You Can ONLY See This Kind Of Thing PRE-DRYWALL - 2 of 3

Home Inspector with Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC

Truly, you can ONLY see this kind of thing PRE-DRYWALL.  This is the second of three posts, all on the same house.

Staircases are very important.  They typically have their own structure, which is a "balloon" structure, and it can extend from the basement all the way to the upper level.

The stairs themselves are typically manufactured elsewhere, and brought to the site to be installed where the plans direct.

Stairs can carry a lot of weight at one time - either from people or belongings.  How they are attached to the structure around them is very, very important.

This is a typical staircase.

It is installed in the basement, extending from the basement level to the middle floor of the house.

There is nothing unusual about the stairs.

What I did find unusual was how they were attached to the stud structure.

This is the kind of thing that would only have been discovered during a pre-drywall inspection as this basement is to be finished.

That means that the studs will be covered inside and out with drywall.

It also means that the underside of the stairs will be covered with drywall, per fire code.

This long staircase was very weakly attached.


Amazingly, the staircase was only nailed on it a couple of places.

With nothing spanning the gap between the stairs and stud, like sheathing material or shims, the nails are already bending downward.

I counted 10 nails total!

All were bending down.

Even at the top of the stairs there is no attachment anywhere.  The staircase is literally floating 1" from any support on the sides or top!

To me this is scary!

In a couple of days this area was slated to be entirely covered with drywall.  That drywall would have done NOTHING to help support the stairs.

When I stood at the top of the stairs I could actually make it bounce!

My recommendation:  ten nails is not enough to secure a staircase, even with the gap between stairs and studs filled!  Don't ever think that a pre-drywall inspection is not necessary.  Even if these stairs were "tacked" in place, with the intention to get back to them later for proper installation, the time between tacking and proper nailing should only have been minutes.  Leaving something like this for after lunch, or in the morning, leaves it vulnerable for the mind to forget!  A big part of carpentry is safety and proper security.  This staircase was neither.


This is the second in a series of one, two and three posts regarding the same house.



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Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560


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dangerous staircase
improper installation
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Comments 32 New Comment

Mike Cooper
Your Winchester, VA Real Estate Pro
Winchester Real Estate Sales, Cornerstone Business Group Inc

Jay, you are so right.  It wouldn't take a whole lot of weight to bring those stairs down.  I see this kind of shoddy craftsmanship a lot with our contracting business.  Buyers need to beware and need to be proactive and have a home inspector visit the site throughout the construction.

August 18, 2012 06:19 AM
Gary L. Waters, Broker Owner Waters Realty of Brevard, LLC
Personal Service, always.
Waters Realty of Brevard, LLC

Enough has been said about having a bounce in your I will only say this "What does the builder say when these are pointed out?"  Something like "my bad...?"

August 18, 2012 06:27 AM
Jay Markanich
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC

Michael - drywall covers a multitude of sins.

Tammy - pre-fab stairs have been out for a long time.  The underside is protected by drywall to satisfy the fire code when there is finished space.  That way a fire cannot spread so easily or quickly.

Jim - the bounce makes it easier on the knees.  And it gives you a good attitude - a little bounce in your step!

Mike - I always look at staircase nailing.  One of my things I guess.  I am about 250, not that heavy, about your basic fullback, but if I can make it bounce it is not secure.

Gary - just saw this, after using the phrase in my answer to Jim!  Clients have called me saying that the entirety of my list was "already on the supervisor's list of things to do."  He just had not gotten around to them.

Yeah, right...

August 18, 2012 02:00 PM
John J. Woods
Aardvark Appraisals


   You don't mention if you've dicussed any of this wtth the building inspector or the builder/contractor/framer/drywaller.  And in looking at the pictures, it appears that there is no 'firestop' blocking along the stair line in the stud bays, which I believe is required in the national codes.  Although I can't imagine how the builder has let 45 days go by without more progress in the area of the stairs, some of the jurisdictions that I've worked in will allow the rated drywall to be installed between the stair stringers and the studs without the fireblocking/draft stop if it's continuous from the lower floor to the upper and the stud bay dead space doesnt' exceed a certain height (usually 10').

   Many framers are directed to build the stairs so that there is about a 3/4" gap between the stair stringers and the studs so that the drywallers can slide the 5/8" drywall in between and meet the code requirements.  That's frequently why there's minimal nailing to 'tack' the stairs in place.  But even then the framer or stair builder has a responsibility to ensure that the stairs are safe for travel, even during construction.  It would seem that this may have been the goal if the stairs were 'pre-fabbed' and the wall studs were already in place with an extra 1"-2" total space.  When the stringers are nailed flat up against the studs and then the risers and treads installed after (amateur), the drywaller has to cut around each stair nosing and there's usually not sufficient backing in place between the studs by the framer so the drywall 'floats' in places and can easily be broken off into some of the stud bays down the line by an errant foot on the stairs.

   Many framers will 'hang' the stairs in place and send someone back to nail or screw the stringers right through the drywall into the studs after the drywaller has hung the stairwell drywall.  Some builders will even arrange to have the drywaller hang the rock in the stairwell early on before the stairs even go in, if the stairs are to be built in place.

   I'm not claiming that any of this is what happened in this case because I don't know, but there are many ways to 'skin a cat'...


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August 18, 2012 09:44 PM
Jay Markanich
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC

John - no, none of this is discussed with the supervisor, et al.  The supervisor was to have his walk through with the buyer after my inspection.  He does not even want to speak with me.  The drywall was scheduled to be installed the next day, sitting throughout the house.  These stairs had been in place for many weeks.  If properly nailed I am not sure how, or why, drywall would be installed between the studs and stairs.  This is to be a finished basement so all this gets covered with drywall, including the underside of the stairs as fireblock.

August 19, 2012 03:56 AM

Jay Markanich

Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia
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