step height standard

How High Should Individual Stairs Be?

A proper staircase design includes sizing the correct step height standard for maximum safety. This must take into account local building codes as well as any physical limitations of the people who will be using it.

Riser Height

The stair riser is the vertical piece at the back of each tread which sets the height between one step and the next. Usually this is one wooden piece that’s uniform throughout the staircase.


Be sure not to confuse riser heights with headroom heights or the total height of the stair itself. Headroom is the distance between any step and the ceiling (or fixtures). There are also regulations for headroom heights.

Riser Heights

In the United States, the step height standard should be between 7 or 7 ¾ inches at the most, and no less than 4 inches. You should follow other measurements if given by local building codes. In Canada, the maximum step riser height is 8 ¼ inches. Typically, the standard for variation among the risers on a staircase is 3/8 of an inch. The nose of each tread should not extend more than 1 ½ inch beyond the riser.

These regulations are meant to reduce the risks of tripping (and falling) on a staircase, which are the most common home hazard. Our bodies quickly become accustomed to climbing stairs, and variations in dimensions can catch you by surprise. This is often found in older homes built before established codes or in poorly calculated construction plans where the builder created a single upper or lower step that was a bit taller or lower.

Maximize staircase safety with step height standard

Riser Slope

The slope of the staircase should be not more than 30 degrees as measured from the level surface of the stair treads. This is to prevent staircases that are too steeply pitched and could cause a person to tumble backward, especially if carrying a load such as a basket of laundry (or an infant).

Open Riser Stairs

Some staircases don’t have risers and are known as open-riser stairs. They must be designed so that a 4-inch diameter sphere will not pass through any opening. This is for child safety.

Riser Heights for People of Limited Mobility

This refers not only to small children, but particularly seniors who may have limited ability to climb a flight of steps or recover from a fall. Most experts suggest that seniors have first-floor accommodations only, but that isn’t always possible. If there is a senior using the stairs, it’s recommended that the step height standard be a little less than normal, such as a maximum of 6 7/8 inches.

At Stair Supplies, our specialists are focused on designing and building quality, attractive staircases that are safe and secure. We’ve provided further information and links to useful sources to guide you in your own stair plans. Contact us to discuss your concerns and ask any questions.

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