Greetings NJ –
Hope this post finds you well.
Today, we will talk a little bit about stairways and access to your home once it has been raised or newly constructed at a higher elevation (with a little Led Zeppelin reference thrown in above for those of us over 35…J)
It’s not a particularly weighty topic but after Sunday’s post where readers accused me of being depressed, morose and pessimistic, I thought I’d lighten it up a bit…J
Author’s Note: I am most definitely not a pessimist. I certainly lean in an optimistic direction, being a developer for 2 decades, but thought I should air my realistic views about the (deplorable) pace of rebuilding progress. As a note, I heard comments from several building professionals about how I was being too optimistic (!) in my estimates about the time and resources needed to rebuild…L
Anyway, back to the Stairway to Heaven, or at least to your house…J
You have essentially 2 options when you raise your home. You can locate your stairs on the exterior perimeter of your home, or design them to be included within the footprint of your home. There are pros and cons to both approaches. We are primarily going to focus today on the entrance stairs, since the rear stairs will most probably lead to an elevated deck and if not, are not as essential to home design as the main entrance.
If you choose to locate the main entrance stairs to the home in front of the home, you have added an architectural element to your design, as well as saving precious square footage within your existing living space. The stairs and entry themselves add dimension and character to your elevation, and if done in composite decking and vinyl or glass rail, are an attractive choice.
That being said, with a 9’ elevation, they extend out from the house a significant amount. While this doesn’t affect your setbacks (generally entrance stairways are not included in setback restrictions), it does cause you to endure a 13 or 14 step stairway outside in the elements on your way into the front entrance.
Author’s Note #2: If you require your home to be handicapped accessible, that’s a whole different bowl of cat food. At 1 inch of vertical rise for each 1 foot of ramp length, most ramps wrap around ¾ of the outside perimeter of the house, which becomes an entire structure by itself. An elevator becomes an attractive alternative at that point, except for the one small detail that you cannot locate mechanical structures at grade any longer if you want the best flood insurance rates. More on that subject in another post. Suffice to say that if you require zero barrier handicapped access to your home, you should seriously consider moving inland. Sorry…L
An alternative is to locate the stairs within the perimeter of your existing house footprint. This is an interesting option, and although it costs floor space within your home, offers you a covered entrance at grade level, as opposed to an exposed entrance 9’ up in the air.
In the case of stairs like this, you would walk under your home and enter a foyer area at grade level, which might contain a coat closet as well as a utility room, and then climb a set of steps up to your first living level.
These stairs would most probably be a “scissor” staircase, which means there would be 2 sets of stairs, separated by a landing. This configuration would be utilized in an attempt to disturb the existing floor plan as little as possible.
The downside is that the stairwell occupies a 7’x7’ or 8’x8’ square of space, which has to come from somewhere. Ideally this space comes from the original foyer area in your home, and does not necessitate major changes in your floor plan. It requires constructing a < 299 square foot (according to FEMA and building codes) foyer at grade level, which has “breakaway walls” and a concrete floor which is not tied into the piling foundation, or reinforced in any way. (Thank you FEMA for another nonsensical restriction – where is that slab floating away to when we experience these 6’ waves breaking over the barrier islands??)
While an interior stairwell is certainly an added expense, exterior steps are also a significant expense, especially if constructed with some type of composite decking (like Trex) and vinyl railings and ballisters. When you consider the comparative costs of the two methods, they are very close – certainly close enough that the interior stairwell should be considered as an alternative.
The only downside to the stairwell being located within the perimeter of the building footprint (other than a small additional cost) is the lack of aesthetic on the front of the home. Homes without an exterior entrance stairwell tend to be much flatter and it becomes an effort to create dimension in the front for a greater aesthetic appeal to the front elevation.
Not too weighty of a topic today, but I hope it helps.
Let’s rebuild New Jersey as soon as we can.
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