Stairs are one of the most important parts of a deck. Not only do they provide an access point to the structure, but they can add character and accent the deck design.
Over the past few years, we and our sister publication Professional Deck Builder have covered deck stair building in various articles and forum threads. Here are some key points taken from those articles.
If you are looking for straightforward instructions, in a piece from Professional Deck Builder, "Building and Installing Deck Stairs," veteran deck builder Mike Guertin writes about how you can build a solid staircase using traditional cut stringers and new hardware. Guertin first establishes a landing area where the deck stairs will come in contact with the ground. He then lays out and cuts the stringers using #1 grade or hand-selected 2x12s.
Treat all cut ends, attach the stringers to the deck, then add the treads. Voila—you're done.
Let's say, however, that your client wants something a little more fancy. Once again, Guertin has you covered. In "Curved Deck Stairs," he suggests you build a bending frame. This consists of a plywood template with a full-scale layout that is attached to the deck with walls built underneath it along both sides. To construct the curved stringers, Guertin attaches successive strips of 1/2-inch PT plywood to the studs, creating a "laminated" stringer that conforms to the template's curve. He then cuts the stringers in place and installs the treads.
In "Building Better Stairs," from Professional Deck Builder's September issue, contributor Kim Katwijk says that, no matter what the design or style, the key is to build better than what the codes specify. Of particular importance is making sure the stairs are not too steep or shallow, and that the landing is properly sized and located. The topic of stair landings is covered in a September 2009 piece from Professional Deck Builder ("Landings for Deck Stairs" by Glenn Mathewson), which notes that, according the 2009 International Residential Code, landings must provide a safe exit or entrance to the stairs and may not slope for than 1/4-inch per 12 inches.
Climate also affects stair construction. In "Deck Stairs on Frost Footings," Glenn Mathewson writes that not paying proper attention to the climate in which the stairs are being built will more than likely lead to a call back to fix problems—or worse, to rebuild the stairs completely.
And if your client asks you to build something like these stairs, well, good luck!