Home Inspection - Hidden Defects Of Staircase And Structure | Propertylogy

Home Inspection – Hidden Defects Of Staircase And Structure

By on August 16, 2017

We often take staircases at home for granted as we don’t spend any time on it other than to move from the lower level to the upper level. And vice-versa.

And when we do use it, we hardly even spend 10 seconds on it for transit!

Yet a staircase is one of the most complex structures you will find at home. This makes it very challenging for the average homeowner to identify and diagnose problems.

This can be a small issue if it’s just a small defect. But major defects can cause serious injuries to family members and guests.

When you add sharp edges to the effects of gravity, it’s not a combination you should take likely.

  1. Railing
  2. Skirtboard
  3. Riser
  4. Tread
  5. Baluster
  6. Newel post

With the illustration pointing out the terms of elements on a regular staircase, the following are the common defects and how to look for them.

1) Risers and treads

Every step on a staircase consist of a riser (height) and a tread (length).

For ergonomic reasons, each step must be of consistent dimensions so as not to disorientate a person climbing up or down the steps. This is critical as 1 wrong step can have grave consequences.

Just think about this for a moment. You are walking down a flight of steps as per normal. And suddenly your next step is twice as high as your previous one. What do you think is likely to happen?

You might have quick reflexes in balancing yourself and prevent tumbling down the flight of steps. But you cannot say the same about someone like your grandmother who is likely to trip.

Saying this, consistent risers are much more important that consistent treads.

Tread widths can often vary when developers and builders try to add a little style to their developments. But never with the risers.

A problem like this MUST be resolved.

2) Low headroom

Newer building codes don’t allow for low headroom.

However, houses that were built decades ago might not adhere to these requirements that were not in place at that time.

So if you are to conduct some major renovation works, you might be required to provide enough headroom to be in line with code.

3) Out-swinging doors

Similar to low headroom, new building requirements no longer allow for doors that swing out towards the staircase.

New stairways with out-swinging hinged doors are said to have a design defect.

Take note of that when planning remodeling works.

4) Squeaking steps

Upon hearing squeaky steps, don’t dismiss it as just a friendly greeting from a resident mouse.

Investigate why the squeaks are occurring.

If squeaking is just caused by worn out adhesives, you can rectify it easily with subflooring adhesives.

But if the squeaks are a result of spring-like steps, you might have to remove and replace the whole step altogether. In worst cases… the whole staircase.

5) Treads that crack

A properly built flight of stairs should never see cracks on treads unless a tank has fallen on it.

Material used for treads are after all typically at least 1 inch think. Even wood at a thickness like that supported by the structure of a staircase will take some beating to eventually crack.

Defective treads should be replace.

The problem is that replacing 1 single tread can have very complicated technical issues. So please enlist the expertise of a carpenter before moving forward.

6) Superstructure

The components that make up a staircase can be classified into the superstructure and substructure.

The superstructure consist of the railings, balusters and newel posts. While the substructure consist of the framing supporting the stairs.


An obvious sign that is telling you something is wrong is when you see… no railings!

You shouldn’t need any elaboration to determine that that is a safety risk.

Loose railings can pose as much danger as no railings. So get these issues fixed.


Loose balusters can often be tightened as long as you figure out how they are fixed to the treads. They can usually be repaired with glue from the hardware store.

Newel post

Newel posts that comes loose can usually be remedied with basic tightening and/or screwing down with reinforcement screws.

If this doesn’t work, tightening of the internal threaded rod might be needed.

7) Substructure

Natural human instincts should be able to alert you that something is wrong if a staircase is tilting to one side.

Tilting occurs when one side (the lower one) is struggling to hold itself up. Either the nails, screws, and bolts holding the carriage to the wall could be coming loose, or the framing could be falling apart.

If the tilt is towards the open side of the staircase, it might be because that side is not held up against the wall.

Nevertheless, it could still be a sign of problems under the hood.

And when you can observe cracks on both the top and bottom of a staircase, it could mean that the whole carriage is falling apart.

You need expert help. And you need it now.

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