Getting Aloft Pros and Cons

If you have a room above the main living space of your tiny home, such as a sleeping loft or storage area, how do you get there? For those owners of tiny homes who are young and able-bodied, the simplest solution, and biggest space-saver is to use a ladder of some type (see Figures 1 and 4).  However, for people who are physically impaired in one way or another by leg injuries or age, this is a poor solution.  Like all stairways, vertical steps would be a serious danger for young children.  The oldest among us would not be able to use them.

In general, the steps/stairways illustrated in the next four figures would be difficult or impossible to navigate for many people. This is because the steps are either too far apart vertically, the climb angle is too steep, or handholds are either absent or difficult to grab.

The use of an alternating step system, as shown in Figures 1 and 2, does not come naturally, but it certainly is attractive.  However, it may not be a good idea if you climb or descend the stairs while you are sleepy.  It might also be difficult to use if you cannot see the steps, such as when carrying a young child or a bulky load of clean bedding.

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Figure 1. Interesting in design, but what a stretch between steps! This stairway needs a few more steps to reduce the rise between steps to 7 or 8 inches. [1]
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Figure 2. The steps on this stairway are clever, but but very insecure for an older person or one who is handicapped, and the rise between steps is too great for most people, except for the younger ones among us.
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Figure 3. This stairway design is a good plan, with the inclusion of drawers in the area underneath each step, but the rise between steps is too high to be negotiated by older individuals, and there is no handrail. The maximum rise between steps should be no more than 7.75 inches for maximum comfort. The depth should be 10 inches to allow for toe room and feel secure.
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Figure 4.  In this tiny home, the steps to the loft are essentially an attached vertical ladder.  While this system may minimize the area used, it would be difficult to use for someone who is older, overweight, or handicapped.  The top step would be a serious challenge because there is no handhold to support oneself when taking the last step at the top, or when turning around to make the descent.

Now we come to a few good designs that are truly functional as stairs to a loft, and they make good use of the space taken by the stairway.

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Figure 5. Here is an easy to use spiral staircase with a small footprint. More efficient use of the space beneath the stairway would be an asset for a tiny home.P_pin.png
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Figure 6.  This spiral stairway is very attractive and has a comfortable distance between the steps. The space beneath it could be used more effectively.

In summary, the steps in the stairways to the lofts of tiny houses should meet standard building codes if they are to be comfortable, safe, and practical to use.  The space around them can be used in clever ways to hold and store belongings, and their design can enhance the general appearance of the tiny home.

[1] http://www.ajoyfulcottage.com/2013/03/all-american-cottage-tour.html

Kendall W. Corbin, Ph.D.

October 8, 2017

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