Nothing says “tiny house” more than the iconic ladder and loft combination. But as more people join the tiny house lifestyle, it’s becoming clear that a ladder may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, particularly when it comes to homeowners with children, pets, or elderly relatives.
In these situations, swapping out a ladder with stairs is non-negotiable. The key is to find a build that works well for your tiny house. Try experimenting with different plans to see which one works best for your tiny house residents.
So, how do you build tiny house stairs? As with traditional stair-building, you start with measuring the tread and riser dimensions. You can easily find these values using the equations we list down below.
Still not convinced you can use stairs instead of ladders? Read on to learn how to DIY your own tiny house stairs, and how to optimize its design and take it to the next level.
Why Choose a Staircase Instead of a Ladder?
In space-conscious areas like tiny houses, people will always choose the most minimalistic option to get the most out of the space. You’ll find plenty of design plans featuring a ladder to ascend the loft precisely because ladders are inconspicuous.
But for tiny homeowners with mobility issues, a ladder won’t be the best way to get around. A ladder doesn’t provide enough support to allow comfortable, long-term living in a tiny house.
In situations where a ladder provides more cons than benefits, swapping it with a staircase is the more viable option. Here are other reasons why you would want to choose a staircase over a ladder for your tiny house:
- You want extra storage space: A tiny house staircase doesn’t have to hog all the space in your home. Contrary to popular myth, adding stairs to your tiny house plans can provide you with the additional storage space that you need. With functional design in mind, you can create extra storage room under the stairs that can house anything from pantry items to appliances.
- You have pets or children: Ladders are potentially dangerous to pets or kids. A staircase, on the other hand, provides easy access to the loft for pets and kids in a tiny house and reduces the risk of injuries.
Learn more: Tiny House Stairs VS Ladders
Tiny House Stairs Building Regulations
Just like everything in your tiny house, your stairs also have to be up to code. The revised 2018 International Residential Code, which holds a newly published appendix written for Tiny Houses, includes the building requirements for different parts of a tiny house such as the staircase.
According to the International Residential Code, the minimum tread (or where you’re stepping) should be close to 20 inches minus 4/3 of the riser height. Other length recommendations for building tiny house stairs include:
The headroom is the space above your head as you enter the loft.
The guide recommends a height of no less than 6 feet and 2 inches. In a tiny house, this may be difficult to pull off. You would see professional builders following this as closely as they can, whereas DIYers tend to leave it out in order to save more space.
The height of each step.
Riser height should be no less than 7 inches and no more than 12 inches in height. Getting the proportions of the risers and the tread is crucial in creating a functional staircase.
If you want your tiny house stairs to be completely up to code, you have to install handrails for safety purposes. The tiny house guidelines for handrails are identical to the guidelines for traditional homes.
How much space do you need for a tiny house staircase?
Loft staircases have to have a minimum width of 17 inches above the handrail and no less than 20 inches below the handrail, but this depends on the size of your tiny house. Some tiny house stairs take up 20 to 25 square feet (if they’re keen on following the code), while others tend to be more space-conscious and try to limit the space it takes up when building one.
In building a comfortable set of stairs, what matters is getting the proportion right for the treads and the risers.
What about spiral staircases in a tiny house?
Constructing spiral staircases for tiny houses are a bit trickier to design than regular stairs. The International Residential Code has the following requirements when it comes to building spiral stairs for your tiny house:
- Headroom: Headroom should be a minimum of 6 feet and 5 inches
- Riser height: Riser height should be no less than 9 feet and 5 inches
- Tread depth: Tread depth should have a minimum of 6 feet depth at walkline and a minimum width of 26 inches
How to DIY Tiny House Stairs
Getting the dimensions right on your tiny house staircase is the main challenge of this design process. Luckily, we found two great methods you could use to help you construct a set of stairs in the easiest way possible.
How to Find the Number of Steps
Tiny House Build has provided a simple guide on how to measure your staircase by crunching the numbers based on your desired tread depth and riser height. This method is useful if you’re particular about the height and length of your steps.
- Measure the height that needs the staircase. This means going from the first floor up to the loft floor. If you’re using floor coverings with significant thicknesses, you also have to factor that into the measurement. This is called the rise.
- Measure the space to be used by the stairs. This means measuring from the wall where the stairs will be attached up to the base where the landing will be. Determining this is completely up to you, but keep in mind that a longer staircase means a more comfortable rise. A shorter staircase would mean higher risers that aren’t very knee pain-friendly. This is called the run.
- Find your target tread depth and divide the run by the number. In the case of Tiny House Build’s staircase, they used 10 as their hypothetical target tread depth. If you end up with a decimal, round up the number to reveal the exact number of treads or steps you will have.
- To get the measurement of each tread, divide the run by the number of treads. This will provide an exact measurement for each tread.
- Find your hypothetical riser height and divide the run by the number. If you end up with a decimal, round up the number to reveal the exact number of risers you will have.
- To get the height measurement of each tread, divide the run by the number of risers. This will provide an exact measurement for each riser height.
How to Find Tread and Riser Measurements
DIY House Building also has a post on how to find the dimensions for your staircase provided that you already know the values for the riser, the run, and how many steps you want to have.
They provide a formula that requires a bit of trial and error to find the best values. This measurement method works best for people whose run is set in stone. If you’re working with a particularly small space, this could help you find the best dimensions given what you have to work with.
|R = riser height||T = tread length||N = number of steps|
|H = floor to loft height (rise)||L = length of stairs (run)|
To get the riser height:
R = H / (n+1)
To get the tread length:
T = L / N
Naturally, you won’t know how many steps your space can accommodate so you’ll have to do some trial and error to find the right dimensions. We recommend putting in 6 - 9 steps to make the staircase build as comfortable as possible.
In their case, they ended up working with 7 steps, with 11 inches for the risers and 11 inches for the tread. They worked out another scenario with 8 steps and 10 inches for the risers and 9.76 inches for the tread. At this point, the opted for higher but more comfortable steps to accommodate their feet size.
At the end of the day, coming up with a staircase design is heavily dependent on your dimensions and your home’s space. Take the time to measure your tiny house stairs with these two different methods and see which dimensions you like better.
Practical Staircase Designs for Tiny Houses
Tiny house owners tend to shy away from the idea of stairs because of the wasted space. In reality, swapping out the ladder for stairs doesn’t have to feel like a huge compromise.
From smart storage to hidden stairs, there are plenty of ways to incorporate stairs into your design plans. Listed below are five practical designs you could use for inspiration.
1) Retractable Staircase
If you like the idea of having a retractable ladder but don’t quite like the limited mobility, consider these hybrid staircases built by Bcompact. The design is fully customizable based on your space and can easily be hidden away when not in use. It’s made out of heavy-duty wood and it already comes with a stainless steel railing. You can get one by placing an order on their Bcompact’s website.
2) Storage Stairs
This elegant design solution is particularly inspired by the tansu design principle from Japan. This tiny house utilized the ancient cabinet style and used it to add more storage in their bamboo-prominent tiny house. It’s a great way to fit in more storage in such a small space.
There are other tiny house staircase designs that use a similar storage-oriented solution. Tiny House Build’s staircase was also built with storage in mind and was further configured to house a sizable washer-dryer combination.
At the end of the day, there’s no one way to customize the storage space under your staircase. From small knick-knacks to appliances, there’s plenty of room for storage if you prioritize practicality during the design process.
3) Pull Out Stairs
Want to keep your tiny house as minimalistic as possible? Take inspiration from this barely-there tiny house staircase.
This unique modular build completely disappears into the wall and provides easy access to the loft. It’s a great way to incorporate a stair design without taking away from the existing space and storage.
For added safety, you could install a railing on the other side of the stairs just to make it more kid-friendly.
4) Open Stairs
If extra storage isn’t a particular concern, you can incorporate an open stair design to your tiny house to make it feel less bulky. This design by Mustard Seed Tiny Homes is a great in-between of a ladder and a staircase. It allows unhindered access to the loft and effectively opens up the rest of the living space.
5) Makeshift Stairs
Not all stairs have to look like stairs. One clever way to place a functional staircase without taking away too much from the space is to piece together pieces of furniture that would function as steps. You would have to use furniture pieces that are heavy-duty enough to carry both your weight and their contents inside.
While this quirky idea might be perfect for younger couples, it might not be the most kid-friendly or disabled-friendly design. Access to the loft might prove particularly challenging with the inconsistent heights and tread lengths. But this idea can still be used by customizing furniture so that they have they’re specifically stairs-friendly.
One Step at a Time
Now that you realize storage isn’t a problem when it comes to stairs, consider factoring one in your design plans. Deciding between ladder and stairs can be a tough call, but it really comes down to what you need.
For starters, ask yourself if mobility is an issue or not. If it is, then you know stairs are exactly what you need. It provides easier access to friends and family and makes sleepy night trips to the bathroom much, much easier.
Hey, there! We're Ivan and Manuela from Croatia, and we're crazy about tiny houses. We don't own one (yet).
This website is a result of our passion to share all the knowledge, photos, tips and tricks that we were able to learn while studying everything possible about the tiny house movement.