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An important factor of your spiral staircase, that’s easy to miss, is the risers. Hearing the term may immediately beg the question, “What is a riser?” Put simply a riser is the vertical piece between steps. It’s the front of one step and the back of the next. In the case of straight stairs, this vertical piece often connects the two steps on either side. In the case of spiral stairs, such is not typically the case thanks to the curving nature of the stair.

A riser affects a lot of aspects of a stair. It’s part of calculating the number of steps needed and the overall height of the stair; you take into account the run (horizontal step/plane) and rise (vertical space/piece between steps). This calculation is very different for straight and spiral stairs, but the element of risers is still taken under consideration for both.

There are also safety and aesthetic implications that a riser piece (or comparative lack thereof) can make for a spiral stair. So mulling over just what you want your risers to accomplish for you and your stair is worth some brief reflection.

One immediate fact worth noting and memorizing when it comes to the application of risers in spiral stairs is that the space between a riser piece and the step below it can be no greater than 4” if the spiral stair is to satisfy code needs.

The simple test for this is to attempt to pass a 4” diameter ball between the riser and the step. If it can’t fit, then the stair meets code. If it passes right through, the stair does not meet code.

Keep in mind that meeting or not meeting code has nothing to do with the quality of the stair. In fact, meeting code is rarely a requirement. Unless the stair is for a commercial, business, or other public application, odds are it’s not something you have to worry about. Make sure to check with your local building authority before assuming, though.

Another code factor involving the rise of a stair is that each step cannot rise more than 9 1/2" above the step below it. That’s a measured height from the top of one step to the top of the step above it.

Remembering these two points will make sure you’re able to meet code as far as your risers go if that’s a requirement for you.

A primary factor that may influence your decision to not build using code risers if your building authority doesn’t require it is that of style preference. The two extremes of style preference directly affected by risers if whether you want your stair to have an “open” or “closed” look.

Part of the allure of a spiral stair is its hyper modern appeal and its minimalist approach to accomplishing the egress needed. Some may choose to emphasize this minimalist by having much narrower riser pieces (and therefore greater gaps between the riser pieces and the step below) or no riser piece at all. This is up to the owner of the stair. Just keep in mind the implication of allowing the riser space to be large enough for your foot to fit through.

The riser piece itself can also act as a canvas. The line at the bottom can be cur various ways or razor straight. And the shape of that line has a subtle influence on the overall theme of your stair.

Besides the actual outline of the riser piece, there are also numerous options for designs that can be cut into the piece. One of the beauties of cutouts like this is that they make it possible to have that desirable open look while still meeting code. So long as the bottom of the riser with the cutouts is low enough to create that 4” gap, you satisfy code.

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth noting. While meeting code is certainly one goal of having a closed riser, you definitely don’t want the lower edge of that riser to be too low. This is because, by the very nature of a spiral stair, you will walk under some of the steps before you walk atop them. What’s passing just below those steps? Your head. You don’t want to have to duck or hunch over the entire way up those steps just to avoid a bump on the noggin.

So take into account your height and the height of anyone else you know whom will frequently be using the stair before deciding on how low to set the risers.

Remember, the overall height of your stair will affect the number of rises in it. This goes back to the rise run calculation system. Again, the calculation is different from a traditional straight stair. There are additional factors to consider. One of which is the rotation of your stair. Namely, how many degrees are there in the turn created by each step? If your stair meets codes, that’s a 30 degree rotation per step. Once you figure out how many degrees, or complete circles, you want in your stair’s rotation, you can figure out the number of steps, and therefore, the number of rises through simple division.

That number can change, rotation aside, according to how close or far you choose to space the steps from each other. So bear in mind how that choice affects your stair overall as well.

Don’t feel discouraged if you have difficulty calculating riser heights as it is an unusual thing to determine. It’s helpful to select a spiral stair manufacturer with a helpful support line ready and willing to answer these more unusual and difficult questions for you.

When it comes down to it, the primary motivation behind how open or closed you choose to make your risers should be the safety of you and anyone else whom uses the stair. That’ll be different for everyone. But it is a good idea for you to assess everyone in your home and ask who is more likely to have difficulty with greater spaces between the steps. That includes pets.

So, though risers may seem easy to overlook, they actually have a strong impact on your stair overall in terms of code compliance, level of safety, number of steps according to height and rotation, and aesthetic theme. They warrant your consideration as much as every other component of the stair.

It’s hard to think of the pieces between steps as affecting end cost of your stair, but the fact is they do. They are made from materials just as any component, and the type of material affects cost. There is also the matter of amount of material. This isn’t categorically true, but chances are that more material will mean more cost. So if your stair has to meet code then it’s a possibility that the added material needed to close the gap between steps will lead to elevated cost. Then there’s the element of labor—a more ornate riser piece with a pattern cutout will also lead to added cost.

Knowing all of these elements and their influence on your stair’s cost will let you move that much closer to making the best decision for your needs.

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