Are Basement Stairs Load Bearing?


You’re probably planning on making some changes in your basement. It’s good to know the do’s and don’ts while you’re planning everything out. Stairs are usually the only way that people can enter their basements. The question now is if you can change those stairs without affecting the rest of your house. 

Stairs, by themselves, are never considered as structural supports for a building. They do not function to help hold up the building. Load-bearing walls, columns, beams, and slabs are the components that hold up the building. The only loads that stairs carry are the people and objects that are on them. 

It is vital to make sure that your stairs are well-supported by the structural members we just mentioned. Making changes to your stairs often comes with different considerations that you’ll need to make. Nothing is ever built in the same way despite the standards in the industry. 

How Are Basement Stairs Supported? 

Different structural members can support basement stairs. Most likely, your basement stairs are supported by adjacent load-bearing walls or by a column underneath. Stairs come in different shapes, sizes, and weights. These different characteristics all play a significant role in how much support your basement stairs will need. 

If you plan on making changes to your basement stairs, you should first consider how you use your basement. An essential part of planning is foresight, and essential factors such as the age of your house, the type of supports currently in place, and how it all fits in together are things that you must know before making any drastic changes. 

It’s not advisable to make any changes to structural elements for the sake of redesigning your basement stairs. All parts of a building are related to each other in one way or another. Removing a structural part of your home can potentially cause loads to transfer to other members that weren’t designed for it. It’s best to avoid this as it could cause some serious problems down the road. 

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What Is The Best Type Of Stairs For Basements? 

Spaces are often changing depending on the needs of the user. Whether it’s building a new room or just clearing some extra space, stairs could potentially get in the way of that renovation project. Choosing the best layout for your stairs is important for the planning of the rest of your basement space. 

The best way to address this is by changing your basement stair’s layout. Here’s a brief description of stair layouts to help you understand.

  • Straight – Goes along one direction and has a landing directly in the middle. This takes up a lot of length in a room but saves a lot of widths. Typically takes up 5 meters x 1.2 meters for the entire staircase.
  • L-Shaped – Goes along two different directions. Takes up the most amount of space but is spread out more. Typically takes up 2.5 meters x 1.2 meters in one direction then another 2.5 meters x 1.2 meters to the left/right of the landing. 
  • U-Shaped – Goes along one direction then goes the opposite way after a landing. This saves up the most length but takes up quite a lot of width. Typically takes up around 3 meters x 2.5 meters.

*The length and width we’re referring to are the length and width of your basement. 

** For measurements, we’re assuming 200mm for stair treads, 250mm for stair risers, and that the stairs are designed to cover 3 meters of vertical height. 

Do You Need To Hire Professionals To Renovate Basement Stairs? 

Prices will vary depending on the material used, design of the staircase, cost of labor in your area, and other factors. A reasonable estimate for the cost of constructing basement stairs would be around $2000. 

It is important to note that you will still need to hire an architect, contractor, civil engineer, electrician, and laborers for this type of project. The involvement of these professionals will depend on how much work needs to be done to arrive at the design that you want. 

For anything related to structurals, you should consult with a civil engineer to avoid causing any damage to your home. In this case, you can ask an engineer to identify what parts of your basement are holding up your basement stairs. 

A great idea to help cut costs and save time is to design a new staircase based on the structural members already in place. With that, you can avoid having to construct a new column, beam, and etc. The con of taking this route however is that you will be limited by the current layout of the structural members.  

How Much Weight Can Basement Stairs Handle? 

 A typical staircase can handle a load of 1000 pounds safely. You need to know that stairs experience live load, which means the forces that act upon the stairs are dynamic(moving around). With that said, it’s good practice to make sure that whenever you’re carrying a heavy load; make sure that you are carrying it across the width of the stairs so that the force acting on the stairs is well distributed and is not concentrated on one point. 

For example, if you are bringing a boiler down to your basement. It’s best to line up some spare studs along your stairs to make it smoother to transport it down. A good tip of advice is to do it as quickly, in a safe and controlled manner, as possible. The longer something has to handle a load, the greater the stress it will experience, leading to the stairs breaking down when it could’ve been avoided in the first place. 

The amount of weight that basement stairs can handle is also determined by the material and finishes that it is made out of. It’s not uncommon for a wooden step to suddenly snap( especially  for cantilevered stair threads) o/

We think it would be helpful for you if we do a brief and straightforward explanation of the physics behind all this. Stress is determined as the force acting upon a certain area. Stress increases by either increasing the amount of force applied or by reducing the area it’s applied to. When you’re transporting heavy loads through a relatively structurally fragile area like stairs, you want to ensure that the weight is distributed across the entire stair to lessen the amount of stress acting upon it. 

Conclusion 

Basement stairs are load-bearing but are only designed to carry people and objects. Their capacity is determined by the structural members supporting the basement stairs and how the stairs were constructed. To increase the longevity of your basement stairs and to avoid damaging them, make sure to distribute any heavy loads that you need to transport to/from your basement.  

Best Home Fixer

I love fixing up my own home and I set up this blog to help others do the same.

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