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Did my stair guy make a math error?

2 months ago

In transforming a storage attic into livable space, I built a new set of stairs (stringers + plywood treads). It's a 100-year-old house, so I did careful math, accounting for future finished 3/4" treads on top of everything. Here are the bones:

In an effort to speed up this remodeling project, I hired a stair pro to finish them off, and he preferred to cut his own skirting, treads, and risers. So I tore out my stairs, leaving only the landing. He installed them like this:

He just finished the work a few weeks ago, and this weekend as I was walking down the stairs I noticed that the top step felt short. So I measured and found the top rise to be 6 1/2", the next 7 all at 7 3/4", and the bottom one (from the landing) 7 1/2". Houston, we have a problem.

Here is our text conversation:

Me: We have a bit of a problem with the stairs. The top step is 1 1/4" less rise than the rest of the steps.

Stair Guy: Yes, the floor on your second floor is 1-1/8 out of level. That is why we didn't route the landing tread into your stringer. It was either have the stair out of level or an inconsistent rise at the top. Your [top] landing was built correctly. This is very common in old homes. I have dealt with this a lot.

Me: If the top is out of level (and it is) then shouldn't one side of the tread be the same rise and the other be shorter to make up the difference? Or the center be the same but the sides higher and lower respectively? One side of the tread is 6 1/2" and the other side is 7" from the top landing while remaining stairs are 7 3/4".

Stair Guy: You added 3/4" to the landing remember. That should have been framed 3/4" lower if adding the 3/4" hardwood to the landing.

Me: I framed the landing taking the future hardwood into account. It would be fine if you had made the risers all 7 5/8" instead of 7 3/4".

Stair Guy: I cannot change the rise on a stair. That creates a trip step. Considering what was there and what we did to a remodeling situation it is well within code compliance. I can only do so much with an area like that. It is also a wider stair at the top or bottom. We work with what is there. Your platform was not divided up correctly. It was high. I can't change that unless you lower the landing.

At this point, I suggested we meet to discuss in person, and I hope to do that this week. Hopefully measuring it all together will help him see what I believe is his error.

I should say that the lower set of stairs (below the landing) are all even (if the landing was too high, one of those steps would be higher than the rest). I suspect it's possible that when he measured to the bare landing he forgot to subtract the 3/4" hardwood covering from his calculation and cut the run too high, then compensated on the top stair.

Did he mess up his math? Or am I missing something?

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Ed Ball Landscape Architecture
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