Building Homes or Extensions/Building ladder-stairs


QUESTION: My son and I are in the midst of building some steep stairs (9 ft down and 5-1/2 ft run) from his solarium off his bedroom to the outdoor-access room right below it (this is for an emergency fire exit from his bedroom end of the house because if there were a fire in the kitchen or living room area he would have difficulty getting out of the only outside-access door). We tried using joist hangers with 2x10's from the trap-door opening upstairs, but one of the 2x10's split. So we are starting over with new wood tomorrow. The joist hangers make this narrow staircase at least 2" narrower so now we are thinking of just nailing the 2x10's (or 2x12's) to the 2x10' floor joist + 1 2x4 on 1 side and to the 2x4's of the outside wall on the other side. This will give the maximum width space for the stairs. Are nails or screws best to use to make sure the stringers solidly attached? We are thinking of securing with a couple of screws to position perfectly, then hammering in nails (as we've read that screws can shear). Will this work? If so, what size nails should we use. I know this isn't conventional but the space and situation aren't conventional either. We are doing the stair treads with 2x6 steps screwed down to strips of 2x3's screwed to the insides of the stringers. Thank you very much for your advice. Hopefully not too long as we have to finish this quickly and carry on with reno.

ANSWER: Hi Judy, I almost exclusively use screws anymore.  They hold better than nails and the coated deck screws last longer.  To minimize any splitting and torquing screw heads off I predrill a hole slightly smaller than the screw and use an impact cordless driver.  Just try not to over screw it beyond flush.  I like the coated deck screws with the torx head.  They come with their own bit.  If you want add another safety measure to the project you can use liquid nail between the pieces to aid in holding everything together as well.  Sincerely, Bruce Johnson

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QUESTION: Thank you for such a quick response.
1)Do you think it is necessary to have a piece of wood across at the top of the stringers, which the stringers would be screwed to, then screw that to the 2x10 "backer board" for some extra support/strength? Our carpenter/helper on the project put the backer board up after cutting the trap door opening (cutting out 1 2x10 floor joist to make stair opening.
2)Because that 1 floor joist has been removed (cut out), should we add another 2x10 joist next to the next one in line? The solarium is a 12'x10' room which was holding a full-of-water hot tub when we bought the house so it used to have a lot of weight on it. Now room is just for enjoying the forest view, few people and a few pieces of furniture only.
3)Are coated deck screws for treated wood? If so, are they okay to use with non-treated wood?
Thank you again for your advice.

Hi again Judy, I'm sorry, I don't quite follow your first question regarding the backer board.  If you could email me a picture I might be able to see what you are referring to.  And yes it is normal to double up the joist "header" that is holding the end of the cut joists but with that size opening you are probably okay without it.  If the hot tub was still up there I would probably double up each joist that carries the "header" plus the headers to be on the safe side.  Coated screws can be used for either types of wood, but if you already have uncoated screws they work fine as well.  I just like the coated ones with the torx heads.  Sincerely , Bruce Johnson

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Bruce E. Johnson


I can answer any construction related question in regards to carpentry, concrete, drywall, masonry, structural elements of any type of building, residential or commercial. Interior or exterior.


Custom Commercial and residential buildings. Churches, theaters, schools and auditoriums. Most recently I am working with the Catholic Church on several design build committees. I have a website related to scheduling and project supervision. Although my expertise is more related to multimillion dollar commercial, educational and theatrical projects my generous credentials in residential and remodelling construction make me a viable source of information regarding all forms of building questions.

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