The Feet Know What The Eyes Can’t See

This article by my associate James Quarello shows a problem that carpenters are trained to prevent. Some don’t understand this and the results are like what we have here. I wrote a similar article this past January.

You’re walking down the side walk along your street, gazing about, taking in the sights and boomp! You stumble. You look around to see what caused this interruption of stride. You see that your toe caught a rise in the walk that your eyes never saw. Your feet have detected what your eyes were unable to see.

Nice looking stairwayPart of the reason for that is our stride is basically run on auto pilot. It is really quite even and consistent, so when an undetected variation in the terrain occurs, you stumble.

This science of the stride is the reason why stairs need to be constructed with a consistent height. Some slight variation is allowed (a maximum of 3/8″), but the rise from one step to the next should be very close to even. There is also a maximum allowable height. Here in Connecticut that would be 7 ¾”.

On a recent afternoon I pulled up to my inspection and noticed that the home had a beautiful stone wall and stairway leading to the front entry. Once I got myself situated I head for the stairs. Taking the first step I almost had to lift my leg with my hand it was so high. As I continued to ascend my feet were having convulsions trying to find a rhythm to the stairway.

Obviously my feet knew what my eyes failed to see.

Too highTaking out a tape measure it was no surprise I found the stairs height varied greatly. That first bottom stair was 12 inches from the driveway. Much too high as my feet had known all along. As I continued measuring I found stair heights of 10″, 9 ¾’ 9 ½”, and 7 ¾”. I did not find any two stairs exactly the same height. And as you see only one was of the required height.

My guess is these beautiful stairs were constructed by a homeowner or a poorly skilled contractor without permits. Unfortunately to fix these stairs will require some extensive rebuilding. Leaving them as they are will have the feet of those who use them out of sync and stumbling like a groom after his bachelor party.

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
2010 – 2011 SNEC-ASHI President
NRSB #8SS0022
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC


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Original blog post on ActiveRain: Link to Blog Post

What wrong in this picture.? A Halloween Horror? Tread Trickery?

halloween walk way

Do you think this is an inviting Halloween walkway?

It’s actually the morning after Halloween but can you spot the 8 safety concerns here?

No I’m not talking about the absence of handrails or the disrepair and neglected landscaping around the walkway though those improvements would be recommended.

Neither am I talking about the soil that has slumped or eroded away from under the original pair of steps ‘hanging’ on the house. All the concrete is in good shape. The surfaces are good. There are no cracks. And everything is level.

So can you spot them?……..


Maybe not…………..


So visualize walking them………….


A ha!……

Every, and I mean EVERY step is a different height and a different depth (measuring front to back). Every riser is a different height! And every tread is a different length!

 So what happens when you walk it? You’ll stumble, you’ll adjust, you might over compensate a little. But you could fall or turn an ankle or worse. That is in the daylight. Imagine what it’s like a night. Quite the Halloween trick – something’s’ off, a little wrong, but you don’t know what it is…spooky!

 I’d put up a temporary handrail on both sides, until corrections could be made. If you lived here you could get used to it but it would always feel wrong.

 Stairs are to be made a certain way.  There is a formula for it that carpenters, builders and architects use. There are variations. They are not all the same, especially outdoors. But one thing will be the same. Every set or flight of stairs will be even and groups or runs of flights separated by landings or walks will be even.

That means in that set all risers and tread runs will be identical. You adjust to it, its rhythmic. You go up and down the stairs automatically with out thinking about it. We all do it, even running.

But one odd riser can send us for a spill. Here you can’t adjust. There’s no rhythm. It’s just wrong.

The young, the old, the pregnant, the ill and inebriated will have difficulty and we’ll all fit most of those categories sooner or later. 

N.B. Home owners and contractors who install new floors with out planning for the change in height of the floor risk creating trip hazards at the tops and bottoms of the stairs. The floor may have to be adjusted near the stair.



Original blog post on ActiveRain: Link to Blog Post