If your home has multiple levels, you may find that updating the stairs is a good way to upgrade the look of your whole room or house. This project is also a matter of safety. Loose stairs and railings can cause dangerous conditions for you and your family. Weak stairs can collapse beneath your feet, and loose railings can fail and lead to serious injuries.
Whether your project is interior or exterior will cause your costs to vary. Most homeowners pay between $1,066 and $3,200 to build stairs.
Types of Stairs
Stairs come in only two types: interior and exterior. Interior stairs include the stairs that go up to the higher floors in your house, the stairs that go to the attic, and the stairs that go down to your basement. Exterior stairs include the stairs that lead up to your porch, your patio, or your deck. Where you’re building will dictate which materials are best to use.
Interior stairs are most often made of wood. They usually incorporate stains, varnish, moldings, and other carpentry finishing work. The degree of design that goes into interior stairs often depends on their purpose.
Main staircase (approx. $2,100.00): A main staircase is more likely to have a stylish or luxurious look to it than stairs going down into the basement. Likewise, attic stairs are probably not going to be as eye-catching as a main staircase.
Basement stairs (approx. $900 - $1,500.00): Unless you have a finished basement, these stairs are usually not stained or varnished. They often have only a rubber runner nailed to the treads for traction and a simple railing.
Attic stairs (approx. $500.00 - $900.00): In older homes, attic stairs are usually a set of plain, unadorned stairs accessed through a door. They may or may not have a carpet runner. Some newer homes have folding stairs for attic access. A pull cord is attached to a ladder-like set of stairs that drops down from the ceiling, allowing access.
Exterior stairs are made of concrete, stone, wood, or other weather-resistant materials. If wood is used, it should be of a type treated or naturally able to withstand the fluctuating temperatures and conditions of the outdoors.
The cost of stairs for exterior settings varies according to the material used, the run length of the stairs, and the height they need to be. Some codes require hand rails for certain heights, and specific dimensions for some stairs. To get a better idea of the price, check with your local codes first before designing your stairs.
Porch stairs: This is where your home says “hello” to the world. As such, it may be very elaborate or simple and homey. Usually made of wood, they can also be stone, brick, or any other material that complements your home.
Patio: Stairs to your patio, or to the different levels of a multi-level patio, should be made of a matching material, though for a short rise wooden stairs can add a small but elegant accent.
Deck: Decks are almost always made of the same material as the deck - wood or composite. Not only does this look good, it also simplifies treating and conditioning your deck.
Which material to use will be determined by what type of stair you intend to install. Some materials are simply better suited to certain environments. The most common materials used for stairs are wood, concrete, and metal.
Most interior stairs are made of wood. Any kind of wood can be used, but red oak is the most popular for its durability, price, and appearance.
Concrete is a common choice for exterior stairs, seeing use in both residential and commercial structures. Though it needs sealing every year, concrete is a very durable material and is appropriate for stairs that will see heavy use and are exposed to the weather.
Metal stairs are almost always seen only in industrial settings. However, metal is still used in homes every now and then. Mostly it gets used for exterior stairs with features cut into the treads to improve traction during wet or freezing weather. The most common use for metal stairs in the home is usually the classic spiral staircase.
Styles of Stairs
The style of the stair should be chosen not only to fit your home’s look but also to fit your room’s space. Stairs take many different forms and architectural construction further defines them.
Straight – Straight stairs are the easiest to design and build. An uninterrupted run of stairs from one floor to the next needs room, however. They’re not often found in modern homes for safety reasons. A fall from the upper stairs means a fall all the way to the bottom.
L Shaped – L shaped stairs are more in style in modern homes not only for the safety aspect but also for the privacy they tend to afford the upper floors. L shaped stairs have a landing at one point providing a 90 degree turn. A fall on these stairs means you should only fall as far as the nearest lower landing.
U Shaped – U shaped stairs are similar to L shaped stairs in both form and function (safety and privacy), but they make a 180 degree turn. This is done either through a single, wide landing or a second smaller landing at a different level than the first.
Spiral – Spiral staircases are ideal for narrow or confined spaces. These stairs rise in a circle often, but not always, around a central pole.
Helical – Helical staircases are similar to spiral staircases except that they are wider and don’t have a central pole, instead having handrails to both sides.
Winder – Winder stairs are a cross between a straight stair and an L shaped stair. Instead of a flat landing, the steps continue to curve. These stairs can be at a 90 or 180 degree turn.
Arched – Arched stairs curve gracefully usually for 90 degrees. The turn is not as tight as a spiral staircase, but the footprint is much larger. These stairs require a lot of space and are generally only found in larger homes.
Open Risers – The riser is the vertical part of a step. (The horizontal part is called the tread.) Open risers have no riser. They are open between the treads and provide an airy look. Some have a single “stringer,” the support for the stairs, running up the middle while others have the stringer at each side.
Floating – Floating stairs are anchored very strongly at the wall, but seem to have no visible support underneath. Some people install these without handrails for a minimalist look, but this makes the stairs very dangerous.
The cost to demolish old stairs varies according to material and construction type. It’s usually between $300 and $2,000 to do. Demolishing a staircase is actually an involved affair. While “demolishing” conjures up images of taking a sledge hammer to everything and bashing away until it’s rubble, a more appropriate word might be “disassembling.” There is a certain way to do this to avoid damaging your house.
Remove everything that’s attached to the walls such as posts and railings. (It’s important not to damage the wall.)
Remove the railing.
Remove the carpet and tack strips (if present).
Remove the treads and risers. Sometimes the risers will come off with the treads. Again, be sure not to damage the wall.
If you’re removing the entire staircase, remove the stringer. Otherwise, if you’re just remodeling the staircase, you might be able to leave it in place as long as it isn’t damaged.
The treads are the hardest part of a stair removal. They are often nailed down as well as glued in place. Always work from the top down, and remember to have an alternate way to the upstairs if you’re working on interior stairs or other such accesses to higher levels in the building.
If you are moving a staircase, perhaps to open up floor space, you may want to think about a couple of things:
Is this going to be a simple design that you can work out with your contractor, or should you consult an architect and design team to make sure it fits and still looks attractive?
What walls will need to come down and what additional supports will be needed?
What part of the floor will have to come out for the new upstairs landing, and will anything have to be re-routed (plumbing, wiring, etc.)?
Stairs are a structural component of a house and should not be moved without making sure you aren’t weakening anything!
When putting in or remodeling a staircase, you should never forget the railing. The railing is an attractive safety feature found on virtually all staircases today. They provide a handhold to keep you from falling and also serve as an accent piece to an eye-catching staircase.
Rails need to be a certain height. While this can vary from community to community, most requirements are between 34 and 38 inches in height. They also need to be able to support a certain amount of weight against them from any angle. This is usually around 200 pounds or so.
There are also regulations regarding the size of the handrail and its distance from the wall or any other structure. The purpose of these regulations is to ensure that a person using the stairs can secure an adequate grip while ascending or descending.
Finally, the balusters (the vertical posts that run up along the exposed side of the stairs) must be close enough together to prevent accidents such as small children falling through or getting their heads stuck. This is usually 4 to 5 inches apart. You should check with your local building codes on this for the exact measurement.
Although safety is the primary concern of hand railings, they don’t have to look dull and utilitarian. Many designers have created railings with looks that range from the ultra-modern to the rustic to the whimsical. After safety, the big concern for your railings is that they blend with the architectural style of your house.
Railings can be made of many different materials. Most people opt for wood, but wrought iron and other metals are just as popular, and some combine metallic elements with balusters of glass for a sleek, modern look.
Wooden railings are by far the most common, but they are not boring. Wood can be turned on a lathe into many different shapes and profiles. Whether it’s the classic Victorian look, the rustic log cabin look, or clean, modern lines, it can be stained or painted to match any interior.
Metal railings usually carry a classic, dignified look. Because metal can be formed into many shapes, it’s a popular choice for those with a custom design in mind, such as vines or even a musical motif (think of a railing that looks like sheet music). Metal is also the usual choice of railing for spiral or helical staircases.
Metal and glass railings are definitely for the modern look. Large sheets of thick glass topped with brushed aluminum handrails put your design squarely in the 21st century.
Stairs are more than just an access point to higher or lower levels of your home. Done with careful thought and design, they can be an attractive component of your home and a defining feature of your style.