What is a Stair Tread and Do You Need One?

Stair Tread

Have you ever looked at a set of stairs and wondered what part was called the stair tread? Chances are, you’re not alone. Unless you build houses for a living, you might not have a clue what somebody is talking about when they start mentioning a stair tread. The question is, what is it and should you have one?

What Is It?

In reality, a stair tread isn’t as complicated as the term might seem at first. It simply refers to the part of the stairs that you’re actually stepping on. Typically, these treads are placed on the stairs as one of the last pieces of the entire installation. The funny thing is, the way the stair tread is designed can make all the difference in the world in how safe it is to traverse that particular set of stairs. It might not seem like it would matter at first, but it actually matters quite a lot. Think about it this way for a moment. A stair tread that is excessively shallow isn’t going to give you enough room to securely plant your foot because the tread itself is probably not as deep as your foot is long. Imagine having to go up a set of stairs when the whole back half of your foot is hanging off the tread, unsupported by anything at all. Worse yet, imagine having to go down that same set of stairs when you can’t securely place your entire foot on the tread. The very idea of having to traverse down a set of stairs by placing only the ball of your foot on each tread is terrifying. It’s also extremely dangerous. It dramatically increases the chances that you will miss a step all together, which could easily cause you to fall. That might lead you to believe that the tread should be extremely deep, but that doesn’t really work well either. A tread that is too deep makes you feel like you need to take two or three stairs at a time just to get up each individual tread. That’s because you have to take this giant step in order to get over the part of the tread that’s hanging over each step. In order for steps to be safe, the tread needs to be carefully calculated so that it’s deep enough for you to securely place your foot, yet not so deep that it makes it uncomfortable to go up and down that particular set of stairs. There’s definitely a science to it. This is one of those things that math wizards love because it involves a lot of geometry and things that most people don’t want anything to do with.

Are Risers and Treads the Same Thing?

Don’t get confused by the two different terms, as they mean completely different things. However, they are closely linked. As you already know from the above paragraph, a stair tread is the part of the stair that you step on. Conversely, the stair riser is the part that goes against the back of each step and determines the height of the staircase in general. When you’re going up the stairs, the riser is the part that is closest to your toes. Just like the stair tread, you don’t want the risers to be too short or too high. If they’re too short, you have to take a lot of little steps to get up the stairs. On the other hand, stair risers that are too high make it virtually impossible to climb the stairs unless you’re some type of fitness pro. It definitely makes it more difficult for individuals who struggle with their mobility, even if it’s not a struggle that is noticeable to everyone else. There’s nothing that tests your fitness quite as well as a steep set of stairs. That said, you probably don’t want to incorporate a set of stairs like this into your home and you certainly don’t want them in a public building. Not only are they uncomfortable to climb, but they also can be prohibitive for individuals who already struggle with getting around. The steeper the step, the more difficult it is to go up. As such, people that have certain joint issues or issues with other areas of fitness may not be able to climb a steep staircase. Last but certainly not least, steep stairs are dangerous. They’re practically an accident waiting to happen, just waiting for someone to take one small misstep that sends them tumbling down the entire staircase. Therefore, it’s best to incorporate both treads and risers that are a reasonable length and height so that you don’t have to deal with these types of issues simply because of a design flaw.

Do You Have to Have a Stair Tread?

Now that you know what one is, it’s time to answer the other part of the question. Do you need a stair tread? As it turns out, you absolutely do. Since it’s the part of the stair that you step on, it would be virtually impossible to have a complete set of stairs without a stair tread. By the same token, a lot of municipalities create certain minimums that are built into the building code regarding stair treads and risers. Public buildings that don’t follow these codes run the risk of being fined a significant amount of money. In some cases, they could even be shut down. It’s all designed to make stairs as safe as possible. Obviously, the taller the staircase involved, the more stringent these requirements need to be in order to minimize the chances that someone could fall while they’re at or near the top of the staircase. At the end of the day, people want the staircases in both their homes and in public buildings to look good but they also have to be functional. It’s definitely possible to design a set of stairs that is pleasant from an aesthetic point of view without putting people in peril. The idea is to marry artistic design and solid, safe construction together in order to create something that enhances the building while simultaneously making it easy and safe for people to use.

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