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From Amber: "I'm trying to figure out the angle of a set of stairs using a scalene triangle basically you have a 90 degree angle one side is 8 feet and one is 3.5 feet what would be the slope or the angle of the third side"

Hi Amber. You didn't state in your question whether 8 feet is the horizontal length of the staircase and 3.5 feet the height? Or perhaps 8 is the length along the slope of the staircase? Of course, that makes a difference, so I'll help you work it out both ways.

First, as you pointed out, you have a right triangle. If the 8 and 3.5 are the legs of the triangle, that's all you need.

However, if 8 is the hypotenuse, you need to use the Pythagorean Theorem to find the missing side length: x^{2} = 8^{2} - 3.5^{2}. Which leads to x = 7.2 (approximately)

There are two basic rules that you need to know. The first rule is that the slope is "rise over run." In other words, it's the amount that the staircase rises divided by the amount the staircase goes horizontally. So if the staircase is 8 feet horizontally and 3.5 feet vertically, the slope is 3.5 / 8 = 0.4375. On the other hand, if the horizontal length is 7.2, the slope is 3.5 / 7.2 = 0.4861.

Okay, so now you need the second rule, which is that the slope is the slope is the same as the tangent of the angle. Or, to put it a little differently, the angle is the inverse tangent of the slope.

You probably know how to do trig functions on your calculator, but in case you don't, on most calculators, you'll get the inverse tangent function by pressing "2nd" (or "Shift") and then the "TAN" button. So you'll press 2nd TAN 0.4375 = 23.6 degrees. Or, if we're using the second possibility, 2nd TAN 0.4861 = 25.9 degrees.

In either case, that's a fairly shallow angle for stairs; I think the "standard" (at least in the US) is closer to 30 degrees than 25 degrees.

Hopefully that helps out - thanks for asking!