Stairs are one of the most dangerous parts of your house. Each year more than 2000 people are killed due to falling on their stairs and thousands more are injured in the US because of the falls on stairs, according to NSC although stairs pose plenty of hazards on their own, glass installed near stairs, although looking very beautiful can increase the risk of injury even more as regular glass can break and cut. To make your deck stairs completely hazard-free, there are some safety glazing requirements that you have to meet.
What is Tempered Glass?
Tempered glass is a special type of glass that is produced when extra heating and rapid cooling are done. Whereas standard glass breaks into large and pointy shards, tempered glass shatters into smaller pieces which are relatively much more harmless when the glass is broken. Residential building codes in the US usually use the term safety glazing to refer to glass that might break safely. This refers not only to tempered glass but also laminated, and certain forms of plastic glazing
There are certain requirements for glazing your decking and its constituents.
Read more: Deck Stairs Lighting
All glazing on the stair railings of any particular kind should be constructed from tempered glass or some other form of safety glazing. This includes both the structural piece and non-structural infill panels.
Let's suppose you have a door located near the deck stairs. You should use tempered glass for any glass panels or lights that are incorporated within or near the door. All glass used in doors anywhere in the house must be constructed from safety glass. The only exception is decorative glazing or any windows small enough that a 3-inch sphere should not be able to go through.
Glass near the Stairs
The International Residential Code states that all glass within 36 inches horizontally of any surface can be considered a walking surface and where the exposed glass surface must be constructed from safety glazing. This includes any stairs, landings, and other walking surface on or around your staircase. The IRC also requires your safety glazing in all glass adjacent to stairways to be within 60 inches horizontally, measured from the bottom tread of the stair where the exposed glass surface is less than 60 inches above the nose of the stair. This could include windows in or around the stairwell along with any other types of glazing.
There is however one exception for any glazing that meets any stipulations but is protected by a horizontal rail on the accessible side of the glass. The rail however must be positioned between about 34 to 38 inches above the walking surface and capable of withstanding 50 pounds of force per foot without ever touching the glass.
In general, such shatterproof glass is required on all the windows when the house wall would act as a barrier adjacent to stairs, the landing, or the areas at the top or bottom of a stair. This basically means that deck stairs would need to be properly protected with shatterproof safety glass. If a window or a portion of these windows falls within the zone of 5 feet above the top and the bottom, the window has to be safety glazed so that in case there is a fall then it would be protected however a safety glass is not the only solution, you can also install a guardrail at least 18” from the glass to satisfy the requirement as the guardrail would break any fall and stop you from hitting your head or injuring yourself in another way due to breaking glass. Another exception to this is when the window glazing is more than 36 inches away horizontally from the walking area. Although decorative glazing are allowed near your deck, they would not be permitted either as even though as a decorative piece it is still glass.
Be sure to check our deck design tool for any further planning as such things should be preplanned for. You may also further check your building code for more details as this article is written in the light of the federal code and your local building code and its instructions may vary.