What Is a Stair Tread & Riser?


Stairs and staircases have a long and mysterious history. No one knows with certainty when the first staircase was built or what culture originated them. However, stairs were present in several ancient cultures, including the Chinese and Egyptian civilizations. The basic components of stairs have changed little over time, with the core of every set of stairs consisting of the step; which has two parts, the tread and the riser.


  • The tread, the horizontal part of the step that the user places her foot upon, forms the top of the step. The depth of the tread dictates how comfortably the user can walk up and down the stairs. The user should not have to adjust her gate to accommodate an inadequate tread depth. The International Residential Code (IRC) requires a minimum tread depth of 10 inches. Check with your local building officials before building any stairs.


  • Risers, the vertical section of the step that fits in between two treads, completes and encloses each step. Unlike treads, you can make serviceable steps without risers, although this creates a stairway with a rough, unfinished look. Practical problems can result from stairs without risers, especially when the stairway is outdoors. The lack of risers can allow the elements to decay other parts of the stairs. Like treads, risers must meet certain standards to insure the user's comfort. The IRC recommends a maximum riser height of 7 3/4 inches.


  • Stairs that squeak when the user steps on them typically have a poor connection between the tread and the riser. The tread rubs against either the top or bottom of a riser. When the problem involves a squeak coming from the front of a tread, you can usually repair it by driving pairs of nails through the tread and into the top of the riser. Place each pair of nails an inch or two apart and at opposing angles. If the squeak comes from the rear of the tread, drive two or three thin wooden wedges between the tread and the bottom of the riser. Cut off the exposed edges of the wedges with a utility knife.

Old treads

  • Treads can become worn and unsightly due to long term use. You don't necessarily have to replace the tread when this happens. You can simply remove the tread and turn it around. Then reinstall the tread with the undamaged side on top. Make sure there there is nothing structurally wrong with the tread before performing this cosmetic repair.

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