Remember back in grade school when you were first learning to multiply and divide? Even though the problems all dealt with colliding trains and people who seemed to have a lot of fruit on their hands, the teacher promised this was real practical stuff that you’d need later on.
Well, the teacher was right — at least, if there’s a stair-building project in your future.
Building stairs is an art form perfected by carpenters over the centuries. There is a lot of conventional wisdom about what makes stairs comfortable and practical.
There is also a fair amount of math involved in figuring out how to build them.
Most of the math is used to fix the rise and run — that is, the height of each stair plus the width of each tread. The rise and run distances determine how comfortable the stairs will be to use. If the rise and run are too great, the stairs will strain your legs and be hard to climb. If the rise and run are too small, you may whack your toe on the back of each step; attempting to
shorten your stride to match the stairs will wear you out.
Over the years, carpenters have determined that tread width times riser height should equal somewhere between 72 to 75 inches.
On a main stair, the maximum rise should be no more than 8 1/4 inches and the minimum run should be no less than 9 inches.
To determine how many steps, or treads, you need, measure from the top of the finished floor on the lower level to the top of the finished floor on the upper level. Don’t forget to include the finish — the flooring, the carpet, the tile, or whatever surface treatment the floor will get. Even if it adds up to just an inch or so, it will affect your calculations. A miscalculated stair with one step out of sync with the others will forever be a death trap for unwary feet.
For a multi-floor house, each flight of stairs should be figured separately — but the rise and run have to be the same, even if the number of treads is different.
To figure the rise and run in a house with 8-foot ceilings, for instance, start by figuring the total vertical rise. By the time you add floor joists, subfloor and finish floor, the total is usually about 105 inches. A standard number of treads in a stair between first and second floors is 14. One hundred-five divided by 14 equals 7 1/2 . That means the distance from the top of each step to the top of the next step will be 7 1/2 inches.
With a riser height of 7 1/2 inches, tread width (run) should be at least 9 inches. Ten inches is a more comfortable run; when you multiply 7 1/2 inches by 10 inches, you get 75 — within the conventional ratio of 72 to 75 inches. With 14 10-inch treads, the total run of the stair will be 140 inches. In other words, the entire stair will be 105 inches tall and 140 inches deep.
You can alter the rise and run to some extent. If you used 15 risers instead of 14, for instance, the rise would be 7 inches, and the tread width would be 10 1/2 inches (7 times 10 1/2 equals 73.5, within the rise and run guidelines).
The goal is to create comfortable stairs in the space allotted, ones that are not too steep or too shallow. While you can make small adjustments in the rise and run, you have to stay within the guidelines of 72 to 75 inches riser times run.
Another factor to consider is the head room available. On main stairs you need a minimum of 6 feet 8 inches between the top of each tread and the bottom of any obstruction above it. In older houses, you have to be especially careful about altering the rise and run. If you increase the tread width, you may decrease the head room.
Yes, it is pretty complicated. If trying to figure out how many
apples Jane gave Sally if Sally gave Tom half of them makes your head ache, you probably wouldn’t enjoy building stairs. Nor will a little bit of math turn you into a master stair-builder. But knowing how the process works may help you communicate with the expert you hire to do the job.
Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.
If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.
Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.
- The American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps a day or about five miles of walking
- What is intensity?
- What if I’m just starting to get active?
- The takeaway: Move more, with more intensity, and sit less.
- Are You Moving Enough?
The American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps a day or about five miles of walking
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What is intensity?
Physical activity is anything that moves your body and burns calories. This includes things like walking, climbing stairs and stretching.
Aerobic (or “cardio”) activity gets your heart rate up and benefits your heart by improving cardiorespiratory fitness. When done at moderate intensity, your heart will beat faster and you’ll breathe harder than normal, but you’ll still be able to talk. Think of it as a medium or moderate amount of effort.
Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities:
- brisk walking (at least 2.5 miles per hour)
- water aerobics
- dancing (ballroom or social)
- tennis (doubles)
- biking slower than 10 miles per hour
Vigorous intensity activities will push your body a little further. They will require a higher amount of effort. You’ll probably get warm and begin to sweat. You won’t be able to talk much without getting out of breath.
Examples of vigorous-intensity aerobic activities:
- hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack
- swimming laps
- aerobic dancing
- heavy yardwork like continuous digging or hoeing
- tennis (singles)
- cycling 10 miles per hour or faster
- jumping rope
Knowing your target heart rate can also help you track the intensity of your activities.
For maximum benefits, include both moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity in your routine along with strengthening and stretching exercises.
What if I’m just starting to get active?
Don’t worry if you can’t reach 150 minutes per week just yet. Everyone has to start somewhere. Even if you’ve been sedentary for years, today is the day you can begin to make healthy changes in your life. Set a reachable goal for today. You can work up toward the recommended amount by increasing your time as you get stronger. Don’t let all-or-nothing thinking keep you from doing what you can every day.
The simplest way to get moving and improve your health is to start walking. It’s free, easy and can be done just about anywhere, even in place.
Any amount of movement is better than none. And you can break it up into short bouts of activity throughout the day. Taking a brisk walk for five or ten minutes a few times a day will add up.
If you have a chronic condition or disability, talk with your healthcare provider about what types and amounts of physical activity are right for you before making too many changes. But don’t wait! Get started today by simply sitting less and moving more, whatever that looks like for you.
The takeaway: Move more, with more intensity, and sit less.
Science has linked being inactive and sitting too much with higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon and lung cancers, and early death.
It’s clear that being more active benefits everyone and helps us live longer, healthier lives.
Here are some of the big wins:
- Lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia and Alzheimer’s, several types of cancer, and some complications of pregnancy
- Better sleep, including improvements in insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea
- Improved cognition, including memory, attention and processing speed
- Less weight gain, obesity and related chronic health conditions
- Better bone health and balance, with less risk of injury from falls
- Fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Better quality of life and sense of overall well-being
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get moving!
Share an infographic of the Physical Activity Recommendations for Adults and the Physical Activity Recommendations for Kids
Are You Moving Enough?
Do you know how many steps a day you take? Until last week I had no idea. What I did know was that the American Heart Association recommends that everyone should aim for 10,000 steps (roughly five miles) a day for overall health and to decrease the risk of heart disease.
I recall several years ago receiving a cheap pedometer that supposedly tracked my steps, but it wasn’t very reliable. If I ran a few steps, the numbers would register 20 steps per my one. I gave up on the step tracking after a day or two. That is, until last week.
During my last session with my life coach, Kate Larsen, we were talking about my exercise-as you may have read in previous posts, I’m having a tough time losing weight. She showed me her personal Fitbit and told me all of the wonderful things about it. It tracks your steps, flights of stairs, calories, mileage, and sleep patterns, and it even has a little flower that grows during the day as a representation of the day’s activity. The best part is it tracks everything online so progress can be monitored over time.
A week later, on a Friday afternoon, a Fitbit One was clipped to my jeans pocket. I was looking forward to meeting my daily goal of 10,0000 steps. How hard could it be?
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But within two hours I realized that between my computer and driving time (to and from the kids’ school), I might have a very tough time meeting just half my goal. I was right. For half a day I only walked 3,814 steps. What’s even worse: My activity level was considered almost 80 percent sedentary.
The next day was Saturday, and since I don’t work on weekends, I knew I could easily increase my steps. I attended yoga class, did weekend housework, and my family went out to dinner. The surprise: My full day was almost the same as my half-day the day before: 3,891. Say what?!
I was crushed. Could this explain why I’m not losing weight? Because I’m inactive?
By Sunday I was on a mission. I put on my warm winter running gear, heart rate monitor, Fitbit, and fur-lined hat. The chilly wind hit my face the moment I walked out the door, but my no-excuses mantra came to mind as I made my way down the driveway and up the street’s steep grade.
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My region has received quite a bit of snow this winter and there was a lot of ice. I did my best to avoid the slick patches, walking and running as allowed, and found myself taking a route I had never done before so I was’t sure of my distance. By the time I returned home 25 minutes later I was anxious to see my numbers. The results were 1,800 steps. Being that 2,000 steps equals roughly 2 miles, I was happy to see a jump in my progress. But what was even more surprising was that the steep hills I climbed during my outing was equivalent to 12 floors of stairs!
Did I reach my 10,000 steps goal for the day? Nope. By the end of the day I walked/ran 7,221 steps, climbed 14 floors, and traveled 3.28 miles.
As I work my way toward reaching 10,000 steps, I’ve decided to compete with myself and increase my steps each day, even if that means walking in place. Today my goal is 8,000 steps and I think another jaunt outside may be in order to help me get there.
How do you get your steps in every day? Please share your secrets!
- By Beth Blair