Monday, April 07, 2008

Fear and The Steep Stairs

Over the years, house building codes have changed dramatically. Maybe none more so than the allowable vertical angle of stairways. Anyone that lives in an old house with a grandfathered stairway to an expansion attic or vintage basement knows what I'm talking about.

I don't know an old house owner that doesn't have a realistic and healthy fear of at least one set of stairs in their house. And a story of how they got that fear.

So, last weekend I was at a friend's vintage house and we had a conversation that only two old house owners could have....

I noticed a pile of papers laying in disarray at the bottom of the stairway going up to his expansion. He kind of chuckled and said they were remnants of an ugly, face first slide down the stairs. Top to bottom. In the dark. Of course, I first confirmed that he was ok and then proceeded to laugh until I had tears rolling down my cheeks as he described the fall in America's Funniest Home Video terms.

I continued laughing hysterically as I told my story of a nasty spill I took a few years ago down my basement stairs. I fell down the stairs in what seemed like slow motion. I remember thinking disappointedly as I tumbled downward.....that this was how it was all going to end for me......discovered weeks later in a lump at the bottom of my steps. Killed by Stuccohouse. How unglamorous.

I laugh, but now I also hold on to the stair handrail. Tightly. And I'm pretty sure my friend does too.

9 comments:

Shy said...

When I was looking at houses, one built in 1884 had basement stairs so scary, I couldn't go down them. They were steep, a tad rickety, and there was no handrail. I got down two, chickened out and came back up. My realtor wouldn't go down either! I wasn't that serious about the house, but that clinched it. My current old house has no rail up to the attic. I keep meaning to put one in.

Jennifer said...

Ours is a one story... with NO basement. :) But I remember a particular set growing up... wood, with no carpet or grip of any sort, and so steep you could touch the stairs with your hands as you walked! Scary

M'elle said...

We have a "servant" staircase in the back portion of our Foursquare. When we first bought the house, I would not go up or down it it was so steep and narrow. Then I graduated to going up using my hands as well on the stairs (all fours). I'm happy to say I can go up or down with just two feet now!

Josh said...

My fear of our staircases is more for my small children than myself. So far we've avoided any big accidents.

I have some grip strip tape for the tread edges which I need to install, but I've been putting it off until I paint the stairs something other than baby blue. I should get going on that.

The basement stairs here have the delightful combination of steep rise and low clearance. My "funniest videos" moment will come the day I forget to tilt my head and thereby give myself a concussion before bouncing down the stairs on my backside.

Derek said...

I'm thinking of redoing the treads on our basement stairs, they don't have any nosing at the moment, and that extra inch would make a big difference. I think the treads are only 7.5" now, so an extra inch would make a big difference.

Tiny Oak Park Bungalow said...

The stairs at our place are all death traps. We had a friend and carpenter "fix" our basement stairs. At 6'-4" I still have a rough time getting down them and they still don't meet modern code (there just isn't the space for that) but at least I am not scared to use them anymore.

fred@opc said...

A few years ago my brother-in-law and I were carrying a rug down the stairs at my parents house. He was in front, I in back. Just as he hit the first step, he fell all the way forward and body-surfed the stairs head first to the bottom, flipped over and kicked out the window to the front porch. When I called to him: silence. Then after like 5 seconds (that was a LONG 5 seconds) he said, "ouch" very quietly.

Omar said...

Yikes, there's some real horror stories here. Luckily nobodys taken a tumble down my basement stairs (the worst). Although my main staircase has the narrowed 1st step at the top of the stairs that always makes me nervous..

sarah said...

Something similar turned me off of the old house we were going to buy in Kenmore, NY. We had just finished looking aroud the cramped attic office and were on our way down the verrry steep & rail-less stairs when my 6'1" husband fell and bowled the lady of the house over, landing in an undignified heap against the doorjamb. I just could not picture my kids making it past kindergarten if they had to contend with those stairs on a regular basis. Hope whoever bought it has a good HMO!

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