Code Requirements for Spiral Staircases

The most important thing a spiral staircase customer needs to know about building codes is this:  Before manufacturing your spiral stair kit, Precision Pine will check to see if local building codes will govern the installation of your spiral staircase. If so, we prefer to contact the local inspector either directly or through you to assure that the installation will meet local code requirements.

Regardless of the exact wording of building codes, the local inspector will be the final authority on the interpretation of code requirements and what or when allowances can be made. It is best to include the local inspector before installation begins.

Most building codes in the United States have similar rules for spiral stairs, these include BOCA, UBC, IBC, and the most current version of the IRC(2012).  The code requirements for spiral stairs are considerably different than rules for straight stair systems. It’s not unusual for a building inspector to miss that special section of code related to spiral stairs. One important thing to note is that in most localities a spiral staircase can not be the only means of egress unless it meets building code.
Spiral staircase code requirements are in summary:

  1. Maximum rise, the vertical distance between treads: 9-1/2″ (this is higher than the maximum rise for a straight stair—usually 7-3/4” or so– because you have to go down a spiral more steeply to gain sufficient headroom under the top landing).
  2. Minimum head clearance above any tread: 78″.
  3. Minimum horizontal tread width: Treads must be at least 7-1/2″ wide* at a point 12″ out from the center column.  *This means that a 7-1/2″ width of the tread protrudes beyond the leading edge of the tread or landing above.
  4. Minimum width of clear passageway: At least 26″ from the INSIDE of the spiral handrail to the outside of the center column.  This is the strictest interpretation of the code–some building inspectors will allow the 26″ width to be measured OUTSIDE the handrail.
  5. Baluster spacing: Most codes require a space of no more than 4″ between balusters.
  6. Minimum opening between treads: Some codes require no more than 4″.  Most spiral stairs have greater than 4″ clear space beneath the treads.  Precision Pine supplies additional parts when this when this rule must be met.

Here’s the exact wording from the IRC:
R311.5.8.1 Spiral Stairs. Spiral stairways are permitted, provided the minimum width shall be 26 inches (660 mm) with each tread having a 71⁄2 inch (190 mm) minimum tread depth at 12 inches from the narrower edge. All treads shall be identical, and the rise shall be no more than 91⁄2 inches (241 mm). A minimum headroom of 6 feet, 6 inches (1982 mm) shall be provided