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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Structural Analysis of Free Standing Staircase: A Comparative Example

Free standing staircase offers very pleasing solution for vertical circulation in residential and commercial buildings. They are usually constructed in such a way that the landing is freely supported, while the supports at the flight are fully fixed. It is possible to have the flights supported in other ways, but that makes the analysis more complicated. Free standing staircase structures are complex in analysis and design, but with finite element analysis packages, simple solutions can be easily obtained as shown in this post.

In this post, we are going to compare the results obtained with Staad Pro software with result from manual analysis using the method proposed on Table 175, Reynolds and Steedman, 2005.


Solved Example
The geometry of a free standing staircase is given below. We are expected to analyse the staircase for ultimate moment using the formular given in Reynolds and Steedman (2005), and compare the answer with result from Staad Pro.

Thickness of waist of flight and landing = 250 mm
Depth of riser = 150mm
Unit weight of concrete = 25 kN/m3

Actions on the stairs
Concrete self weight (waist area) = 0.25 × 25 = 6.25 kN/m2 (normal to the inclination)
Stepped area = 1⁄2 × 0.15 × 25= 1.875 KN/m2 (global vertical direction)
Finishes (say) = 1.2 kN/m2

We intend to apply all gravity loads purely in the global y-direction, therefore we convert the load at the waist of the stair from local to global direction by considering the angle of inclination of the flight area to the horizontal;

γ = tan-1⁡(1.5/3) = 26.565°

Therefore UDL from waist of the stair in the global direction is given by = (6.25 × cos 26.565) = 5.59 kN/m2

Total permanent action on flight area (gk) = 5.59 + 1.875 + 1.2 = 8.665 kN/m2
Total permanent action on landing; (gk) = 6.25 + 1.2 = 7.45 kN/m2

Variable load on staircase (qk) = 4 kN/m2

The load on the flight area at ultimate limit state = 1.35gk + 1.5qk
 nf = 1.35(8.665) + 1.5(4) = 17.67 kN/m2

The load on the landing at ultimate limit state = 1.35gk + 1.5qk
 nl = 1.35(7.45) + 1.5(4) = 16.06 kN/m2

From Table 175, Reynolds and Steedman (2005), the approximate formular for calculating the critical design moments for free standing stairs with the flights fully fixed is given below;

From the given question;
Load on flight nf = 17.67 kN/m2
Load on landing nl  = 16.06 kN/m2
Thickness of flight hf = 250 mm
Thickness of landing hl = 250 mm
a = 3.35m
b = 1.4m
b1 = 2.0m
γ = 26.565°

Plugging these values into the equations above;
K = 0.746
H = 222.637 kN
M0 = 70.541 kNm

Comparing the above answer with ultimate limit state answer from Staad Pro;

Longitudinal Moment

You can see that M0 from Staad Pro is 65.1 kNm. This about 8.3% less than the anser gotten from manual analysis, and further reinforces the fact that finite element analysis approach to this problem yields a more economical result.

Transverse Moment
The moment in the x direction due to ultimate load is given below;

The maximum moment in the x-direction can be found to be 45.5 kNm. Cusens and Kuang (1966) recommends that the transverse reinforcement be concentrated in the vicinity of the flight and the landing. This results offers a good insight.

The twisting moment on the staircase due to the load is given below;

A little consideration of the above result will show that considerable twisting is occurring at the mid-span section of the flights. This completely agrees with the conclusions made by Cusens and Kuang (1966). In their own words,
"Large torsional moments are present in the flights of free-standing stairs and a proper thickness of concrete must be chosen to resist these moments, due to the difficulty of reinforcing shallow-wide sections against torsion."

Longitudinal Shearing Stresses

As you can see, the maximum longitudinal stress is occurring at point O with a value of 1.64 N/mm2.

We are undertaking further studies on the dynamic behaviour of free standing stairs. We will update in due time. Thank you for visiting, and God bless you.

Cusens A.R., Jing Gwo Kuang (1966): Experimental Investigation of Free Standing Stairs. Journal of the American Concrete Institute, Proceedings V. 63, No. 5, May 1966.

Reynolds C.E., Steedman J.C (2005): Reinforced Concrete Designers Handbook. Spon Press, Taylor and Francis Group, London ISBN 0-419-14540-3


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you. You are free to share to your colleagues

  2. Good article and it is all the more pleasing to see you indicate your references.

  3. Thank you for this great article. I was unable to locate Table 175 in Reynolds & Steedman's 10th edition. I found some relief by looking at Table 2.88 on Page 207 of the same book.

  4. Kindly check the equations on Reynolds book,
    You have missed something on them