The bottom few steps of my bulkhead stairs go beyond the wall of the basement. The problem is I would like to put a door in my basement at the bottom of the stairs. To do this I would either have to make the stairs steeper or build an enclosure around the bottom stairs.

The preferred solution would be to just make the stairs steeper and put the door flush with the existing wall, but can I do this and still be up to code?

I live in MA and found this document online: (MA Building Codes)

It says this is the 7th edition at the bottom of the document. I couldn't find a more updated version but if there is one please let me know.

It looks like the bulkhead stairs are currently compliant with all regulations in section 5311.5

Here are a couple exerpts:

5311.5.8.2 Bulkhead Enclosure Stairways. Stairways serving bulkhead enclosures, not part of the required building egress, providing access from the outside grade level to the basement shall be exempt from the requirements of 780 CMR 53 11.4.3 and 5311.5 where the maximum height from the basement finished floor level to grade adjacent to the stairway does not exceed eight feet (2438 mm), and the grade level opening to the stairway is covered by a bulkhead enclosure with hinged doors or other approved means.

The height of my stairs is a little over 7 feet. It doesn't exceed 8 feet.

This is in section 5311.5:

5311.5.3.2 Tread Depth. The minimum tread depth shall be nine inches (229 mm). The tread depth shall be measured horizontally between the vertical planes of the foremost projection of adjacent treads and at a right angle to the tread’s leading edge. The greatest tread depth within any flight of stairs shall not exceed the smallest by more than d inch (9.5 mm). Winder treads shall have a minimum tread depth equal to the tread depth of the straight run portion of the stairs measured as above at a point 12 inches (305) mm from the side where the treads are narrower. Winder treads shall have a minimum tread depth of three inches (76 mm) at any point. Within any flight of stairs, the greatest winder tread depth at the 12 inch (305 mm) walk line shall not exceed the smallest by more than d inch (9.5 mm).

The section defining the height of each stair is also in 5311.5.

Does this mean that I am exempt from that rule and can make the stairs steeper?

  • 1
    Well now - are they part of the required egress from the building? That would make them non-exempt. Having some experience of old, too steep for current code stairs, I'd suggest fitting your door to the stairs as they are, rather than making them into (more of) a fall hazard. – Ecnerwal Aug 7 '15 at 2:22
  • Can't the door be framed on the interior side of the foundation wall, since it will presumably open inwards anyways? – BrownRedHawk Aug 7 '15 at 11:48
  • What does it mean for something to be part of the required egress? And yes it can be framed, but it would require building a wall that sticks out about 2 1/2 feet and it would look awkward. – tjwrona1992 Aug 7 '15 at 12:19
  • Unfinished basements don't typically require egress; you might look through the code doc you found to confirm this. Egress is required from living spaces, and a basement that's finished would count, but an unfinished basement is usually considered storage space instead of living space. Keep in mind usability as well as code though. If your steps come out so far that a 2 1/2 foot wall is required, you're looking at some steep, narrow stairs if you shorten them. I don't know about you but I'm usually carrying something big and/or heavy down them into the basement. – DrewJordan Aug 7 '15 at 12:37
  • Sorry, I'm wrong. Basements do require an emergency egress, and your stairs are it, unless you've already got a large window that you can get out: www2.iccsafe.org/cs/committeeArea/pdf_file/RE_06_16_07.pdf – DrewJordan Aug 7 '15 at 12:43

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