Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Off Site Staircase (1)

Since I have been an unemployed bottom-feeder, I have been approached by some of colleagues on the job site about picking up some work.

Its funny. Both guys came to me asking if I could help them conceptualize and layout some staircases for them... in the exact same neighborhood, no less!

Well, beggars can't be choosers. Thus, despite being allergic to work, I took both jobs.  In truth, I actually really like drawing stuff. Nothing beats having a good game plan in tackling any carpentry or woodworking project.  It's invaluable.

Like crown molding, stairs generally separate the men from the boys in carpentry.  Now, I don't really have a ton of experience building staircases (I can think of two that I've ever done, soup-to-nuts), but for some reason people think I'm some sort of stairs aficionado.  I'm not, but I did get in 'A+' in middle school trigonometry. Combine that with my trusty TI-82 calculator*, and stair-building ego-maniac is born.

But seriously, stairs are pretty fun.  If I could build stairs all day as a carpenter, I think I'd actually really enjoy the job. Its challenging and rewarding.  I love anything where you have to make a million cuts on one piece of wood, and have a "moment of truth" where you get to see if it actually works.  Since I don't have a TV, this is about as close to a suspense-thriller as I get.

In the situation I am posting about today, my buddy has a real tight staircase.  There's a small opening to get down to the basement. Code head clearance for stairs is something absolutely ridiculous at like 78" or 80" (depending on who you ask)

From imaginary head restriction block @D plumbed down to corresponding tread.

So, 80" is 6'-8".  That number is a joke.  Us Philadelphians know that only main line mansions could afford such luxury.  For example, Wolf Streets boasts some of South Philadelphia's "main street" (aka. large) homes and my main stairwell's head height clearance is 5'-10" as built ~100 years ago.


And this is a large rowhome.  Not only does it fall 10" short of code... I'm also freaking 6'-1" tall!  To summarize: this just doesn't work in Philly. If my stair height opening was to code, my stairs would probably landing somewhere inside my neighbor's house across the street.

Anyway, this project is in Philly as well, and had two more strikes against it.
1) The house is probably 60 years older than mine
2) These are basement stairs.

Ah yes, basement stairs. And the floor had been dug down another foot or two as well.  Hence, the clearance issues.

Official camera phone survey. The small opening in question.

Well, I took to the drawing boards to come up with a solution.  By cutting out the next two joists (in the headroom area), moving the existing electrical chase (there is room to move the wires), there is enough room to get about 6'-4" of head room.  Just barely.  I also needed to make a step down landing at the top of the stairs?

Is it to code? not really. Is it a North Philly basement? definitely.

I spent this afternoon designing a solution.  Here is a video I made of my sketch:

Enjoy a quick walk through of the situation. Follow the link youtube and find out some more details about the job if you are interested.

* My mom bought this for me for my 18th birthday-- thanks mom! still using it.**
** Technically, I only did the total rise divided by 7 on the TI-82 to get me started with a rough stair count and to check on the remainder to see how bad it was.  Final stairs wound up having 7 1/16" rise. Not bad.

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