Turning an attic into a bedroom will need one type of stair, while accessing a basement or reaching a deck will call for something different. In addition to performing the practical duty of a passageway, most hardwood stairs serve as a design element, presenting strong vertical line and pattern, in a graceful form. A staircase is an opportunity for creative expression.
There is a vast range of options. Even if you start with a basic design, you can customize by selecting from an array of treads, balusters, railings, and moldings. Hardwood stairs come in red oak, poplar, white oak, ash, walnut, mahogany, cherry, and other species.
You can even have illuminated stairs with little ribbons of lights under each stair nosing. Or you could have glass inserts in the treads, with lights in the wood cavity behind the glass.
Spiral stairs don't take up a lot of space, and they are relatively economical. They are ideal for accessing attics or basements, and for two-story additions.
When ordering a spiral stair, you have to select the hand that the railing will be on, as well as the diameter. Most manufacturers offer several standard sizes, including 48", 52", 60", 64", 72", and 78". The 48" size is not recommended for safety reasons.
One key choice you will make when ordering a spiral stair is whether to buy a knocked-down kit which will then be assembled at your home, or a complete pre-assembled unit. Though kits are cheaper and considerably easier to ship, one-piece stairs tend to be more durable, are less likely to come apart, are lighter in weight, and can be installed very quickly.
One-piece spiral stairs also afford a much broader choice in materials - particularly railings - because they're not constrained by the need for easy disassembly and shipping. Many kits come only with flexible vinyl railings.
All wood spiral stairs run from $2,000 to $5,000 or more. Freight would then be added. The freight for a one-piece stair would be $300 or $400 more than for a kit. That is easily made up in the difference of the installation costs.
Some manufacturers build conventional (straight) hardwood stairs in sections, ready to connect end-to-end or at landings. Installation of these units is quick and easy for a professional. The hardest aspect is getting everything level.
Most stairs cost between $1,000 and $2,000 (not including an open railing), but custom-designed products can be a whole lot more. With most pre-built hardwood stairs, the newel posts, railings, and balusters are pre-cut, pre-fitted, and numbered for easy reassembly. But let the professionals tackle this one. It can get tricky.
Most circular stairs are custom designed for high-end houses and installed during house construction. Some come as completely pre-assembled units. It's the balusters and handrails that create the most difficult part of the installation.
These one-piece units can be extremely heavy and awkward to handle, requiring a crane to help put them in place. The more typical option is to pre-cut all the materials and have the assembly done at the job site.
Circular stairs will start at about $10,000 and can reach all the way up to $100,000 for highly custom units. The average is in the neighborhood of $25,000.
All stairs have to conform to architectural standards and local building codes (which typically follow the national standards). This is because the location of railings and balusters, width and depth of treads, and height of risers, affect the ease and safety of using a stair.
Standards allow a maximum riser height of 7 3/4 inches, and a minimum tread depth of 9 inches plus a 1 inch nosing. Despite the fact that the steeper stairs are acceptable to many codes, some experts still believe they are prone to cause more accidents.
And I agree with them – especially if you have very young, or very old, people in the house. You should call you city or county building department to find out what the codes are in your area.
When ordering spiral stairs, pay special attention to where measurements must be taken for code acceptance. Many codes demand a minimum of 9 to 10 inch tread depth at a point 12 to 14 inches from the narrow end. You'll also find restrictions on head height clearance and railing construction and placement.
The key is to be sure that any hardwood stair you buy will not only meet codes but be an attractive, safe, and easy-to-use addition to your home.