If you live in a multistory home, you may be thinking about putting a door at the top of an interior stairway. Reasons include for privacy, to keep young children safe, or to save on heating and cooling costs by blocking off portions of the house.
You may be wondering whether it’s legal to put a door at the head of your stairway. We’ve done the research and have the answer for you.
You can put a door at the top of an interior staircase. For safety reasons, if the door swings out over the stairs, you must have a landing at the top of the stairs. If the door swings into the room or hallway at the top of the stairs, a landing is not required.
There are a number of factors to consider as you decide whether or not to put a door at the top of your interior stairs. Keep reading to learn more about the safety factors involved and how to optimize the functionality and attractiveness of the area at the top of your stairs.
Safety-Related Factors For Placing A Door At The Top Of The Stairs
The International Residential Code (IRC) defines minimum standards for the construction and remodeling of single-family homes. Because the IRC has been widely adopted throughout the United States, we are using its standards to inform this guide.
A few states, counties, and municipalities have adopted stricter standards. Be sure to check with your local building inspector before proceeding with plans to install a door at the top of your interior staircase.
Do You Need A Landing At The Top Of The Stairs?
A landing is an area just below the bottom step of a staircase, or just above its top step. The landing signals a transition from the stairs to the rest of the house and serves as a safety feature to prevent falls.
IRC standards require landings at the bottom and the top of all staircases, with one exception. If there is a door at the top of an interior staircase, and if that door does not swing out over the steps, then a landing is not required.
Let’s make that a little easier to understand by visualizing it. Imagine climbing a flight of steps from the main floor of your house to the second floor.
If there is no door at the top of the stairway, you simply step from the top stair onto the floor above. This section of the floor serves as a landing and must be at least 36 inches wide and 36 inches deep, the minimum size for a landing.
If you install a door that swings open over the steps, you must put a landing between the door and the top step. This landing must be at least 36 inches deep.
It provides a safe, stable platform to stand on as you open the door on your way up the stairs and as you close it behind you on the way down.
In contrast, a door that opens away from the steps does not require a landing between it and the top step because it does not present a fall risk.
As you reach the top of the stairs, you push the door forward, in sync with the momentum of your climb. And, when you open the door to descend the stairs, you pull it back toward you, with little risk of falling forward.
How Far Does A Door Need To Be From The Stairs?
A door that does not swing out over the steps may be placed directly at the top of the stairs. A door that swings toward the stairs must have a landing beneath it. This landing must measure at least 36 inches from the lip of the landing to the doorsill.
This allows you to safely pull the door open as you reach the top of the stairs, and to safely push the door open and step forward as you prepare to descend. The landing must be level with the floor at the head of the stairs.
What Do You Put At The Top Of A Staircase?
Staircases and landings are often considered “dead space” and neglected in planning. However, they can provide storage space, cozy hangouts, and eye-catching decor.
The space at the top of the stairs naturally attracts the gaze of a person at the bottom. So, if there is no door (or an open door) at the head of the staircase, you can turn the area at the top of the stairs into a focal point in your house.
Of course, safety is paramount, so as you’re planning, make sure that you keep your 36 inches x 36 inches landing space clear.
If you have a door at the top of the stairs, ensure that it can open fully. And make sure that the path to the door is free of obstacles or potential tripping hazards.
Once all the safety concerns are met, determine how much space you have at the top of your stairs. Consider whether you would like to use that space for functionality, decor, or both.
If the space at the top of your stairs is small – for example, if your stairs open into a hallway – your best bet will be to put nothing on the floor and focus on decorating the wall with artwork, a collage, or narrow wall-mounted shelving.
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Stairways are typically among the darkest spaces in a home, so installing good lighting to illuminate your decor can turn the area at the top of your stairs from dead space into a bold statement.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a larger landing at the top of your stairs, you’ll enjoy a wide range of possibilities. You could place a bench, table, or chair there, accented with wall art, plants, or shelving.
Click here to see this accent chair on Amazon.
In a larger nook, especially one with a window, you might add built-in seating, a daybed, or a game table; if there’s not a window, add good lighting to render the space cozy and inviting.
Some large landing areas can even be turned into compact functional areas, such as an office/workstation, a mini-library, storage for coats and boots, or even a small laundry area with a stackable washer and dryer.
If your stairway opens directly into a bedroom or other living space, it’s best to decorate that room in the same style as the rest of the house. Place a striking piece of artwork or furniture in view of the stairs, to catch the eye of people below.
As you’re deciding whether or not to install a door at the head of your interior stairway, keep in mind that building codes require you to add a landing between the door and the top step if your door swings open over the staircase.
Additionally, consider the impact of your decision on the overall design of the landing area at the top of your stairs. You can use this as an opportunity to transform this area from “dead space” into an attractive and functional aspect of your home.
Before you go, be sure to check out these other staircase-related guides:
Should Stairs Match The Flooring That's Upstairs Or Downstairs?
Can I put a fire door between the garage and upstairs on the upper level?