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Upgrading Your Staircase? Where to Start

Your staircase may not be the sweeping display of Tara’s in Gone with the Wind, but I am sure it is the centerpiece of the room in which it stands. Being so, you may have reasons to remodel or upgrade it. Redesigning your staircase could make a dramatic difference in the appearance of your home and add considerable value. Stairs are also one of the most dangerous parts of a home, blamed for a high number of emergency room visits. Remodeling or repair may now be a necessity, but where do you start?

Staircase Types

First, let’s consider the layout of the staircase. What style do you have and/or what style do you want to have?

  • A Straight Stair is the easiest type to work with, being one straight run from bottom to top.
  • A Return Stair divides the run by reversing direction a full 180 degrees at the landing.
  • An “L” Stair has a 90 degree turn at the landing.
  • A Winder Stair is like an “L” Stair, but with less space because the landing is divided into pie-shaped steps; making it less safe than the “L” Stair.
  • A Circular Stair, generally, sweeps in a broad curve from level to level.
  • A Spiral Stair twists around a center pole either by radiating out from the pole or in a helix-style, with a curving center support that follows the sweeping twist.

Staircase Plans

The next thing to consider is what are your plans for your staircase? A complete upgrade will be no easy task. A staircase is one of the most regulated elements of a house and big changes should conform to your local building codes. Everything from steps to stairwell width to size of the railing will most likely have strict specifications. Safety codes dictate how close together the balusters should be, or the depth of the tread parts to accommodate the entire length of the foot, or that riser parts be no higher then 7 inches and that the steps be consistent in size, both in depth and height. Codes will also dictate headroom clearance and need to be planned for at the top and bottom of the stairs. Making a complete upgrade to your staircase should require a professional for planning and installation.

Cosmetic Ideas

If you decide to keep the style you have and just give it a stunning face lift, research the Internet for ideas and what will be involved in the project. Traditional staircases have polished hardwood treads with hardwood risers. Some have carpet runners with the wood finished edges exposed. One of the easiest cosmetic changes to a carpeted staircase is to convert it into a beautiful hardwood finished staircase by removing the carpet and adding new hardwood treads and riser panels. If you choose not to change the carpeting, maybe enhance the stairs by adding a hardwood starting step at the foot of the stairs, thus adding accent and a decorative platform that now gives your staircase a grand and wider appearance.

When entering a room, often the first thing seen of the staircase is the side. This can be embellished with decorative stair brackets or paneling. Opening the side of a staircase, will, again, require a contractor, but it would completely change the look of your staircase. Some of the parts you may be able to replace to upgrade stairs could be changing plain wood or painted balusters to forged steel ornamental iron, or adding decorative oak newel posts or even custom made handrails.

Most cosmetic changes to your staircase probably won’t require a permit, but it would be a good idea to start your planning with a copy of staircase codes from your local building department, just to be sure.

Whether you need repairs to your tired staircase or are looking for a more dramatic change, start by understanding the style of staircase you have, what changes you want to make, and building codes and permits are required. Seek professional help in any major changes. Making a staircase upgrade will be worth the value added to your home, along with that great first impression and a dramatic grand entrance.

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