General checklist for inspecting stairways and sample reporting language.

Revised 02/10/2008
 
Stairways are one of the most hazardous areas of a home and stair falls are often fatal. The following are some advanced tips (based largely on U.S. and Canadian building codes) for inspecting a stairway followed by some suggested language (narratives) for report writing.  This level of inspection is far beyond what an inspector would do on a general home inspection and far exceeds InterNACHI's Standards of Practice.  A link to the U.S.-only version can be found at the end of this document.
 
The abbreviations for United States "US" and Canada "CA" are used.
 
 
THE HANDRAIL:
 
Determine if the stairway should have a handrail. 
US and CA: Any stairway of 4 or more risers should have a handrail on at least one side. 
Measure the handrail height. 
The height of a handrail is measured vertically from the sloped plane adjoining the tread nosing or leading edge.
US: The handrail height should be at least 34 inches and not more than 38 inches. (Exception: If there is a continuous handrail transition between flights, the handrail height at the transition can be greater than the maximum.) 
CA: The handrail height should be at least 800 mm, and not more than 965 mm.
Inspect continuity. 
The handrail should be continuous for the full length of the flight of stairs, measured from a point directly above the top riser to a point directly above the bottom riser of the flight.  Continuity can be interrupted by a newel post at a turn. 
US: A volute, starting easing, or turnout can be installed over the lowest tread.
CA: A doorway or landing can interrupt continuity. 
Check the handrail termination.
US: Handrails should end at a newel post or a wall. 
CA: Handrails should terminate in a manner that will not obstruct travel or create a hazard.   
Check the handrail clearance.
US: Handrails adjacent to a wall should have a space of not less than 1 1⁄2 inches between the wall and the handrails.
CA: Handrails adjacent to a wall should have a space of not less than 50 mm between the wall and the handrails, or 60 mm if the surface behind the handrail is rough or abrasive.
Check the handrail attachment to the wall. 
US: The handrail should have attachment devices to transfer to the structural wall a concentrated load of 200 pounds applied at any point in any direction.
CA: The handrail should have attachment devices to transfer to the structural wall a concentrated load of CA: 0.9 kN applied at any point in any direction.  The attachment points should not be spaced more than 1.2 m apart.  The first attachment point should be no more than 300 mm from the end of the handrail.  If attached to wooden structural components, the fasteners should consist of at least 2 wood screws at each point, penetrating at least 32 mm into solid wood.
THE STAIRWAY WIDTH:
 
US: When a handrail is installed on only one side, the minimum clear width of the stairway at and below the handrail height should not be less than 31 1⁄2 inches.  When handrails are installed on both sides, the minimum clear width of the stairway at and below the handrail height should not be less than 27 inches.
CA: A handrail should be provided on at least one side of stairs less than 1,100 mm in width.  A handrail should be provided on both sides 1,100 mm in width or greater.  A handrail should be provided on both sides of curved stairs of any width, except those within a dwelling unit.
 
Measure the width of the stairway.
US: Stairways should be at least 36 inches wide.  This is measured at all points above the handrail height and below the required headroom height.  For spiral stairways, there should be a width of at least 26 inches measured at and below the handrail.
CA: Required exit stairs should have a width of not less than 900 mm.  At least one stair between each floor level within a dwelling unit, and exterior stairs serving a single dwelling unit except required exit stairs, should have a width of not less than 860 mm.
Measure handrail projections.
US: Handrails should not project more than 4 1⁄2 inches on either side of the stairway.
CA: Handrails should not project more than 100 mm on either side of the stairway.
Measure other projections. 
The width limitations are based upon the body’s movements as a person walks on a stairway. 
US: Projections of 4 1⁄2 inches or less located below the handrail, including treads, trim, stringers or other items, are permitted.
CA: Projections of 100 mm or less below the handrail intoj8. the required width of the stairway are permitted.
THE RISERS AND TREADS:
 
Measure the riser height.
US:  The minimum riser height is 4 inches, and the maximum is 7 3⁄4 inches.  For spiral stairs, the maximum rise is 9 1⁄2 inches. 
CA: The minimum riser height riser height is 125 mm, and the maximum is 200 mm.  For curved or spiral stairs, the rise should be between 125 mm and 180 mm.
Measure the difference between the riser heights. 
US: The greatest riser height within any flight of stairs should not exceed the smallest by more than 3/8 of an inch. 
CA: The greatest riser height within any flight of stairs should not exceed the smallest by more than 6 mm.
Measure the tread depth.
US: The minimum tread depth is 10 inches. 
CA: The minimum tread depth is 235 mm, and the maximum tread depth is 355 mm.  The minimum run is 210 mm, and the maximum is 355 mm.
Measure the difference between the tread depths. 
US: The greatest tread depth within any flight of stairs should not exceed the smallest by more than 3/8 of an inch.  For winders, this is measured at the 12 inch walk line. 
CA: The greatest tread depth within any flight of stairs should not exceed the smallest by more than 6 mm.
Inspect the spiral stair treads.
US: For spiral stairs, all treads should be identical.  Each tread should have at least a 7 1⁄2 inch tread depth at 12 inches from the narrower edge.
CA: For spiral stairs, all treads should have minimum run not less than 150 mm, and an average run not less than 200 mm.
Inspect the winder stair treads.
US: For winder stairs, treads should have a depth of at least 10 inches measured at a point 12 inches from the side where the treads are narrowest.  Winder treads should have a depth of at least 6 inches at any point.
CA: Where angled treads or winders are incorporated into a stair, the treads in sets of angled treads or winders within a flight should turn in the same direction.  A set of winders should not turn through more than 90 degrees.  Winder-type turns in stairs are limited to 30 or 45 degrees only.  The run should be at least 280 mm measured 230 mm away from the handrail at the narrow end of the tread.
Check the slope. 
US: The walking surface of the stairway treads and landings should be sloped no steeper than 1⁄4-inch vertical in 12 inches horizontal (a 2% slope). 
CA: The cross-slope of treads and landings should not exceed 1 in 100 (a 1% slope).
Check the loads.
US: The minimum concentrated load on stair treads (on an area of 4 square inches) is 300 pounds. 
CA: The load on the stair should be designed for strength and rigidity under uniform loading criteria to support 1.9 kPa for stairs serving a dwelling unit.
US and CA: Check for cracked, damaged or loose treads.
THE NOSING OR LEADING EDGE:
 
US: On stairways with solid risers, there should be a nosing at least 3⁄4 of an inch and not more than 1 and 1⁄4 inches. The radius of a nosing curve should be no greater than 9/16 of an inch.  A nosing is not required when the tread depth is 11 inches or more.
CA: The nose of treads that are beveled or rounded should not exceed 25 mm horizontally.  The leading edge of the stair tread should have a radius or bevel between 6 mm and 10 mm in the horizontal direction.
 
THE GUARDS:
 
Inspect the guards. 
Guards should be constructed to prevent adults from falling over them and prevent children from crawling through them.  The height of a guard is measured vertically from the sloped plane adjoining the tread nosing or leading edge.
Check the guard strength. 
US: The design strength of a guard should resist a 200-pound concentrated load applied at any point in any direction along the handrail or the top of the guard.
CA: The design strength for a guard should resist a horizontal load of 0.5 kN/m or concentrated load of 1.0 kN applied inward or outward at any point at the top of the guard.  The top of the guard should resist an evenly distributed vertical load of 1.5 kN/m.
 
US: Intermediate rails or balusters should be able to withstand a horizontal load of 50 pounds on an area equal to one square foot. 
CA: The guard should resist a horizontal load applied inward or outward on the elements within the guard, including solid panels and pickets, of 0.5 kN applied over a maximum width of 300 mm and a height of 300 mm imposed, engaging at least 3 balusters.
Measure the height of the elevated floor level. 
All decks and porches, including those with insect screening, landings, balconies, mezzanines, galleries, ramps, or raised floor surfaces located more than 30 inches (US), 1.2 m (CA), above the floor or ground should have guards.  A guard is necessary at those elevated floor areas, because a fall from that height can result in injury.
 
CA: Where an interior stair has more than 2 risers, the sides of the stair and the landing or floor level around the stairwell should be protected by a guard on each side that is not protected by a wall.
Measure the guard height. 
US: The minimum height of the horizontal guard should be 36 inches. Open sides of stairways with a total rise of more than 30 inches above the floor or ground should have guards not less than 34 inches in height.
CA: The minimum height for interior guards should be 900 mm high.  Where the walking surface served by a guard is not more than 1,800 mm above the finished ground level, the minimum height of an exterior guard should be 900 mm high; otherwise, the minimum height for all exterior guards should be 1,070 mm high. The maximum height of a required guard at a landing should be no more than 1,070 mm.
Check for damage.
US and CA: Inspect for cracked, loose or missing intermediate rails.
Check for a ladder effect.
US and CA: Guards should not have horizontal or ornamental patterns, members, attachments, or openings that will facilitate climbing.
Inspect the glass in guards.
US: Glass used as a handrail assembly or a guard section should be constructed of either single fully tempered glass, laminated fully tempered glass, or laminated heat-strengthened glass.  The minimal nominal thickness should be ¼ inch.  Each pane of safety glazing installed should be identified by a manufacturer’s designation, which should be acid etched, sand blasted, ceramic fired, laser etched, embossed, or of a type that once applied, cannot be removed without being destroyed. 
CA: Glass in guards should be wired glass or safety glass of the laminated or tempered type.
THE SPHERES:
 
US: Horizontal guards at raised floor areas, balconies and porches should have intermediate rails or ornamental enclosures that do not allow passage of a 4-inch diameter sphere.
CA: Openings through any guard should be of a size that will prevent the passage of a spherical object having a diameter of 100 mm, unless it can be shown that will not represent a hazard.
 
US: Open risers should not allow the passage of a 4-inch diameter sphere.  On stairs with a total rise of 30 inches or less, the size of the open riser is not limited.
 
US: The triangular area formed by a tread, riser and guard should not allow passage of a 6-inch diameter sphere.
 
US: The opening at guards on the sides of stair treads should not allow the passage of a 4 3/8-inch diameter sphere.
 
THE HANDGRIP:
 
Inspect the handgrip portion of the handrail.  It should be graspable along the entire length of the handrail.  The handgrip shape should provide a graspable surface.  It should allow the user to maintain a consistently secure natural grasp on the handrail without twisting the fingers or requiring release.  The handgrip can be circular or non-circular.
 
US:  A circular handgrip should have a cross section minimum of 1 1⁄4 inches and a maximum of 2 inches.  All handrails should be equivalently graspable to the 2-inch circular handgrip.
CA: A circular handgrip should have a cross section minimum of 30 mm and a maximum of 43 mm.
 
US: A non-circular handgrip with a perimeter minimum of 4 inches and a maximum of 6 1⁄4 inches should have a maximum cross section of 2 1⁄4 inches.  A non-circular handgrip with a perimeter greater than 6 1⁄4 inches should have a graspable finger recess on both sides
CA: A non-circular handgrip with a perimeter minimum of 100 mm and a maximum of 125 mm should have a maximum cross section of 45 mm.
 
ABOVE AND BELOW:
 
Measure the headroom above the stairs. It is measured vertically from the sloped plane adjoining the tread nosing or from the floor surface of the landing or platform.
 
US: The headroom in all parts of a stairway should not be less than 6 feet 8 inches. Spiral stairways should have headroom of at least 6 feet 6 inches.
CA: The headroom should not be less than 1,950 mm for stairs within dwelling units, and 2,050 mm for stairs not within dwelling units.
 
Inspect below the stairs. 
US: Enclosed accessible space under stairs should be protected on the enclosed side with 1/2-inch gypsum board.
US and CA: Check for water damage at the bottom of the stair stringer boards.
US and CA: Inspect below the stairs for mold and damage caused by insect infestation.
Check for ground contact.
CA: Exterior wood steps should not be in direct contact with the ground unless suitably treated with a wood preservative.
US: Wooden stair components in contact with the ground or in contact with concrete exposed to the weather should be of approved pressure-preservative-treated wood suitable for ground contact use.
THE LANDINGS:
 
Inspect the landings. 
US and CA: A floor or landing is required at the top and bottom of a stairway.  There is an 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 out over the stairs. 
CA: A landing may be omitted at the top of an interior flight serving a secondary entrance, not including from an attached garage, provided the stair does not contain more than 3 risers. 
Inspect the total rise of the stairway. 
US: A stairway should not have a vertical rise larger than 12 feet between floor levels or landings. 
CA: A stairway should not exceed 3.7 m.
Inspect the width of the landing. 
US: Every landing should be at least 36 inches wide, measured in the direction of travel.  The width of the landing should not be less than the width of the stairway. 
CA: The landing should be at least the width of the stair.  The landing length should be not less than 860 mm (for a landing turn of less than 30 degrees within the dwelling unit), and not less than 900 mm (for a landing turn of less than 30 degrees outside the dwelling unit.  The length of the landing with a turn of 30 to 90 degrees should be not less than 230 mm measured at the inside edge of the landing, and not less than 370 mm measured 230 mm from the inside edge of the landing or handrail.
CA: A landing may be omitted at the bottom of an exterior stair provided there is not obstruction, such as a gate or door, within the 900 mm width for stairs serving the dwelling unit or within 1,100 mm width for stairs not serving the dwelling unit.
ILLUMINATION:
 
Check for lighting at the stairs. 
US and CA: All interior and exterior stairways should have a means to illuminate the stairs, including landings and treads.
US: Interior stairways should have a light located at each landing, except when a light is installed directly over each stairway section.
Check the controls.
US and CA: Lights at an exterior stairway should be controlled from inside the property.
US: Interior stairways with at least 6 risers require wall switches at each floor level, unless the lights are continuously illuminated or automatically controlled.
CA: Interior stairways with 4 or more risers should have 3-way wall switches located at the head and foot of every stairway to control at least one light fixture.
 
US: Exterior stairways should have a light located at the top of the stairway.
 
US: Exterior stairways from the outside ground level to a basement should have a light at the bottom of the stairway.
 
 
SAMPLE REPORTING LANGUAGE
 
THE HANDRAIL:
 
Handrail needed.
US and CA: A handrail is needed.  Any stairway of four or more risers should have a handrail on at least one side.  Correction and further evaluation is recommended.
Handrail too low.
US: The handrail height is too low.  The handrail height should be at least 34 inches, and not more than 38 inches.  Handrail height is measured vertically from the sloped plane adjoining the tread nosing.  Correction and further evaluation is recommended.
CA: The handrail height is too low.  The handrail height should be at least 800mm, and not more than 965 mm.  Handrail height is measured vertically from the sloped plane adjoining the tread nosing.  Correction and further evaluation is recommended.
Handrail is too high.
US: The handrail height is incorrect.  The handrail should be no higher than 38 inches, and no lower than 34 inches.  Handrail height is measured vertically from the sloped plane adjoining the tread nosing.  Correction and further evaluation is recommended.
CA: The handrail height is incorrect.  The handrail should be no higher than 965 mm, and no lower than 800 mm.  Handrail height is measured vertically from the sloped plane adjoining the tread nosing.  Correction and further evaluation is recommended.
The handrail is not continuous. 
US: The handrail is not continuous.  The handrail should be continuous for the full length of the flight of stairs, measured from a point directly above the top riser to a point directly above the lowest riser of the flight.  Continuity can be interrupted by a newel post at a turn.  A volute, starting easing, or turnout can be installed over the lowest tread.
CA: The handrail is not continuous.  The handrail should be continuous for the full length of the flight of stairs, measured from a point directly above the top riser to a point directly above the lowest riser of the flight.  Continuity can be interrupted by a newel post at a turn.  A doorway or landing can interrupted continuity.
The handrail termination is incorrect.
US: The handrail termination is incorrect.  The handrail should end at a newel post or a wall.  Correction and further evaluation is recommended.
CA: The handrail termination is incorrect.  Handrails should terminate in a manner that will not obstruct travel or create a hazard.
The handrail clearance is incorrect.
US: The handrail clearance is incorrect.  Handrails adjacent to a wall should have a space of not less than 1 1⁄2 inches between the wall and the handrails.  Correction and further evaluation is recommended.
CA: The handrail clearance is incorrect.  Handrails adjacent to a wall should have a space of not less than 50 mm between the wall and the handrail, or 60 mm if the surface behind the handrail is rough or abrasive.  Correction and further evaluation is recommended.
The handrail attachment is a defect.
US: The handrail attachment is a defect.  The handrail should have attachment devices to transfer to the structural wall a concentrated load of 200 pounds applied at any point in any direction.
CA: The handrail attachment is a defect.  The handrail should have attachment devices to transfer to the structural wall a concentrated load of CA: 0.9 kN applied at any point in any direction.  The attachment points should not be spaced more than 1.2 m apart.  The first attachment point should be no more than 300 mm from the end of the handrail.  If attached to wooden structural components, the fasteners should consist of at least 2 wood screws at each point, penetrating at least 32 mm into solid wood.
THE STAIRWAY WIDTH:
 
The stairway width is incorrect.
US: Stairways should be at least 36 inches wide.  This is measured at all points above the handrail height and below the required headroom height.  For spiral stairways, there should be a width of at least 26 inches measured at and below the handrail.
CA: Required exit stairs should have a width of not less than 900 mm.  At least one stair between each floor level within a dwelling unit, and exterior stairs serving a single dwelling unit except required exit stairs, should have a width of not less than 860 mm.
The stairway width with a handrail is incorrect.
US: When a handrail is installed on only one side, the minimum clear width of the stairway at and below the handrail height should not be less than 31 1⁄2 inches.  When handrails are installed on both sides, the minimum clear width of the stairway at and below the handrail height should not be less than 27 inches.
CA: A handrail should be provided on at least one side of stairs less than 1,100 mm in width.  A handrail should be provided on both sides 1,100 mm in width or greater.  A handrail should be provided on both sides of curved stairs of any width, except those within a dwelling unit.
The handrail projects too far.
US: Handrails should not project more than 4 1⁄2 inches on either side of the stairway.
CA: Handrails should not project more than 100 mm on either side of the stairway.
The projection is a defect.
The stairway width limitations are based upon the body’s movements as a person walks on a stairway. 
US: Projections of 4 1⁄2 inches or less located below the handrail, including treads, trim, stringers or other items, are permitted.
CA: Projections of 100 mm or less below the handrail intoj8. the required width of the stairway are permitted.
THE RISERS AND TREADS:
 
The riser height is incorrect.
US:  The minimum riser height is 4 inches, and the maximum is 7 3⁄4 inches.  For spiral stairs, the maximum rise is 9 1⁄2 inches. 
CA: The minimum riser height riser height is 125 mm, and the maximum is 200 mm.  For curved or spiral stairs, the rise should be between 125 mm and 180 mm.
The difference between the riser heights is incorrect.
US: The greatest riser height within any flight of stairs should not exceed the smallest by more than 3/8 of an inch. 
CA: The greatest riser height within any flight of stairs should not exceed the smallest by more than 6 mm.
The tread depth is incorrect.
US: The minimum tread depth is 10 inches. 
CA: The minimum tread depth is 235 mm, and the maximum tread depth is 355 mm.  The minimum run is 210 mm, and the maximum is 355 mm.
The difference between the tread depths is incorrect.
US: The greatest tread depth within any flight of stairs should not exceed the smallest by more than 3/8 of an inch.  For winders, this is measured at the 12 inch walk line. 
CA: The greatest tread depth within any flight of stairs should not exceed the smallest by more than 6 mm.
The spiral stair tread measurement is incorrect.
US: For spiral stairs, all treads should be identical.  Each tread should have at least a 7 1⁄2 inch tread depth at 12 inches from the narrower edge.
CA: For spiral stairs, all treads should have minimum run not less than 150 mm, and an average run not less than 200 mm.
The winder stair tread measurement is incorrect.
US: For winder stairs, treads should have a depth of at least 10 inches measured at a point 12 inches from the side where the treads are narrowest.  Winder treads should have a depth of at least 6 inches at any point.
CA: Where angled treads or winders are incorporated into a stair, the treads in sets of angled treads or winders within a flight should turn in the same direction.  A set of winders should not turn through more than 90 degrees.  Winder-type turns in stairs are limited to 30 or 45 degrees only.  The run should be at least 280 mm measured 230 mm away from the handrail at the narrow end of the tread.
The slope is a hazard.
US: The walking surface of the stairway treads and landings should be sloped no steeper than 1⁄4-inch vertical in 12 inches horizontal (a 2% slope). 
CA: The cross-slope of treads and landings should not exceed 1 in 100 (a 1% slope).
The load on the stair is a defect.
US: The minimum concentrated load on stair treads (on an area of 4 square inches) is 300 pounds. 
CA: The load on the stair should be designed for strength and rigidity under uniform loading criteria to support 1.9 kPa for stairs serving a dwelling unit.
THE NOSING OR LEADING EDGE:
 
The nosing or leading edge is incorrect.
US: On stairways with solid risers, there should be a nosing at least 3⁄4 of an inch and not more than 1 and 1⁄4 inches. The radius of a nosing curve should be no greater than 9/16 of an inch.  A nosing is not required when the tread depth is 11 inches or more.
CA: The nose of treads that are beveled or rounded should not exceed 25 mm horizontally.  The leading edge of the stair tread should have a radius or bevel between 6 mm and 10 mm in the horizontal direction.
THE GUARDS:
 
The guard strength is a defect.
US: The design strength of a guard should resist a 200-pound concentrated load applied at any point in any direction along the handrail or the top of the guard.
CA: The design strength for a guard should resist a horizontal load of 0.5 kN/m or concentrated load of 1.0 kN applied inward or outward at any point at the top of the guard.  The top of the guard should resist an evenly distributed vertical load of 1.5 kN/m.
The strength of the intermediate rails, balusters, or elements within the guard is a defect.
US: Intermediate rails or balusters should be able to withstand a horizontal load of 50 pounds on an area equal to one square foot.  CA: The guard should resist a horizontal load applied inward or outward on the elements within the guard, including solid panels and pickets, of 0.5 kN applied over a maximum width of 300 mm and a height of 300 mm imposed, engaging at least 3 balusters.
The guard height is incorrect.
US: The minimum height of the horizontal guard should be 36 inches. Open sides of stairways with a total rise of more than 30 inches above the floor or ground should have guards not less than 34 inches in height.
CA: The minimum height for interior guards should be 900 mm high.  Where the walking surface served by a guard is not more than 1,800 mm above the finished ground level, the minimum height of an exterior guard should be 900 mm high; otherwise, the minimum height for all exterior guards should be 1,070 mm high. The maximum height of a required guard at a landing should be no more than 1,070 mm.
A ladder effect exists.
US and CA: Guards should not have horizontal or ornamental patterns, members, attachments, or openings that will facilitate climbing.
The glass in guard is a defect.
US: Glass used as a handrail assembly or a guard section should be constructed of either single fully tempered glass, laminated fully tempered glass, or laminated heat-strengthened glass.  The minimal nominal thickness should be ¼ inch.  Each pane of safety glazing installed should be identified by a manufacturer’s designation, which should be acid etched, sand blasted, ceramic fired, laser etched, embossed, or of a type that once applied, cannot be removed without being destroyed. 
CA: Glass in guards should be wired glass or safety glass of the laminated or tempered type.
THE SPHERES:
 
The guard opening is incorrect.
US: Horizontal guards at raised floor areas, balconies and porches should have intermediate rails or ornamental enclosures that do not allow passage of a 4-inch diameter sphere.
CA: Openings through any guard should be of a size that will prevent the passage of a spherical object having a diameter of 100 mm, unless it can be shown that will not represent a hazard.
 
US: Open risers should not allow the passage of a 4-inch diameter sphere.  On stairs with a total rise of 30 inches or less, the size of the open riser is not limited.
 
US: The triangular area formed by a tread, riser and guard should not allow passage of a 6-inch diameter sphere.
 
US: The opening at guards on the sides of stair treads should not allow the passage of a 4 3/8-inch diameter sphere.
THE HANDGRIP:
 
The circular handgrip is incorrect.
US:  A circular handgrip should have a cross section minimum of 1 1⁄4 inches and a maximum of 2 inches.  All handrails should be equivalently graspable to the 2-inch circular handgrip.
CA: A circular handgrip should have a cross section minimum of 30 mm and a maximum of 43 mm.
The non-circular handgrip is incorrect.
US: A non-circular handgrip with a perimeter minimum of 4 inches and a maximum of 6 1⁄4 inches should have a maximum cross section of 2 1⁄4 inches.  A non-circular handgrip with a perimeter greater than 6 1⁄4 inches should have a graspable finger recess on both sides
CA: A non-circular handgrip with a perimeter minimum of 100 mm and a maximum of 125 mm should have a maximum cross section of 45 mm.
ABOVE AND BELOW:
 
The headroom is too low.
US: The headroom in all parts of a stairway should not be less than 6 feet 8 inches. Spiral stairways should have headroom of at least 6 feet 6 inches.
CA: The headroom should not be less than 1,950 mm for stairs within dwelling units, and 2,050 mm for stairs not within dwelling units.
The stairs are in contact with the ground.
CA: Exterior wood steps should not be in direct contact with the ground unless suitably treated with a wood preservative.
US: Wooden stair components in contact with the ground or in contact with concrete exposed to the weather should be of approved pressure-preservative-treated wood suitable for ground contact use.
THE LANDINGS:
 
A landing is missing.
US and CA: A floor or landing is required at the top and bottom of a stairway.
The total rise of the stairway is too large.
US: A stairway should not have a vertical rise larger than 12 feet between floor levels or landings. 
CA: A stairway should not exceed 3.7 m.
The width of the landing is incorrect.
US: Every landing should be at least 36 inches wide, measured in the direction of travel.  The width of the landing should not be less than the width of the stairway. 
CA: The landing should be at least the width of the stair.  The landing length should be not less than 860 mm (for a landing turn of less than 30 degrees within the dwelling unit), and not less than 900 mm (for a landing turn of less than 30 degrees outside the dwelling unit.  The length of the landing with a turn of 30 to 90 degrees should be not less than 230 mm measured at the inside edge of the landing, and not less than 370 mm measured 230 mm from the inside edge of the landing or handrail.
ILLUMINATION:
 
The lighting at the stairs is inadequate.
US and CA: All interior and exterior stairways should have a means to illuminate the stairs, including landings and treads.
US: Interior stairways should have a light located at each landing, except when a light is installed directly over each stairway section.
There is a defect at the light controls.
US and CA: Lights at an exterior stairway should be controlled from inside the property.
US: Interior stairways with at least 6 risers require wall switches at each floor level, unless the lights are continuously illuminated or automatically controlled.
CA: Interior stairways with 4 or more risers should have 3-way wall switches located at the head and foot of every stairway to control at least one light fixture.
There is a missing light.
US: Exterior stairways should have a light located at the top of the stairway.
There is a missing light.
US: Exterior stairways from the outside ground level to a basement should have a light at the bottom of the stairway.
 
 
Contributors to this document:
Benjamin Gromicko
Nick Gromicko
Steve Horvath of Residential Design and Consulting
Kenneth Lott of 1Look4u Property Inspections
Jeff Pope of JPI Home Inspection Service
John Thorngren of Riserless-Stairs.com
Blaine Wiley of Quality Home Inspections
 
Watch the show on How to Inspect Stairways with Paige Peters.
Take the online training course "Inspecting Means of Egress" with Kenton Shepard.
U.S.-only version