Hot Topics: Don't Tread on the Basement Stairs
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Lots of DIYers complete their projects with whatever materials they have on hand, supposedly simplifying the process. But whoever built these stairs invented a whole new support system and created a whole lot more work for themselves, and still failed to come up with a viable solution. The Forum tells you what to do about it.
Original Post: Stairway seems unsafe, am I paranoid?
I go down into my basement multiple times a day, as it is my man-cave, and every time I go down my stairs I get the uneasy feeling that they are unsafe. They make horrible creaking noises but I can jump all the way down hard onto each step and they do not move. My girlfriend also has to go down them for laundry. I only see six rusty nails holding up the staircase and two upright boards that are attaching it to the floor joists (with nails, not screws). I mentioned this to my inspector and he said they were metal and would probably outlast the house and not to worry. But still... What are these metal inserts attached to the wooden stringers called? Shouldn't the side supports go from the cement floor to the stringer and not from the stringer up to the joist? There was termite damage to the house about 15 years ago and they replaced a bunch of the flooring. Is this up to code? I greatly appreciate any responses. Thanks in advance.
Highlights from the Thread
It looks like someone with interests in a sheet metal business built those stairs. The metal (actually, galvanized sheet metal), is not structural, but rather appears to simply be two fabricated shrouds on the insides of each stringer, put there to hide the tread support system. That system (based on the tiny bit visible near the top, in the photo looking from the outside) looks to consist of notched, 2x blocks fastened to the insides of the stringers to hold the stair treads, with the upper-most ones running past the ends of the stringers to aid in their attachment to the upper floor framing. The creaking you hear is probably the ends of the treads rubbing on the support blocks as they deflect under load. The stringer supports appear to be somewhat precarious, which could be contributing to the "uneasy" feeling you're experiencing.
If I lived there, the entire stairway would be removed and properly rebuilt. Should you choose not to do that, you could at least add a middle stringer, preferably after installing supplemental 2x risers, glued and screwed to each existing tread. Beefing up the two existing stringer attachments to the floor framing would also help. All of which should firm things up considerably.
Thanks for your reply. I am going to HAVE to reinforce these steps, as my original assumption was correct. The sheet metal and 3 nails on either side going through that sheet metal is all that is holding the bulk of the weight. I was hoping there was 2x's inside the metal but I decided to actually take a stair out and take a peak. It appears that the metal is the only tread support and the stringers are only there to support the metal. Upon closer inspection some of the metal is slowly cutting through the tread boards and causing some cracks to form on the lips as they hang over the sharp metal fronts. In the photo at the tiny bit visible near the top the only wood visible between the wooden stringer-support and the floor is the side of a tread board - haha. Also, the sheet metal is not a complete strip on either side. I found that on the left side it was two pieces, and one of the nails fell out of the bottom piece which was causing the horrific creeeeek on the last two steps... thanks for your advice bridgeman, I hope my budget will allow for an entire new staircase soon.
Wow. And I thought I had seen everything, when it comes to DIY screw-ups! I think your home inspector owes you a refund, or at least some tutoring to help him realize the difference between structural steel and sheet metal.
Realistically speaking, it shouldn't cost that much for the materials required, such that you could rebuild the stairway yourself. A few days over a weekend ought to do it, if you possess reasonable carpentry skills. I tutored a friend of mine, building a completely new stairway with reverse runs and landing, in the house he was building, and we were done in less than 6 hours. You'll need three new 2x12 stringers, that you cut the stair-step pattern into, and some new tread boards. The existing treads would be too short if you intend to keep the stairway the same width while resting the treads on top of the two exterior stringers, but they could be used for risers in your new stair build.
While you're at it, you might consider doing something with the notched beam end (with the bundle of dark electrical wires going through) shown in one of the pix. Not a good situation, but easily corrected by adding some supplemental support under the notched end. Also, I noticed an adjustable steel jack post at the bottom of the stairway--you might consider replacing it with a more permanent support system for the member it is carrying. Or correct the member (or how it's being loaded) such that it won't require supplemental support.