Question: We plan to move to Arizona to retire, and our daughter and her husband would like to buy our house, but they think it's too small. We have talked about finishing off the attic to make two additional bedrooms.
The question we have is how much area should be allowed for a staircase. Is there a minimum width, and how wide should treads and the vertical boards be for each of the steps? We are trying to figure out if two back-to-back closets would be adequate space for installation of a stairway.
Answer: You'll need to follow the city building codes in making this conversion, and you start that process by applying for a building permit. Douglas Wong, phone engineer in the Public Counter Division of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, says to draw up your plans and take them to the Construction Services Center of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, Room 460, City Hall.
I asked what the code says about staircases, and this is what he reported:
Width of the stairs can be no fewer than 30 inches in a residential property with fewer than 10 occupants. (So how big IS your daughter's family?).
In that same category, the risers must be no fewer than four inches and no more than 7 1/2 inches.
The treads cannot be fewer than 10 inches deep.
Don't forget the headroom in a staircase, especially if you're going into that part of the attic where the roof line slopes to the attic floor. Wong points out that the code reads that the headroom clearance, (the distance between each tread and the ceiling) must be at least six feet, six inches. (I would personally prefer seven feet, because teen-agers come pretty tall these days and are more inclined to bounce down the steps instead of gliding.)
In terms of resale, keep in mind you may be losing some valuable closet space in making this conversion. So I'd figure out some storage areas in the downstairs rooms that are losing their closets.
Q: I've caulked around my bathtub where it joins the ceramic wall tile. The holes are plugged, but the whole thing still looks sloppy. Perhaps the gap is just too big for caulking. What should I try next?
A: Try quarter-round ceramic edging. If you can match your tiles that will be the best. If not, get a color that complements what's already there. You can probably find the quarter-rounds in a kit, and you can use a caulking compound as an adhesive for this small job.
Q: If I turn on the water in the lavatory just a little bit, it makes a terrible racket. Is this a do-it-yourself job to correct or is it a job for a plumber?
A: Give it a try yourself before you go for help. It sounds as if the seat washer of the faucet is loose or worn out. Remove the handle and the stem of the faucet and look at the end of the stem. If there's a screw at the bottom of the stem, try tightening it. That's the seat screw. If that doesn't correct the noise, remove the seat screw and the washer it is holding in place. Replace the washer with a new identical one and tighten the seat screw securely.