Architectural Record BE - Building Enclosure

Stair Treads and Nosings

Specifying for safety, code compliance, and ease of maintenance
This course is no longer active
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Sponsored by Nystrom, Inc.
Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP
Continuing Education

Learning Objectives - After this course, you should be able to:

  1. Differentiate and distinguish the elements of stair treads and nosings that make them safe and compliant with applicable codes and standards.
  2. Identify the types of manufactured stair treads and nosings that are available including options to specify for best performance in particular applications.
  3. Investigate and compare proper installation strategies on different types of new and existing stair construction.
  4. Explore successful cleaning and maintenance methods required for ongoing safe and slip-resistant stair treads and walkways.



Steps and stairways are common to most buildings as a key element of circulation and movement of people through individual spaces and the entire building. They also serve as a means of egress in the event of fire or other emergencies and are regulated in great detail by building codes and standards as a result. From a safety standpoint, they are one of the most common locations for people to trip, fall, and be injured. The importance of designing safe and code-compliant stairs cannot be understated particularly since architects are sometimes held liable for damages to people injured on those stairs. Among the most significant safety details to be addressed are the proper design and specifications for treads and nosings installed in a variety of locations and construction types.

Stair Tread and Nosing Design Parameters

Steps and stairways have been constructed out of many different materials and in many different construction assemblies. Historically, all of the stair parts and components were typically made of whatever material was consistent with the rest of the building such as stone, wood, or masonry. Not all of these materials or stair assemblies held up well as the building was used over time with surfaces becoming worn, damaged, or as assemblies settled or became loose. In the late 1800s, cast metal was introduced into stair design to help address some of these issues by providing stronger and more durable components, particularly on stair treads, making them less susceptible to problems. During the 1900s stair design in commercial and institutional buildings became fairly standardized, falling into several familiar material categories: wood, solid concrete, solid metal, and metal pans with concrete fill. At the same time, manufactured treads and nosings emerged as a popular way to treat the walking surface of stairs for increased durability, safety, code compliance, and slip resistance.

Ridgedale Center Mall, Minnetonka, Minnesota

Photo courtesy of Nystrom, Inc.


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Originally published in Architectural Record