistwhite
    last month

    I've seen hinged stairs- a section of 3-4 stairs, built as a unit and attached to the other part of the staircase by a hinge, so it can be opened by lifting, like a trap door. Perhaps you could access some of the storage that way.

    https://www.facebook.com/InTheKnowInnovationAOL/videos/secret-compartment-stairs-lift-up-to-reveal-extra-storage-space/199570694656040/

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @Sandra Guistwhite wow, that's so cool!! kind of doubtful that we can practically add something like this to our project at this point but I'm obsessed with this sort of thing! Thank you for sharing.

    @Lorraine Leroux The challenge is that there is no "other side" for accessing under these stairs. Three sides are exterior and below grade (i.e. the other side of the wall is solid dirt) and the 4th wall is a solid foundation wall with a bathroom built up against it. I've already pretty much written off the storage under the lower part of the stairs -- I'd just really like to be able to use the area under the upper part and that half-way landing, and don't see how we can do so with only a 20" access.


    I think folks still aren't clear on the issue I'm talking about here so I've annotated the image @PPF. so helpfully prepared above to help illustrate what I'm worried about (@PPF I hope you don't mind!). I'm small and don't mind squeezing in to small spaces but it's going to be pretty tough to only access this area through a 20" opening. My concern is that the guardrail we'll need on the inside of the stairs (because of the U-shape and resulting gap) will block off access to the blue area below and mean we only have a very narrow opening (the red area, 20" max).


    I cropped off the right side of the drawing because it seemed to show access from another side. There is no other access from that side, or anywhere else.


    *note a couple of inaccuracies here: the doors will actually be sliding (and only open on the landing side of course), the "front" side of the drawing is a solid wall, and there is a step missing between the middle landing and first triangular step which results in the two flights being spaced apart from each other in a "U" shape with a gap in the middle.


  • 3onthetree
    last month

    I can't really help because you are using an 8 1/8" riser height and and 8 1/2" tread depth, so that's against my religion. But I would say your priorities, in order of importance, should be:

    1. Stairs - to code, practical functionality (e.g. no odd 20" deep step or 8" wide sliver between runs), aesthetic, and cost of millwork.

    2. Exterior access and it's elevation to exterior grade.

    3. Something.

    4. Something else.

    5. Storage.

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @3onthetree First of all I do really want to say thank you for taking the time to engage seriously with my weird house and this issue!


    It's an 8.5" tread depth but where do you get the 8 1/4" riser? I think it's 6 inch risers plus an 8" step from our main floor onto an initial landing, although this certainly isn't shown clearly. We did meet with two stair designers and they both designed the exact same thing and said there was really only one way to fit legal stairs into this structure, so I'm curious what you'd do differently. Or would if you'd just say it's impossible to fit acceptable stairs into this structure? That's a legitimate perspective, but the only way to change the parameters and still have access to the basement would have been to tear down this entire extension and rebuild it from the foundation up with a slightly revised footprint, and that was a $60,000-ish price difference we were not able to accommodate.


    As we understand it, houses in our area were built 110 years ago with exterior access to rough basements (basically cellars) and then within 20 years or so of construction everyone built these back additions to enclose their stairs so they didn't have to go outside in the snow to access the basement, and that's what we're working with here, refurbishing and improving it (waterproofed and reinforced foundation, new siding, new roof, new door, new stairs) for the first time in 50+ years. This kind of structure is standard in our city and type of housing stock but I see why it looks bonkers to people from elsewhere.


    what does "exterior access and its elevation to exterior grade" mean? It's not shown here but the landing is designed to hit about 5-6" above the exterior grade. This is replacing a landing which was previously right flat at grade, which obviously was not a good idea.

  • elunia
    last month

    What about some type of pullout/slide out storage?



    Under stair storage · More Info


    Under Stair Storage · More Info


  • PRO
    RES2
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Its not possible to design your stair without knowing the dimension from floor to floor and floor to ceiling at both levels. Also all plan dimensions and the height of the exterior door silll.

    The only thing I can tell you is the 20" landing should be larger or eliminated for safety.

    It appears winders with no minimum tread dimension are allowed just as it was in the US 22 years ago.

    The door is shown swinging in over the stairs. Where would you stand when opening the door?

    Design a safe and comfortable stair and then think about storage. You've got the cart before the horse.

    What's a "Futing"?

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @RES2 thank you for your thoughtful response.

    Regarding the doors swinging over stairs, they are not as they appear in the digital rendering -- a helpful member here drew that but got some of the details wrong (as I wasn't clear enough in my original post). We will actually have sliding doors, not swinging doors, and only the side over the landing will open.


    I think "Futing" is footing, i.e. the foundation footing. it protrudes about 5" into the stairwell from grade level down.


    Could you tell me more about the 20" landing concern? Is there a minimum measurement you would usually try to stick to on a landing? What are the issues and risks you see with this design?



  • Charlie
    last month

    Landings should be a minimum of 4x4 for comfort. The stair width should be a minimum of 36”, and 42” is better. Winders should be avoided as big trip and fall hazards

    . What that all means is that to design something safe and workable requires taking away space from the top floor for the additional headroom required, and taking away space from the bottom floor because of the added length. That means multiple structural changes. Expensive and space losing structural changes. This is why you are getting everyone telling you to not spend 75K on just a stairway.

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @Charlie thanks for this frank assessment. I guess this captures the situation -- we are going to have to build not-illegal-in-our-location but suboptimal stairs because to do otherwise would cost more than my post-tax annual salary. They will definitely be nicer and safer than what this house had for the last 80+ years but they won't be perfect. We're ready to accept the compromise. I remain hung up on the bottom 18" or so of guardrail on the "inside" edge of the stairs that I fear is going to block my under-stair access but it doesn't seem like anyone here is really interested in engaging on that piece the project

  • millworkman
    last month

    "we are going to have to build not-illegal-in-our-location but suboptimal stairs"



    I forget, are you getting permit with inspections for this work?

  • 3onthetree
    last month

    The 8 1/8" riser height was the only dimension noted, so I assumed all were that. Even worse though, if the 20" deep landing (which will cause trouble by requiring a pause to not mistep out of rhythm) is the only step @8 1/8" and every other step is 6", then that is a sub-optimal situation, even if it meets Ontario code (which it may not).

    I see nothing wrong with building a stair in this existing space. I just don't think that you should move heaven and earth to get in easily-accessed storage to the detriment of the stairs. Finding ways to store things has many, many solutions, I know as proof with Container Stores and Youtubers and authors making lots of money from them. Conversely, there are not many, many ways to do a proper stair within strict limitations.

    So I would start with house criteria first: how the entrance upstairs looks, how many risers <7 3/4" I would need, set the height I want to exit to grade through the slider (need a deck?, don't want more stairs outside down to grade?), decide if the functional use of the basement should eliminate dangerous old-school winders (whether Ontario has rid them from code or not - as of yet), figure out my basement entrance clearances, then design as wide a stair as I can fit in. Then, when that's done, decide if I can punch through the basement foundation wall for a proper door to under the stair. If not, any storage I can squeak in through a small access hole would be bonus, but not a priority criteria.

  • Verbo
    last month

    Totally unsafe stairs hypocritaically bely your addendum: Edits for clarification: I'm not building these myself, I'm paying an expert to design and build. And I am not interested in any options that pose a safety risk.


    Unless it actially costs you the real world money that it actually costs to do this correctly. Then you are fine with being a scofflaw.



  • 3onthetree
    last month

    In the OP's defense, Ontario stair code is a bit behind IRC, so when finished the stair will actually function "period-adjacent" for the house and look the part. And neglecting a permit (stated as just for the stair, not the rest of the remodel) is a decision that the OP has apparently made for decisive reasons, not because the OP is oblivious. That fact has been beat to death, she's a big girl, it's not like it's never happened in construction before.

    denkyem thanked 3onthetree
  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @Verbo yes, I know, no permit, spoooooky. As @3onthetree kindly pointed out I'm building to (local) code anyway, so not exactly being a scofflaw about the safety piece even if I am technically "scoffing" at the law requiring a permit for these stairs. I expect to spend about 6k on building the stairs and at least another 25k on the remainder of the structure they're in (maybe more than that but hard to parse it out from the rest of my basement reno budget ). For this structure alone we're fixing foundation issues, re-enforcing framing, installing new siding, new windows and doors, new insulation, new drywall so we're not exactly nickle and diming this, but we did get a quote to build the whole structure from scratch with a new footprint which might have fit more generous stairs and it would have been at least an ADDITIONAL 60k, probably more. I've finished the entire basement (post excavation) for about that. And now I am out of money.


    I'm not a renovation novice but I don't know anything about stair design and ergonomics. Amidst the haranguing on this thread I've learned some interesting bits about the subject (including that your entire country has made winders illegal! Super interesting, I know a lot of people who have these in their homes and thought they were normal, which I guess they still are here) and will use some of what I've learned here in my next meeting with the stair designer in clarifying why he's made the choices that he has. For example I didn't appreciate how quirky that 20" landing design was and will definitely get him to explain the logic behind that to me before i sign off.


    @3onthetree we did start with the question of house entrance, level of exterior access (nope, no deck desired) and basement access and work our way back from there -- but all I know is that two separate stair designers landed on pretty much the same drawing, and both have said options were very limited. I'm going to probe further, though.


    I haven't mentioned it in this thread because I didn't want to further complicate things, but we've actually just excavated our basement by an extra three feet, but didn't do so in this extension for reasons both financial and structural. So the landing at the bottom of the stairs has a door, then there is a 3-foot landing on the other side of the door (exactly per code, that part was done under permit!) and then there are 3 more stairs down. If we had punched through the foundation wall to access the storage from the main basement it would have been at waist height, and we've now eliminated that option anyway by installing a beautiful new bathroom right against that wall. Unless I want to climb up over the toilet for access.... ok I actually thought about that for a minute there. And no. A bridge too far.

  • PRO
    Johnson Brothers Contracting
    last month
    last modified: last month

    6K is about 10x too low to do the job that needs to be done here.

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @Johnson Brothers Contracting what's in the scope for your 16k version of this? As I say this is part of a much larger complex reno so some things probably aren't getting counted in there (like any demo or, i just realized, all the framing under the landings or the landing flooring). But if you'd have a totally different approach to this space, working within the parameters of the structure, I'd be very interested in hearing your brainstorm on the subject! I've had my experienced contractor, his project manager, his carpenters and two different "stair guys" through to hem and haw over the tricky space but a fresh perspective is always welcome.

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Ok, found two more "before" shots. The first is the top portion of the stairs coming down from the main floor kitchen (exterior door used to be on the right just past the light switches, we're relocating it by replacing that wall with the small window with big sliding doors) and the second is the lower portion of the stairs. And FYI those 2x4 hand rails were UPGRADES we made after moving in. Forgive the shoes everywhere. We are a no-shoes house but kept shoes on the stairs to wear down to the basement because the crumbling cement floor and bits of broken wall parging that kept falling off made it super nasty down there.

    And as you wonder what kind of tragic and squalid crap shack I live in... million dollar house BEFORE the renos. I know.




  • PRO
    Johnson Brothers Contracting
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Revising my 60K estimate. Upward. Seems like most of both floors, and the foundation, will need considerable structural changes to make that work. It was never intended to be habitable space, and a ships ladder arrangement to ”storage” is about the only way that it could work and not need structural changes.

  • Jennifer K
    last month

    I'm trying to figure out how you can have a large sliding door on the window wall of the landing. It looks like the landing is about 3'x3'. And that's only room for a regular width door.


    Perhaps you might post current pictures of the following:

    • from the kitchen looking down the stairs
    • from the landing looking down the stairs
    • from the basement looking up the stairs to the landing

    If I've missed a turn in the stairs-- ie if they are currently U-shaped and not L-shaped, a picture at each direction change would be helpful.


  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @Jennifer K Unfortunately I didn't take sufficient photos to capture everything very well before the old stairs were half-demolished but in my 2-photo post above the first photo is taken from the kitchen looking down the stairs to the landing, and the second is from the edge of the landing looking down the second half of the stairs. The scary one of my dug-up basement shows the bottom of the stairs looking up. They were in fact U-shaped, and the new ones will be too. We are putting in 6' wide sliding glass doors with the opening side over the landing.


    @Johnson Brothers Contracting we actually have done a lot of work on the structure. Trenched around the exterior, poured a new concrete foundation wall to fortify the old brick foundation wall (tied in with rebar to the old one, an engineer was involved), waterproofed and poured a new slab. New siding, new drywall, re-enforced the framing and insulated everything. There really was no floor at the main floor level beyond a small landing and that's all being redone. Despite all that the framing/structure of the whole thing was actually much more solid than our contractor anticipated once we had it down to the studs. We'll run LVP as flooring over the slab at the bottom level-- that cost is rolled in with our quote for flooring the whole basement (as is the insulation, drywall work, paint), so hard to parse out all the pieces individually.


    I just went through my contract line by line estimating the basement/extension split on various line items and in fact it looks like we're spending about 37k on the extension for demo, framing, insulation drywall, siding, windows, doors, flooring, electrical, trim and paint plus 12k for the foundation/waterproofing/slab work (with a different contractor). About 6k on the actual stairs on top of that, totaling 55k. So I suppose 60k for the entire project all-in isn't too far off. Our quote to rebuild the whole thing with a new foundation was 112k. We can't expand it side to side at all without obscuring main floor windows and radically altering the rest of the house at a further snowballing expense (plus ruining the current house structure and layout we love so much), so we would have only been able to extend it "back" (pushing back the wall that's getting the double door) so essentially it would have been 55k for maybe 2 more feet of stair/landing space. Although refurbishing the old structure hasn't been cheap, we decided the rebuild wasn't worth it, and even now with all the quirks and challenges arising I'm confident that was the right call.

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @Jennifer K I guess "large" sliding door is relative -- I realize a 6' wide sliding door with a 3' opening is just a normal sliding door size. We're putting a 2x6 transom above it too. The "large" is relative to the structure as we are essentially turning that whole wall of this dark weird little thing into a whole wall of windows and that feels very expansive and exciting given the starting point.

  • 3onthetree
    last month

    After seeing the pics, it appears you have an initial criteria that your sketch doesn't address or show - that is the connection of the wing room stair to the stair inside the basement because of the dig-out.

    Right now, starting from the Kitchen, you step down onto a non-rhythmic stride 20" deep tread, then down a short flight, then turn on a landing with a slider, then down a few dangerous winder steps, then turn down another medium flight, then have yet another landing (let's guess 28" deep) to allow access to a storage door and get through the foundation wall, then down yet another short flight (3 steps you say?) to the basement slab.

    ^^ this is very complicated, unnatural, and the intermediate landing is probably not to code.

    If, however, you were changing directions after popping through the foundation wall, then maybe that intermediate landing is justifiable, but I'm guessing you need to hug the future bathroom wall by coming straight out within the basement.

    A better, safer solution would be, starting at the basement slab and going up:

    [A] - (1) lower straight uninterrupted flight through the wall up to the slider landing. The clearance height of the foundation wall opening would need to be verified.

    [B] - Then, turning onto an equal height slider landing across the width of the wing room, no winders. The depth of this slider landing has play depending on how many risers you can fit in the lower straight flight and where your slider needs to exit in relation to elevation to grade.

    [C] - Then, from this slider landing, turn to go up (1) upper straight uninterrupted flight to the Kitchen.

    [D] - This kitchen landing should be extended flush from the first floor height to meet the stair, depth as required depending on how many risers the upper flight has.



    [E] - And again, storage with the stair be damned.

    This is what I would try to accomplish. It may be a puzzle, and you may have to enlarge the foundation wall opening. But this is theee most sensible way to do it.

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @3onthetree Thanks for taking the time to think through and mark this out. We inquired about an approach like this but the space between the slab of the extension thing (and old basement slab) and the door opening in the foundation is only 78", and we were told this wouldn't allow for sufficient head room to run a stairway through there. I've just looked it up in the Ontario Building Code, which says "Stairway headroom shall be not less than 1,950 mm (that's 76.8 inches) plus the height of one riser measured vertically above the nosing of any tread or platform" so that checks out.


    We can't raise the top of the opening without coming up through the dining room floor (a nonstarter for us -- our main floor footprint is only 18x30 and we are very particular about how we use every foot of it). I suppose there could have been a solution where some part of the extension slab was chiseled out but as I understood it there wasn't a clear elegant solution. Instead that landing between the bottom of the extension stairs and the next set of stairs to the new basement level is in fact quite long (required by code as we have a door in it) -- looks like about 5.5 feet. I think it had to be at least 3' on the inside of the door to make a door there permissible. That isn't really wasted space as it lands within a hallway in the new basement layout.


    The stair guy is coming by at 9:00 am tomorrow and I'm going to be talking through his design with him in quite a bit more detail to understand how he's arrived at the current proposal. Ultimately I'm still not all that worried about all the quirks folks have flagged here (the house I grew up in and where my 70+ year old parents still live has a set of winders on the basement staircase with no railing at all on that section), but I do want to make sure we are all on the same page regarding the logic behind any compromises that have been made here.


    In the meantime, I learned today from another thread on here (which I now can't find) that it might be ok to start a stair railing with a newel post on the second step up. If that is in fact the case, it pretty much solves my storage access problem (if we stick with the current design). Is that in fact the case?

  • Sandra Guistwhite
    last month

    Can you put a "gate" in your rail? Some of the houses near me have these for roof access from rooftop balconies. I understand on stairs, it would be angled, not straight. but something with top and bottom rails and balusters in between, that could swing open and latch back into place?

  • Jennifer K
    last month

    How your railing must be installed and whether it can start on the 2nd step with a newel post is dependent on local code. And, as evidenced in this very thread, Ontario is not using the same code as other places.

  • 3onthetree
    last month

    I stick with my recent markup of simple is better. Just because there wasn't forethought to conceive the foundation wall with a proper simple stair initially, doesn't mean you shouldn't spend the extra money now to allow for a simple stair. In fact, since you are doing so much remodel work in the house and spending so much money, maybe the basement bathroom, kitchen, or something else should have accounted for a simple stair and extra storage that you are stuck now trying to do after the fact. You have not posted your plans, but I bet there were opportunities that existed before you jumped into construction. Your complicated stair might wind up costing as much as the teardown of this wing would have, certainly in stress level spent.

  • Charlie
    last month

    That is a death trap design. Spending whatever it takes to fix the design should be a priority. Then you might actually be able to use the basement for something.

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    @3onthetree I take your point about more forethought on the foundation entry from the stairs specifically, but we actually have had a pretty thorough design process for the basement interior and have not been lax about building in a storage strategy. We did not work with an architect but we did go through several floorplan iterations with an interior designer. We've built in storage everywhere we possibly can (dedicated 5x9 storage room, built-in base cabinets and wardrobe, couple of closets, cabinets over laundry) but it's still really not a lot for a family of 4 and I'm trying to carve out anything i can.


    With the old weird stairs there was a sort of rough platform built over the doorway to the lower basement, accessible from the first step down from the kitchen, and we used that heavily as an overflow pantry area as it was beside the kitchen. We're letting that go as part of this design (it was a bit treachorous and definitely didn't allow for proper headroom clearance) but we do really need some space close to the kitchen where I can keep extra food and our mop and broom and so on. As I said, 18x30 footprint for the main house and almost no closets within that.

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    We had the stair designer come by today, and it was a great meeting. I think the last time he was here we caught him on a bad day but this time he was really helpful, taking the time to answer all my questions and walk me through the design logic behind various aspects of his drawing. It helped that I came prepared with a better understanding of stair ergonomics and code thanks to those who have taken the time to share their thoughts with me on this thread. The end result is that we have made some minor tweaks and improvements to the plan, I'm getting what I want out of it, and I understand exactly why each of the various choices have been made. Key highlights:


    1. We are doing away with the top 20" landing which @RES2 and @3onthetree objected to, and converting upper stairs to four equal 11.25" deep steps. The stairs will begin right when you open the door from the kitchen, but that door opens in to the kitchen (i.e. does not swing over the stairs) and in any case we plan to remove it in a few years once we're done the toddler phase and just have an open doorway there. I thought the point about the odd stride pattern from kitchen to backyard was an important one, especially as that's where we'll come in and out of the backyard, often carrying dishes and food to bbq and so on. The upper portion of the stairs are also the piece that guests will use the most so it will be good to minimize the quirks there.


    2. We are going to have the stair railings built to be removable -- @Sandra Guistwhite sort of what you were suggesting (thanks, that was thoughtful). Not hinged or anything, just something that can be unbolted and taken off if we ever need to bring a sofa through or replace the washing machine, or if we really need much wider access to the under-stairs area for a project.


    3. We are going to place the bottom newel post on the second step up from the lower landing and begin the handrail there to allow slightly better access to the under-stair area. This (and only this) part of the design is in fact a deviation from contemporary Ontario building code but since we don't have an inspector coming in we can get away with it, and I can see from some googling that it's a pretty common design that doesn't seem particularly risky. In fact, I only realized today this is how our other main staircase is designed, and my parent's staircase is the same, so I presume it was the norm in a previous era.


    At the end of it all, I think we'll have stairs which would alarm many Houzzers who are accustomed to a different type of housing stock and set of codes, but which will be relatively safe and work well for our needs and our quirky space. The stair designer told me today that he's done several sets of stairs in our immediate neighbourhood and designs like this are very often necessary. It turns out lots of people are putting in winder steps in high end contemporary renovations around here out of necessity.


    I do want to thank everyone who took the time to think about this and share their comments, even if the main thrust of many of them was "wow, you are/ your house is insane". I'll be sure to come back and post a photo when it's all done so you can see how it's turned out, even if it does end up horrifying some of you. I have a thick skin and can take it, and I do feel confident we're proceeding with the plan that's right for us and our house. I'm excited to see this come together!

  • denkyem
    Original Author
    last month

    Oh @3onthetree quick PS about trying to run more conventional stairs through the doorway in the foundation: Stair designer confirmed today that even if we had dropped part of the floor in the extension to try to run continuous stairs through the doorway there, we might have been able to remove a maximum of one of the unconventional steps -- so maybe we could have eliminated that one step at a right angle to the others but we still would have had two winders. It would have been a complex and costly change for minimal improvement to the stair design. It would be a different story if we were ok with popping up a bulkhead in our dining room floor, but we were not open to that option at all.


    Gallows humour here, but on the plus side, under the current design with the long landing between the extension and the main basement, if someone stumbles over a winder they can only fall a maximum of about 5 steps rather than down a full flight! Obviously we don't want anyone doing any falling, but as the parent of a 20 month old I am constantly triaging the severity of his many daily bonks based on the relative height of tumble, so it's not entirely irrelevant.