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2006 IRC Staircase Visualization

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The Stairway Manufacturers Association publishes visual interpretations of Building Codes to be accurate pictorial descriptive material void of editorial comment to aid in the understanding of the written text. We provide this document as a learning tool to aid designers, builders, homeowners, building officials, stair builders, and others in the shelter industry to accurately and consistently interpret the building code related to stairways. The SMA has participated in the model code development process since 1988. We support the International Code Council’s development process through our membership and are recognized and respected for our responsible efforts at code reform and interpretation in addition to our trade and industry experience that we bring to the table. This experience and reputation is an asset to our continued efforts to provide safe stairways and reduce stairway accidents while allowing freedom of design, and aesthetic properties of preference. In addition to our experience in the code development process we use the commentaries published by the International Code Council as a resource for each visual interpretation. The SMA wishes to thank the ICC for their permission to print portions of the IRC and in full recognition of our responsibility to educate and inform we invite your feedback and comments. This document is provided electronically at no cost to those who wish to print it in whole from It is not to be copied or used in part or in any other publication. Printed copies are available to SMA members for the cost of shipping.

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 R311.5.1 Width.

Stairways shall not be less than 36 inches (914 mm) in clear width at all points above the permitted handrail height and below the required headroom height. PHOTO 1. Handrails shall not project more than 4.5 inches (114 mm) on either side of the stairway PHOTO 2 and the minimum clear width of the stairway at and below the handrail height, including treads and landings, shall not be less than 31.5 inches (787 mm) where a handrail is installed on one side and 27 inches (698 mm) where handrails are provided on both sides PHOTO 3. 

Exception: The width of spiral stairways shall be in accordance with Section R311.5.8. See PHOTO 35

R311.5.2 Headroom.

 The minimum headroom in all parts of the stairway shall not be less than 6 feet, 8 inches (2036 mm) measured vertically from the sloped plane adjoining the tread nosing PHOTO 4 or from the floor surface of the landing or platform. PHOTO 5.

R311.5.3 Stair treads and risers.

 R311.5.3.1 Riser height.

The maximum riser height shall be 73⁄4 inches (196 mm). The riser shall be measured vertically between leading edges of the adjacent treads. PHOTO 6. The greatest riser height within any flight of stairs shall not exceed the smallest by more than 3⁄8 inch (9.5 mm). PHOTO 7.

 R311.5.3.2 Tread depth.

 The minimum tread depth shall be 10 inches (254 mm). The tread depth shall be measured horizontally between the vertical planes of the foremost projection of adjacent treads and at a right angle to the tread’s leading edge. PHOTO 8. The greatest tread depth within any flight of stairs shall not exceed the smallest by more than 3⁄8 inch (9.5 mm). PHOTO 9. 

Winder treads shall have a minimum tread depth of 10 inches (254 mm) measured as above at a point 12 inches (305 mm) from the side where the treads are narrower. DRAWING 10. Winder treads shall have a minimum tread depth of 6 inches (152 mm) at any point. DRAWING 11. Within any flight of stairs, the greatest winder tread depth at the 12 inch (305 mm) walk line shall not exceed the smallest by more than 3⁄8 inches (9.5 mm). 

WINDER - A tread with non-parallel edges (as defined in Chapter 2 - IRC, IBC). 


R311.5.3.3 Profile. 

The radius of curvature at the leading edge of the tread shall be no greater than 9/16 inch (14.3 mm). PHOTO 12. A nosing not less than 3⁄4 inch (19 mm) but not more than 11⁄4 inches (32 mm) shall be provided on stairways with solid risers. PHOTO 13. The greatest nosing projection shall not exceed the smallest nosing projection by more than 3⁄8 inch (9.5 mm) between two stories, including the nosing at the level of floors and landings. PHOTO 14. Beveling of nosing shall not exceed 1⁄2 inch (12.7 mm). PHOTO 15. Risers shall be vertical or sloped from the underside of the leading edge of the tread above at an angle not more than 30 (0.51 rad) degrees from the vertical. PHOTO 16. Open risers are permitted, provided that the opening between treads does not permit the passage of a 4-inch diameter (102 mm) sphere. PHOTO 17. 

Exceptions: 1. A nosing is not required where the tread depth is a minimum of 11 inches (279 mm). 2. The opening between adjacent treads is not limited on stairs with a total rise of 30 inches (762 mm) or less. PHOTO 17.

R311.5.4 Landings for Stairways. 

There shall be a floor or landing at the top and bottom of each stairway.

Exception: A floor or landing is not required at the top of an interior flight of stairs, including stairs in an enclosed garage, provided a door does not swing over the stairs.

A flight of stairs shall not have a vertical rise greater than 12 feet (3658 mm) between floor levels or landings. 

The width of each landing shall not be less than the stairway served. Every landing shall have a minimum dimension of 36 inches (914 mm) measured in the direction of travel. DRAWING 18.

R311.5.6.2 Continuity. Handrails for stairways shall be continuous for the full length of the flight, from a point directly above the top riser of the flight to a point directly above lowest riser of the flight. DRAWING 22 and PHOTO 23. Handrail ends shall be returned PHOTO 24 or shall terminate in newel posts or safety terminals. Handrails adjacent to a wall shall have a space of not less than 11⁄2 inches (38 mm) between the wall and the handrails. PHOTO 25


R311.5.6.3 Handrail grip size. 

All required handrails shall be of one of the following types or provide equivalent graspability. DRAWING 28.

2. Type II. Handrails with a perimeter greater than 61⁄4 inches (160mm) shall provide a graspable finger recess area on both sides of the profile. PHOTO 31. The finger recess shall begin within a distance of 3⁄4 inch (19 mm) measured vertically from the tallest portion of the profile and achieve a depth of at least 5/16 inch (8mm) within 7⁄8 inch (22mm) below the widest portion of the profile. PHOTO 32. This required depth shall continue for at least 3⁄8 inch (10mm) to a level that is not less than 13⁄4 inches (45 mm) below the tallest portion of the profile. PHOTO 33. The minimum width of the handrail above the recess shall be 11⁄4 inches (32 mm) to a maximum of 23⁄4 inches (70 mm). PHOTO 34. Edges shall have a minimum radius of 0.01 inches (0.25 mm). PHOTO 34.

R311.5.8 Special stairways. 

Circular stairways, spiral stairways, winders and bulkhead enclosure stairways shall comply with all requirements of Section R311.5 except as specified below.

R311.5.8.1 Spiral Stairs. 

Spiral stairways are permitted, provided the minimum width shall be 26 inches (660 mm) with each tread having a 71⁄2 inch (190 mm) minimum tread depth at 12 inches from the narrower edge. All treads shall be identical, and the rise shall be no more than 91⁄2 inches (241 mm). A minimum headroom of 6 feet, 6 inches (1982 mm) shall be provided. PHOTO 35.

R312.2 Guard opening limitations.

Required guards on open sides of stairways, raised floor areas, balconies and porches shall have intermediate rails or ornamental closures which do not allow passage of a sphere 4 inches (102 mm) or more in diameter. PHOTO 37. 

Exception: 1. The triangular openings formed by the riser, tread and bottom rail of a guard at the open side of a stairway are permitted to be of such a size that a sphere 6 inches (152 mm) cannot pass through. PHOTO 38. 2. Openings for required guards on the sides of stair treads shall not allow a sphere 43⁄8 inches (107 mm) to pass through. PHOTO 38.

R311.5.5 Stairway walking surface.

The walking surface of treads and landings of stairways shall be sloped no steeper than one unit vertical in 48 inches horizontal (2-percent slope). PHOTO 19.

R311.5.6 Handrails. 

Handrails shall be provided on at least one side of each continuous run of treads or flight with four or more risers. DRAWING 20.

R311.5.6.1 Height. 

Handrail height, measured vertically from the sloped plane adjoining the tread nosing, or finish surface of ramp slope, shall be not less than 34 inches (864 mm) and not more than 38 inches (965 mm). PHOTO 21.

1. Type I. Handrails with a circular cross section shall have an outside diameter of at least 11⁄4 inches (32 mm) and not greater than 2 inches (51 mm). PHOTO 29. If the handrail is not circular it shall have a perimeter dimension of at least 4 inches (102 mm) and not greater than 61⁄4 inches (160 mm) with a maximum cross section of dimension of 21⁄4 inches (57 mm). PHOTO 30.

R311.5.7 Illumination.

 All stairs shall be provided with illumination in accordance with Section R303.6.

R311.5.8.2 Bulkhead enclosure stairways. 

Stairways serving bulkhead enclosures, not part of the required building egress, providing access from the outside grade level to the basement shall be exempt from the requirements of Sections R311.4.3 and R311.5 where the maximum height from the basement finished floor level to grade adjacent to the stairway does not exceed 8 feet (2438 mm), and the grade level opening to the stairway is covered by a bulkhead enclosure with hinged doors or other approved means.



R201.3 Terms Defined in other codes. Where terms are not defined in this code such terms shall have meanings ascribed to them as in other code publications of the International Code Council. 

Note: In order to assure a complete understanding in accordance with above we have listed all the stair related definitions from both the IRC and the IBC (International Building Code).


Section R202 Definitions 

GUARD. A building component or a system of building components located near the open sides of elevated walking surfaces that minimizes the possibility of a fall from the walking surface to a lower level.

HANDRAIL. A horizontal or sloping rail intended for grasping by the hand for guidance or support. 

WINDER. A tread with nonparallel edges. 


Section 1002 Definitions

ALTERNATING TREAD DEVICE. A device that has a series of steps between 50 and 70 degrees (0.87 and 1.22 rad) from horizontal, usually attached to a center support rail in an alternating manner so that the user does not have both feet on the same level at the same time.

GUARD. A building component or a system of building components located at or near the open sides of elevated walking surfaces that minimizes the possibility of a fall from the walking surface to a lower level.

HANDRAIL. A horizontal or sloping rail intended for grasping by the hand for guidance or support.

NOSING. The leading edge of treads of stairs and of landings at the top of stairway flights. 

SCISSOR STAIR. Two interlocking stairways providing two separate paths of egress located within one stairwell enclosure. 

STAIR. A change in elevation, consisting of one or more risers. 

STAIRWAY. One or more flights of stairs, either exterior or interior, with the necessary landings and platforms connecting them, to form a continuous and uninterrupted passage from one level to another. 

STAIRWAY, EXTERIOR. A stairway that is open on at least one side, except for required structural columns, beams, handrails and guards. The adjoining open areas shall be either yards, courts or public ways. The other sides of the exterior stairway need not be open. 

STAIRWAY, INTERIOR. A stairway not meeting the definition of an exterior stairway. 

STAIRWAY, SPIRAL. A stairway having a closed circular form in its plan view with uniform sectionshaped treads attached to and radiating from a minimum-diameter supporting column. 

WINDER. A tread with nonparallel edges.



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The 2006 codes that we have provided on this page are intended to help you build your stairs in a manner that is both efficient and safe for the users and that is going to last many years to come. It is essential that stairs are well-designed and thought out to ensure the best results for the building it is a part of, which is why it is important to have standards in place like the 2006 IRC code to guide in construction. With stairs often being among the first things people see when they enter a building, many people strive to make them look as breathtaking and stunning as possible—but it’s also important to remember that they must conform to standardizations and codes intended to make them safe for use.


We hope this visual guide has been helpful to you and your efforts to build a beautiful and functional staircase up to 2006 guidelines, whether it is a home or commercial building. We strive to provide comprehensive guidelines and learning tools for stairway manufacturers and builders that aid them through the most difficult and uncertain aspects of the craft. The 2006 IRC code should be helpful to any manufacturer or builder in search of the answer to any of their questions.


If you’ve found these 2006 IRC guidelines and tips to be helpful, we offer many more resources to aid you in getting the best results from your stair building techniques. Some other aids we offer you may want to look into besides the 2006 IRC resources include our workshops and certification courses.


If you think your stairs are up to par and conform to all the proper codes of IRC 2006, you may be eligible for the StairCraft award. All of the StairCraft winners have to be up to code, so we hope these visual tools can help you to build your masterpiece. With all the IRC 2006 codes detailed in an easy to follow manner, this makes it much easier to create something eligible for the prestigious award.


Stairs are wonderful innovations that allow for much room for variation and customization in their design. From U-shaped staircases to spiral staircases, to curved staircases, there are so many beautiful and unique ways to make a stairway stand out. By following the 2006 code, builders can ensure that their staircases are as safe as they are beautiful. Familiarize yourself with the 2006 code before starting to design a one-of-a-kind staircase. 

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