House & Home

Build Stunning, Safe Wooden Stairs

Posted February 13, 2015

Wood stairs and railings are workhorses – built to get you where you want to go. But beyond this basic purpose, there are many different types, which can help to make your home a more efficient, safer, and even a more attractive place. If you are building or helping to design a new home, give careful thought to the installation of your stairs and railings, because you will probably have a certain amount of flexibility as to where and how they’ll be positioned. Stair or railing replacement should also be approached with care – it’s a tricky business, and you will need to be very familiar with the International Code Council's Stair Building Code, as well as any other requirements for your locality.

Types of Staircases

Straight is the simplest staircase to install but limited in height to a maximum of 16 stairs, sometimes with an intermediate landing partway up. Straight staircase installation tends to be an inefficient use of space.

Quarter Landing is a variant of straight stairs, including a landing partway up which marks a 90-degree change in direction. These are not only more functional and space saving than straight stairs, they are also safer if someone falls.

Double Quarter Landing has two landings, each with a 90-degree directional change.

Half Landing is also a type of straight staircase. In this case, the landing marks a 180-degree change in direction. This style is very efficient, needing less space, as well as safer.

Single Winder incorporates a 90-degree turn. However, instead of a landing, this turn is enabled by the use of wedge-shaped winder treads, usually positioned near the bottom of the staircase for convenience and visibility.

Double Winder is similar to single winder but more compact, and includes a turn of 180 degrees.

Arched is esthetically appealing but difficult to construct, consisting of wedge-shaped stairs with curved handrails.

Spiral staircase is also wedge-shaped, with a railing plus a central vertical post for support. While it is the most efficient for fitting into small spaces, it can be hard to negotiate quickly, especially for a person with limited mobility. Carrying bulky objects on these stairs is also very tricky.

Staircase Safety

Your local building code will have precise requirements for construction of wood railings and staircases; this is crucial for staircase safety. If you are building a new home, you will most likely have an architect overseeing the project and dictating the technical specs. For wood stair and railing replacement, though, it is up to you or your carpentry professional to measure extremely carefully, so that you will conform to code and make your home a safe place.

The building code for your locale will set out measurements for treads, risers, the number of steps you are allowed before it is mandatory to install, railing height, minimum headroom, and the maximum distance before a landing is required.

In an older home, replacement of the wood stairs and railing may be necessary for your family's safety.

Wood Stairs as Design Feature

Your wood stairs could be the first thing guests – or prospective buyers! – will see when they enter the foyer of your home. Why not make them an eye-catching design feature? Be sure that they complement the style and era of your home., whether historical, traditional, ultra contemporary, luxurious, rustic, beach cottage ... you name it.

Choose the type of wood for its looks as well as practicality. Hard varieties commonly used for flooring such as cherry, walnut, maple, or oak are equally suitable for stairs. If you already have hardwood floors in your home, you’ll probably want to install wooden staircases to coordinate. The stairs may be stained to show off the beauty of the wood, or painted, according to your personal taste. Custom or designer stairways in striking configurations, accented with lovely graceful wood handrails and banisters, are truly a unique piece of art.

Laura Firszt writes for

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