Stairway headroom clearance requirements (C) D Friedman Eric Galow Stair Headroom Codes
Codes on objects projecting into stairways

  • STAIR HEADROOM - CONTENTS: Stair headroom or overhead clearance specifications & codes. Stairway Height, Width, Headroom Requirements. Sketches of stair headroom clearance design requirements
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about stair codes & requirements for stair or step minimum width & headroom

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Stairway headroom & width codes & requirements:

Clearances for Stair Construction & Inspection; ADA standards for projecting hazard clearances. This document provides building code specifications, sketches, photographs, and examples of the stair passage width & stair overhead clearance or head room needed for indoor or outdoor stairs. How much space is needed over steps or stairs, and exactly where should those measurements be taken?

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Stairway Height, Width, Headroom Requirements

Stairway Lighting requirements (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Stairway overall height, width, and headroom requirements & codes are detailed here.

Our page top photo, courtesy Galow Homes and Eric Galow, shows where headroom clearance should be measured at a stairwell: stair overhead clearance is the vertical distance measured between the outer edge of the stair tread surface (close to the stair tread rounded nosing), and the under-side of the ceiling above.

Specifications for Stairway Overhead Clearance: Headroom

Stairway headroom clearance requirements (C) D Friedman Eric Galow

Re-stating this for clarity:

Stair way headroom should be 12' or less between floors - or restated, the total rise for a set of steps between floors should be less than or equal to twelve feet.

This means landings could be required if the total rise height of a stairway is more than 12 ft.

Sketch at left provided courtesy Carson Dunlop Associates.

Model & Example California Building Code Specifications for Stairway Headroom Requirements

Every stairway must have a headroom clearance of not less than 6'8" measured vertically from the plane of the tread nosing to the soffit above at all points. [37]

Inadequate headroom at a stairway in a pre-1900 home in Beacon, NY (C) Daniel Friedman

Above: our photograph shows an inadequate head room clearance in a narrow stairway in a home in Beacon, New York. This home sports a narrow stairwell with angled treads, no handrailings, and ... well, not much headroom. Multiple trip, slip, fall and bang hazards.

On the other hand, the cost of a stair re-build in this home would be steeper than the stairway. For a stairway not in regular use or not between living areas in an older home not forced to meet current building standards, the compromise of substituting caution for cost may be acceptable.

U.S. ADA Protruding Object Standards Require a Barrier or Guardrail Under Stairways & Stairwells

ADA requirement for stairway or stairwell barrier for visually impaired - original source Question: ADA citation for requirement of barrier guard to avoid head injury beneath stairways - for the visually impaired

15 March 2015 Angie said:

I'm in Oregon and looking for the ADA code for guardrail under stairwells. All I can seem to find are pictures of 27" high, but no documentation attached.
Can anyone point me in the right direction.

[Click to enlarge any image]


Hi Angie, you ask an important question. The specific ADA citation that accompanies the illustration that you found is:

307.4 Vertical Clearance. Vertical clearance shall be 80 inches (2030 mm) high minimum. Guardrails or other barriers shall be provided where the vertical clearance is less than 80 inches (2030 mm) high.
The leading edge of such guardrail or barrier shall be located 27 inches (685 mm) maximum above the finish floor or ground.

At above left is the ADA Standards to which you refer. The illustration suggests that a barrier be erected beneath stairways or in stairwells in which there would be a risk of head injury to a walker below the stairs if s/he could not see the down-sloping under-side of the overhead portion of the rising stairway.

The hazard of concern is that the underside of a stairway would be an overhead hazard when there are less than 80 inches of head room provided unless there is a cane-detectable barrier. I suspect the reason you didn't find this citation easily yourself is that it appears under the ADA's standards regarding protruding object hazards.

The illustration suggests that a barrier be erected at a maximum height of 27" (685 cm) above the walking surface and at a distance such that the overhead clearance would first be less than 80" (2030 cm). This illustration is cited from the 2010 ADA STANDARDS AT A U.S. Government website providing information and technical assistance on the ADA - the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This interpretation of the ADA appears in settlement agreements that are part of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division's Project Civic Access cited below. The requirement for a cane-detectable barrier below stairways also appears in legal documents regarding settlements with other agencies besides the various civic entities in the U.S., such as other public forums and facilities including Lincoln Center in New York City (cited below).

We cite the ADA source of this specification and we note that this requirement has been cited in several legal proceedings and settlements.

Citations on cane detectable barriers & stairways


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