International Building Code (IBC) Code & Requirements for Stairs

The International Building Code (IBC) is a comprehensive set of regulations that address health and safety considerations in building construction. It encompasses both prescriptive requirements, which provide specific instructions for construction techniques, and performance-related requirements, which outline the desired outcomes without prescribing the exact methods or materials to achieve them. The IBC is designed to be compatible with other codes published by the International Code Council (ICC), ensuring a consistent approach to building standards.

The primary purpose of the IBC is to safeguard public health and safety. It sets guidelines and standards that promote the well-being of occupants, protect against hazards, and prevent risks associated with building construction and occupancy. By implementing these provisions, the IBC aims to strike a balance between ensuring safety and avoiding excessive costs or favoritism towards particular materials or construction practices.

In summary, the IBC serves as a comprehensive framework that addresses health and safety concerns in building construction. It provides guidelines, both prescriptive and performance-based, that protect public health and safety while promoting consistency and avoiding unnecessary expenses or biases toward specific construction methods or materials.

The IBC requirements for stairways are listed below. Special attention should always be paid to the importance of providing the required number of means of egress and areas of refuge for wheelchairs in any stair project.

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Width (IBC 1011.2)

The number of occupants on each floor will determine the required width of the stairs. In short, the width is calculated by multiplying the occupant load served by such stairs by a factor of 0.3 inch per occupant. However, the very minimum width between handrails is 44 inches. You must calculate the IBC stair width for multi-story stairways versus single-story stairways.

Width = 0.3 x floor’s occupant load

Weight (live load) Capacity (IBC 1605)

Uniform live loads. (IBC 1607.3) – The live loads used in the design of buildings and other structures shall be the maximum loads expected by the intended use or occupancy but shall not be less than the minimum uniformly distributed live loads as listed in the below table.
Concentrated live loads. (OBC 1607.4) – Surfaces shall be designed to support the uniformly distributed live loads or the concentrated live loads, whichever produces the greater load effects. Concentrated live loads are uniformly distributed over an area of 2 1/2 feet by 2 1/2 feet (762 mm by 762 mm) and shall be located so as to produce the maximum load effects in the structural members.

UseUniform (PSF)Concentrated (Pounds)
Stairs & Exits100300*
Fire Escapes100
Walkways and Elevated Platforms
Other than exit ways
* The minimum concentrated load on stair treads is based on an area of 2″ x 2″

Read More: Differences in IBC and OSHA Requirements

Headroom (IBC 1011.3)

Stairways are required to have a headroom clearance of 80 inches from the edge of each stair nosing measured vertically up to the ceiling. The clearance must continue past the last step for at least one stair tread depth.

IBC Stair Headroom

Riser Height and Tread Depth (IBC 1011.5)

The step height, also known as the riser height, must be no less than 4 inches and no greater than 7 inches. The minimum tread depth is 11 inches. If the stairs have nosings, you measure from the leading edge of the nosing to the edge of the next step’s nosing.

IBC Riser Height and Tread Depth Requirements
ComplianceStair DepthRiser Height
OSHA9.5″ (240 mm)
9.5″ (240 mm)
IBC11″ (279 mm)
4″ (102 mm) – 7″ (178 mm)
Minimum – Maximum

Uniform Dimensions (IBC 1011.5.4)

IBC stairs must have the same riser and tread dimensions throughout the stairway. The difference between the largest and smallest tread depth or riser height cannot be more than 3/8 inch.

Solid Risers (IBC 1011.5.5.3)

Solid risers are required for IBC stairs except for means of egress stairways as long as the opening between treads does not allow a 1/2 inch diameter sphere to pass through.

Landings (IBC 1011.6 & 1009.6.3)

  • There must be a floor or landing at the top and bottom of each stairway.
  • The width of landings must be as wide as the stairways that they serve.
  • Where the stairway has a straight run, the landing does not need to be more than 48 inches deep.
  • Doors opening onto a landing cannot reduce the minimum landing width to less than half.
  • When the door is fully open, it cannot project more than 7 inches into the minimum dimensions of the landing.
  • If a wheelchair space is required for an area of refuge, the wheelchair space cannot be located in the required minimum landing dimensions or door swing.

Stairway Rise (IBC 1011.8)

Every 12 feet of vertical rise, the stairway must have a landing.

ADA IBC Stair landing elevation

Walking Surface (IBC 1011.7.1)

  • The slope of the walking surface cannot be greater than 1:48 in any direction.
  • You can have walking surfaces with openings, but the openings cannot allow a 1/2-inch diameter sphere pass through.
  • If the stairs are outside, the design of the IBC stairs cannot allow water to accumulate on the walking surface.

Guards (IBC 1011.13 & 1015)

Guards are required along all open-sided walking surfaces of the stairway, including landings and stairs. The guard height must be at least 42 inches high, and it is measured vertically from the leading edges of the tread nosings or from the landing surface. Any spacing in the guards must be less than 4 inches. Shown below, the guards are vertical balusters, but guards can also be pieces of glass, wire, etc.

Guard height spacing

Handrails (IBC 1011.11 & 1014)

Handrails must be on both sides of the IBC stairs, and they must comply with these additional handrail requirements. You could compare all the ADA, OSHA and IBC stair railing height requirements here.

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