Watch Your Head!

A defect most commonly found in older homes is too short of a height at stairways. Occasionally, the distance between the stair treads and ceiling above is less than the minimum standard of 6 feet, 8 inches. Most often, this occurs at the base or top of the stairway.

The 6’8” requirement exists for obvious reasons – to provide plenty of clearance so people don’t hit their heads on the ceiling. If you’re curious how high a height of 6 feet, 8 inches is, just picture a standard interior door. It, too, is a standard 6’8” high (and for the same reason of ensuring safety).

If you live in or are buying a home that happens to have ceilings too low above stairs, you are obviously not going to tear apart the house and do extensive and very costly remodeling to meet the modern height standard. What you can do though, is take measures to ensure safety as much as possible. If the staircase is in an unfinished basement and you don’t care much about how the space looks, you may want to consider hanging a caution sign as a reminder or warning to others.

There are several things you can do to promote safety in spite of the otherwise unsafe condition, and you should prioritize safety if your staircase height is less than the modern standard. At the very least, you should be sure that staircases with low ceilings have lighting, solid treads with no trip hazards, and graspable handrails. A height less than 6’8” should not be a deal breaker, but you should take measures to ensure safety any time conditions exist that have been proven over time to not be safe.

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Author: hillinspections

I am a Certified Master Inspector (CMI) and the owner and operator of Hill Property Inspections LLC, the top-rated inspection company in the greater Johnstown, PA area, based out of western Pennsylvania. I specialize in property inspections and environmental testing services and have a passion for helping my own clients and other families in learning to properly maintain their homes. I’m also the owner of Hill Pest Control, LLC and a pest management professional committed to helping our clients rid their homes and businesses of unwanted pests. I am an Army veteran, former State Farm Insurance Agent, and real estate investor with experience in all facets of real estate construction, transaction and insurance. I am also the founder and President of the Southwestern PA Chapter of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and an affiliate member of the Cambria-Somerset Association of Realtors (CSAR).

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