Video: Building/Design of Deck Stairs

metal tie-plates

Once again Manley was right. Hi. This is Nathan Harrison for Fine Remodel.com. There’s really no substitute for experience in construction. It’s good to have an engineering type of understanding of the different issues in construction, but the fact is, experience is king.

This is a picture of me with my mentor, Manley Hopper. Manley was very adamant about some things, and one of those things was the way you build stairs for a deck. Here’s the way he taught me to do it.

This top step that rests on the stringer is simply an extension of the deck. Then the second step on the stringer is the first actual step down. This requires a longer stringer, but it has the benefit of having a much longer connection between the stringer and the rim joist of the deck.

Notice that the top of the stringer is going to be at a slightly lower height than the joists of the deck. That’s because the top step on the stringer will be 2x stock and the deck will usually be more like 1x stock. So there is going to need to be about a 1/2″ difference between those 2 heights.

If you go online and look for directions on how to build stairs for a deck, this is what you’re going to find. The stringer will come up and attach a little bit to the rim joist but mostly to a secondary brace that is attached to the rim joist.

Now the big question that should occur to you at this point is “How is that secondary brace attached to the rim joist?” There is really only one way you can do it which to run 2x4s up and down connecting them together. The next question you should ask is, “How secure is that?”

Well, Manley didn’t think it was secure enough. I took note of that but I didn’t have strong feelings one way or the other. I thought it may be overkill, but I’ve come to think differently.

I was entering this house through the front entrance which was a deck with wooden stairs leading up to it. I noticed it was a little noisy, a little squeaky. Something seemed not right: maybe it was moving a bit when stepped on.

Because I had to carry some things in, I decided to get under there and take a look. Here’s what I saw on the other side.

You can see they built this stair according to the textbook, but this piece of the stringer has split. It has created a situation where the stairs are about to fall. Looking at this picture, I think we all can agree that this is not a good method. But it isn’t so obvious when it is being done and the lumber is fresh and everything looks good.

Here’s looking from the back. Here’s the wooden 2×4 stub braces on either side. Basically those 2 simply nailed into the rim joist and into the brace are all that was keeping this family from crashing 7 feet to the ground from this stair.

I installed this metal strap for my own safety and notified the homeowner of the danger of these steps. They had seen warnings signs for a while, but had not taken a look underneath. Using metal tie plates can help, and I recommend it, but it’s not a silver bullet. Beware of poor carpentry being masked by lots of strong-tie type doodads.

One final thought here: wood is our friend. Wood is wonderful in that it makes lots of noise and shows signs before it actually fails, and we have to listen to those signs and take them seriously and investigate them.