Stairs required?

Older rowhome (about 100 years) with an unfinished basement (about 5 feet from floor to joists). For those familiar with Philly it is a “trinity” style construction.

The basement is accessed by a scuttle hole in the living room floor with a ladder (no stairs).

The upper floors are accessed by extremely narrow and steep circular (pie shaped) wood stairs.

The buyer is getting an FHA loan - are they likely to have a problem with the lack of handrails, and how would you recommend soving the problem if they are?

FYI - this style home has three rooms above each other (only one room deep) and was not constructed with standard stairs in mind and it might even significantly detract from the charm, and hence value, of the home to alter the stairs.

Any thoughts?

I’ve never heard of FHA having problems with “historic” homes. Certain things might be required to be upgraded, like lead water pipes, knob & tube wiring, etc., but as to actual construction practices from 100 years ago, I’ve never heard of FHA requiring that something be re-constructed. However, it should be fairly easy to add handrails to stairs. Perhaps a picture would help in seeing why there’s a perceived problem.

I know that typically FHA inspections (At least those that I am familiar with ) look for handrails, GFCI outlets and smoke detectors at appropriate locations. I have seen them required to be added (no provision for grandfathering).

Here, 100 years old is bordering on “historic” so I raised the issue.

The upper stairs are too narrow and enclosed to get a photo. Here are the basement “stairs”:



That’s a ladder. I don’t see any stairs. How do you add handrails to ladders? I’m totally confused.

Dangle a rope from the side of the opening–handrail!

Hi. Jay;

Dangling a rope would probably work in our time , but today would require a retreiving sytem that would relate to OSHA rules in today’s world.

In today’s standard, I would have to say that a harness is required to access this area.

In all reallaity, I would note it as an area of concern for the use of the occupants.

Marcel :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

I would point out that the stairs are unique to the homes historical nature and construction and therefore do not meet current code requirements.

As to the trap door I don’t know how you would put steps in, the ladder seems the most appropriate given that its crawlspace and will only be accessed occassionally? They could build a wood type ladder or a proper metal ladder fasten to the wall.

My 2 cents.

Hi. Raymond;
Hope you are fine.

There was a time in the past where you could enjoy going down in the crawl space and pick a few legume’s and bring them up for a great meal. Today standards have shown it to be hazardous to attempt and should probably try to modernize the surroundings.

What is wrong with that picture?

I would report, that at the time of inspection, it appears that the old fashion access to the root cellar has to be up-graded to todays standards. This would prevent the new generation of this access to be more safe in the accessibility.


RR - The ladder was mentioned initially and probvides the only access to the 5’ deep basement (where the electric service panel, furnace and water heter are located.)

The stairs I mention (and unfortunately have no adequate photos of) are to floors 2 and 3 and have no handrail no enough room to addone (they can’t be more than 24" wide at best)…

Just looking for some opinions on whether these will have to be updated for safety because it is an FHA loan (the way GFCI outlets do, for example).

Hi Marcel

How do you put in a proper stair case in a basement with a 5 foot ceiling without deepening and underpinning the crawlspace in order to put in a staircase?

Ultimately it is up to the purchasers to determine whether these issues will affect their purchase. Personally I’m not trying to make an old house new again, just point out the concerns that may affect their decision.


I wasn’t trying so much as to make a recommendation to the client as answer their question as to whether they will have problems with an FHA loan.


FHA has eased some of the requirements as referenced in Handbook 4150.2

In many cases where the Seller accepts a FHA offer, they bear the cost to bring the property into FHA compliance for Sale. This is generally an item addressed between the parties in their Purchase Agreement.

Approval and Acceptability is dependant upon the FHA Appraiser and the Contract entered into between the Parties.

I inspect the Home. I do not get involved or concern myself in the particulars of the Purchase offer or financing nor do I base my reporting dependant upon these factors.

Thanks, Joe. I agree, I was trying to answer the guys question and I had no idea what (if anything) would be needed for FHA.

Nice avatar!!

Hi. Raymond;

The only thing that comes to mind for providing a safer access, would be a straight wall ladder that can be pulled up above the floor level when the hatch is open. This is used on roof hatch access for flat roofs. That would provide a safer access to the crawl space.

Marcel :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

Interesting idea, Marcel. I offered the suggestion of hinged stairs secured to the joists on a retractable pully system (I have these in my garage). Of course, that still has no handrail…

I am curious to find out if she is told she needs one - I will keep you posted.

Sorry you must mean ladder, not stairs? I am having a hard time understanding how stairs can be utilized with a 5 foof ceiling height even if they are hinged. You won’t have sufficient slope for proper stringers in my opinion.

I have stairs going in to my craw space. It is 4 steps. No hand rail though. I must add though that the access hatch is a 3’x5’ flip up, side hinged, floor section in the closet under the 2nd floor stairs.

I think the main question here though would be how to put a hand rail on the narrow 2’ wide circular stairs to the 2nd & 3rd floors. The only thing I could think of would be to have something made by a Blacksmith. They could make something small enough to not take up much of the limited space.

Question how would they get anything (furniture) up to the other floors?

The windows, of course! You have to see people move into a trinity. It is a definite lifestyle choice. It also gives you an appreciation for why antique furniture appears so much smaller than ours today!!

No, I am not talking about a full fledged staircase, I am talking about a custom small version with about 4 steps (as someone else suggested) kind of like a half of a pull down stair unit for an attic. I have one in my garage that was homemade (well) by the previous owner. Just thinking out loud.

FHA does not mearsure for depth of tread or “proper” stringers - at least not in my experience. But they do write up missing handrails and GFCIs all the time. In other words, they are willing to grandfather in older staps, but seem to have a bug up their a** about the handrails (at least locally). But I have never seen this exact situation before.

Like I said, this is more for my curiosity but I was intrigued when the client asked and I did not have an answer.

Hi. Joe;

Glad to be of any help.

Marcel :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile: