Space saver stairs and the Building Regulations
In England and Wales Part K of the Building Regulations specifies what you can and cannot do with staircases, in Scotland it is part 4 of the technical handbook, in Ireland it is part K of their Regulations and in Northern Ireland it is part H.
They are all different, and when it comes to space saving stairs I believe that only England & Wales have a separate set of rules covering the use of space saver stairs. I have to be honest and say that I have never been totally sure of who allows what when it comes to space saving stairs, the rules such as they are, can be open to interpretation, and in my experience different Local Authorities have different attitudes to space saver stairs. Over the years I have had discussions with Building Control people all over the shop and the feed-back I have been given is
England and Wales: Space saver stairs are OK as long as the meet part K 1.22-1.24 but a few Authorities will find any reason to object.
Scotland: They will not have them at any price
Ireland: Seem to be more easy going, I do not remember an objection to a sensibly used space saver stair.
Northern Ireland: Generally the same as England and Wales
So that is what I think is the case for all of our small group of islands, but let us face it, if in doubt you have to ask your own specific Local Building Authority, I have never ceased to be amazed at the different responses that I have heard on this subject. To be fair it is probably not the most common or the most important question that the average Building Control inspector will have to give a decision on, so I would expect a variation in response.
OK now that it is as clear as mud as to who allows what, let us now look at what exactly a space saver stair is as defined in Part K of the Welsh/English Regs.
The terms space saver stair or space saving stair are both nice and self-explanatory but strictly speaking the only way to save space over a standard staircase is to make it steeper. The only way to make it steeper and still have enough tread to stand on is to have a special paddle shaped tread which alternate left and right. So the Regulations refer to a space saver staircase as an alternating tread staircase.
The mind set of the Building Regulations as regards stairs is to make rules that make stairs safe to use in a normal situation, and adequate for evacuation in the case of an emergency. From this you can see that alternate tread stairs which are steep and require a bit of thought to walk up and down, are not suitable for evacuation for a large number of people who are in a hurry.
To that end Part K of the Regulations allow the use of space saver stairs in a domestic property providing the are used as follows.
- They must only be used in one or more straight flights for a loft conversion and only then when there is not enough space to accommodate a full staircase.
- They can give access to one habitable room with an associated ensuite bathroom.
The steps must have parallel nosing
- There should be a handrail on both sides
- The rise and going and non-slip treads should comply with the rules the same as full staircases.
- These points are my brief interpretation of Part K but you can see the drift, and you can also see that they are open to discussion on what is allowed, the following are some of the different and odd views that I come across in my time in the staircase world.
“It says loft conversion so you cannot use it to access your single room cellar”
Thankfully a one off view that was over ruled by a more enlightened boss. Although you have to accept that a cellar with no windows is probably not the best place to have to evacuate from in the case of a house fire.
“The treads have to be parallel so you cannot have a turn at the bottom”
Again rarely enforced, the truth is that a turn at the bottom of a kit space saver is actually very useful and jumpable if you are in a hurry to evacuate. In my opinion two small straight flights with a quarter landing in between will comply, but is no more safer than winding treads.
“ A study is not bedroom so you cannot use a space saver stair”
Actually wrong because the Regs say a habitable room, but the point is valid in the case of say, a kitchen (more risk of fire), or a lounge (potential for lots of people at a party)
“You can put a full stair in one of your bedrooms so you cannot use a space saver stair on the landing”
Sheer badness brought on by a falling out over other differences of opinion between inspector and client. A staircase is always an easy target, a bit like telling a policeman at a random vehicle check that he should be out catching criminals. I guarantee he will find a fault with your brand new Merc.
In this age no one should be put off using space saving staircases, in my opinion they are more safe to use than you think, and they provide access in places where you just could not reasonably get a full staircase. I have been involved with hundreds of them and know for a fact that they work without problems. ‘Touch wood’ I have yet to hear of an accident that could be said to have occurred due to the use of a space saving staircase in lieu of a full staircase.
Having been around for a long time I can also say that modern Building Control Departments are far more helpful and user friendly than they ever were in days of yore. In most cases if you ask first, you will get good practical advice and a common sense attitude from you local guy or gal. ‘It pays to talk’