How to Fix Steep Basement Stairs

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how to fix steep basement stairs

If you live in an older house, you may have noticed that the stairs in the basement are very steep. 

This is a common problem in older homes. Not only is it inconvenient, it can also be very dangerous. 

You are much more likely to trip on steep stairs, which can result in serious injury. Plus, they may be in violation of local building codes, which could get you a hefty fine. 

The only way to solve this problem is to do some fairly serious work. However, we have put together an easy step-by-step guide.

By following this guide, you can fix your steep basement stairs and get your home in compliance.  

Key Takeaways

Here’s a speedy rundown:

  • You’ll need to move steps out horizontally and slide in pieces to each step.
  • Consider whether you should fix the steps or remove them and start over. Tearing down can be expensive.
  • Measure your old stairs for lift before you cut new tread blocks. E.g., if it’s nine inches, 2×4 blocks will reduce to seven. Cut to stair width.
  • Install new treads to ensure lower than seven inches per lift. Add lumber as you go and secure with deck screws a maximum of three inches apart.
  • Build a small landing to cover up the last of the old staircase.
  • Install landing steps at a right angle no more than seven inches high.
  • Always check building codes and compliance.

Fixing Steep Basement Stairs: Basic Idea

To fix your basement stairs, you will essentially need to move them out horizontally. To do this without moving the entire staircase, you can simply add pieces onto each step. 

Most counties require steps to be no more than 7 inches high. If your steps are higher than this, adding lumber to each tread piece is your only option. 

Stairs have two parts: tread, which is the horizontal part, and lift, which is the vertical part. You can add 2×4 lumber to the tread to make it longer and reduce the lift. 

To keep your new staircase from getting too long, you can build a landing with more steps down to the floor. 

The basic steps for this are:

  • Measure and cut new tread blocks
  • Install the cut blocks
  • Build a new landing
  • Install the final landing steps

Remember, safety is paramount when modifying your basement stairs. If you’re not confident in your woodworking skills, it might be best to hire a professional to do the job for you. I’ve seen one too many DIY projects go awry because individuals underestimate the scope of the work.

Fix or Tear Down?

fix or tear down

If you have decided that your steps are too steep, you have an important decision to make. Do you try to fix these stairs or do you tear them down and start over completely?

While it may be easier to tear down the old steps, it can be more expensive. 

Instead of this, you can simply add more lumber to the steps to create a more gentle slope. This may not be the most elegant solution, but it will be safer and much cheaper. 

If your steep stairs are in your basement, you probably aren’t too worried about how it looks. The important thing is that they are safe and comfortable to walk on. 

When you’re deciding whether to fix your stairs or to tear them down and start over, consider their overall condition and the quality of the materials. I’ve worked on some old houses where the stairs were built with such high-quality wood that it would be a shame to throw them out. In these cases, refurbishing the stairs ended up being the better option.

Cut New Tread Blocks

The first thing you will want to do is measure and cut the new tread blocks. 

Measure the lift of your old stairs. If, for example, the lift is 9 inches, adding 2×4 blocks will cut that down to 7 inches.

This will be in compliance with most house building codes. 

Cut the tread blocks to fit the width of the stairs. You are essentially building a new staircase on top of the old one, so make sure you cut enough. 

Install the Tread Blocks

Secure the new tread blocks on top of the old staircase. Measure as you work to make sure each lift is less than 7 inches. 

This will require you to add more lumber as you go, since each step will be pushed forward. This is one of the reasons we are building a new landing at the bottom. 

Secure each piece of lumber with long deck screws spaced no more than 3 inches apart. 

This will ensure that these blocks don’t move when you step on them. Continue on until you get to the point you need the steps to stop and where you will build the landing. 

Build a Landing

steep basement stairs

After you have reached the point that you want the staircase to end, you will then build a small landing. 

This landing will allow you to make a hard right angle and a few more steps down the ground. Use the landing to cover up the remaining original staircase. 

You will have to install a railing on this landing just like you have for the staircase. This is to ensure that it stays in compliance with building codes. 

Finish the landing however you want to, and make sure that you cover the original stairs. This will give it a cohesive look. 

Install New Landing Steps

From the landing to the floor, you can install new steps at a right angle. This will allow the staircase to stop where you want it and keep the steps shallow. 

Make sure that these new steps are no more than 7 inches high. They will be subject to the same regulations as the original steps are. 

Once you have installed these, your staircase should be in compliance and ready for use. They will also be much safer and easier to walk on without tripping and potentially falling. 

Don’t forget to pay attention to your local building codes. They differ from place to place. In my experience, DIY enthusiasts sometimes overlook this step. Ensuring that your stairs meet local building codes prevents possible legal issues in the future and ensures that your stairs are safe to use.


  • How steep is too steep for stairs?

Any stairs with a lift of more than 7 inches are out of building code compliance. 

Many old houses have a larger lift than this. If your stairs feel steep, measure them to make sure they do not need to be renovated. 

  • Why are stairs so steep in old houses?

Stairs are steep in old houses because building codes used to be more lax. 

They were also designed for people who were smaller. This means there didn’t have to be as much headroom and they could save horizontal space. 

  • How do you make old stairs safer?

If your old stairs feel unsafe, you can add more ways to grip. 

Install a second handrail to have one on each side. You can also install grip tape on the treads for better stability. 


To avoid a costly fine on your steep stairs, renovation is your best bet. This job can take some time but it will be worth it. 

It is incredibly important that you feel comfortable on your stairs and this project should do that for you. 

Photo of author


Michael J. O’Connor is a writer and marketing specialist from the Bay Area of California. A graduate of Sonoma State’s Creative Writing program, he spent many years as a contractor and carpet layer, learning the ins and outs of flooring and general contracting. When he’s not typing away at his desk, he enjoys hiking with his dogs, woodworking and collecting rare books. See full biography here.

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