I have a 10-1/2" rise outside from my concrete patio to my deck. Should I put in one step at the halfway point or a shorter step with a 3" rise with the 2nd step being 7-1/2"?

  • 14
    The "odd-height" step was a feature of some stairwells in castles, intentional for defence and giving the home side an advantage, by potentially making attackers stumble at a critical moment. Sword fights are not that common these days.
    – Criggie
    Sep 11, 2020 at 0:36
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    Personally, I hate stairs that have a tiny step. Not only does it make for stumbling and tripping, but it goes extremely against my OCD. Sep 11, 2020 at 16:29

3 Answers 3


Steps should always have uniform rise. In fact, codes require it (to within 3/8" maximum total variance per IIRC). Our brains expect that the step following the first will be about the same, and it's guaranteed to cause stumbling and worse if you do it lop-sided.

Splitting the height puts you square in the range given by accessibility guidelines. Be sure to account for differing tread/flooring thicknesses when you plan your stringers.

In this case, two 5-1/4" rises seems just fine. Three shorter rises would feel odd (and would be annoying for most users--we don't like to take many short steps as it feels like we're being made to dance our way up).


Make every single rise absolutely identical, period.

Video of people consistently tripping on NYC subway stairs which have a single non-uniform risen step

I would test to see if 2 x 5.25 inch rises feel more natural or 3 x 3.5

According to https://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards?catid=0&id=314:

Stair riser heights shall be 7 inches (178 mm) maximum and 4 inches (102 mm) minimum. Stair tread depths shall be 11 inches (279 mm) minimum.

so it might not be a good idea to do 3 x 3.5

  • 1
    It's probably less of an issue when there's just 2 or 3 steps, compared to 1 step in the middle of a long flight as in the video, since you don't have time to get into a cadence before getting to the odd step. But still good advice. Sep 10, 2020 at 13:20
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    @DarrelHoffman I would argue that it's still an issue. I've used off-height steps like OP is proposing and now matter how many times I use them I never feel safe. If you're willing to gamble the safety of someone carrying food or a child on these safety hazards then I guess you can do whatever you want.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Sep 10, 2020 at 14:14
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    I don't disagree with the "same height, always" mantra, however, I will say that one can get used to uneven steps. Our house, built in the 1890s, has two steps at the bottom of the staircase that are 2-3" taller than the rest. (Original stairs, as far as I know.) We're more than used to them at this point. We do, however, always warn guests about it every time they come down the stairs.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 10, 2020 at 14:22
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    "Absolutely identical" isn't a thing in carpentry. :)
    – isherwood
    Sep 10, 2020 at 14:32
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    @DarrelHoffman Yes, that's why those examples tend to employ railings, landings, grip bars, and personnel to reduce accidents. There exists a certain expectation of uniformity in house stairs. Train stairs also share uniformity in that you expect them to be unpredictable so you're always on alert in that situation. If OP wanted to make their patio/deck mobile then they can take a lesson from trains... I'm really not sure what point you're trying to make but it's probably better suited as an answer since you don't seem to accept my stance.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Sep 10, 2020 at 15:19

Consider 3 short but deep steps. You'll often find these on terraced public spaces.

i.e. something like a 3.3" rise but deep enough that you have to take a full step on the same step. I'm talking about a tread run of 24-36" or so.

This means that you step up, step over, step up, step over, step up to the deck surface. Of course, it takes a lot of horizontal space to do this, but it would provide a unique look if you can afford the space.

  • And use precious patio space?? Blasphemy.
    – isherwood
    Sep 10, 2020 at 14:37
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    My one super beefy calf and my other puny anemic calf support this suggestion with barely a whimper. Sep 10, 2020 at 17:45
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    Seriously though: I attended a university that did this with paths all over campus and I hated it. Sep 10, 2020 at 17:46
  • @isherwood but... but... you get more deck space! Especially if the "steps" are big enough to put a chair on. (and they could be)
    – FreeMan
    Sep 10, 2020 at 17:47
  • @Timbo I'm not sure what veal has to do with building a deck, but... whatever... :D I do agree, if you're mid-walk and you hit some of these steps they can be inconvenient/annoying. However, they would fit the bill if there's enough horizontal space, so I thought I'd offer the suggestion.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 10, 2020 at 17:48

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