A new staircase

A new staircase

A new staircase is normally installed as part of a major renovation to provide access to a new floor of the house or when a staircase is moved. Existing stairs rarely fall into such disrepair that they need to be replaced, so it’s not an improvement many people would tackle. Installing anything other than a very simple straight-run staircase isn’t a d-i-y job, if only because the job of raising the assembled stairs into position means having the right access equipment and a block and tackle, as well as strength and plenty of confidence. The other method of building a staircase, constructing it on site, is a skilled job for a professional joiner.

If you do decide to do it yourself, you’ll need professional advice on the design with special reference to the provision for bearings. Any project will need Building Regulations approval.

The Regulations

The Building Regulations in England and Wales and in Scotland are strict about staircases and give precise requirements for the headroom, width, depth of tread and so on. Winders which are often necessary to fit a staircase into a tight space are very strictly controlled – at their narrowest end the treads cannot be less than 75mm



All stairs which are not enclosed by walls on each side must have a balustrade to guard the outer string and landings. If the existing balustrade is old and decrepit or simply old-fashioned replacing it is an improvement that can make a dramatic difference to the hall. In some new stair systems – particularly metal and spiral staircase kits —the balustrade is incorporated in the construction. Otherwise you will have to add an appropriate balustrade.

For safety reasons, the general design is governed by Building Regulations, which set out the dimensions – see below.

The regulations are usually met by


Stair dimensions are strictly controlled by the Building Regulations.       Under stair construction.

A handrailwith baluster spindles not more than 100mm apart.

Asolid panel balustrade has stiffening battens for strength.

Parallel rails can be installed below  handrail—again the gaps may not exceed 1 00mm.

having a handrail which runs between sturdy newels (to which it is fixed with a dowelled mortise-and-tenon joint) and filling the space below by vertical balusters, horizontal rails or solid panels. Additional support for the handrail is provided by the balusters themselves, or by vertical stiffeners for rails or panels.

Full height balustrade Although the Building Regs require a handrail at 840mm, there is no need for the banister to stop at this height – an open staircase can be completely partitioned off with tongued and grooved boarding to create a boxed staircase, perhaps with a door at the base of the stairs. Or the banisters can be continued up to the ceiling with a handrail fixed at the appropriate height to the banister or the side wall.

Fitting a balustrade

A cheap and simple balustrade can be made using a handrail moulding, and fitted to the newels with dowelled mortise-and-tenon joints. At the top, if there is no newel, the rail can be housed directly into the wall, or fitted into a false newel screwed to the wall. Turned balusters are often available secondhand from demolition contractors. New ones can be cut from lengths of 32mm or 25mm square softwood batten, with their tops sawn to the rake of the stair. These are then housed into the string of the stair and skew-nailed to the underside of the rail. Or, you can fit panels of 9mm plywood or rails of 19mm or 25mm softwood. (Note that as balusters are simply skew-nailed to the underside of the rail, they are remarkably easy to remove and refit – to strip off layers of paint for instance.)

The balustrade for a straight run stair is relatively simple. It becomes more complicated to arrange when the stair has landings or winders. Here, the handrail has to be fitted to two sides of the newel and incorporate a change of level.

Because of this, a kit system balustrade which consists of a range of matched, interchangeable components, is often the best solution. Although these are more expensive, they have simplified jointing and are very much easier to construct. They are also more attractive, with decoratively turned spindles and newels in hardwood or softwood.

Normally, the newels are in sections. A plain basepiece can be jointed to the string and floor joists as required, then topped with an upper section to suit the handrail. (An existing plain newel can be cut short just above the string and used as a base for a new upper section.)

The handrail in a kit may be fitted into the newels with mortise-andtenon joints, as in the basic construction, or be continuous and dowel- jointed on top of the newels using special end and corner sections.

With a kit a new bottom rail is fittedto the top of the string. This rail and the underside of the handrail have channels to house the baluster spindles. When the spindles are cut to length and to suit the rake of the stair, they fit into these channels without the need for further jointing. The intervening spaces between spindles are trimmed with fillets to cover the open channel.


Stair carpet

Carpeting a staircase means that it is quieter. It is also desirable because the covering protects the treads fromwear.

Stairs get much rougher treatment than rooms and are also a potential accident area so it is essential that the carpet is well secured. Most stair carpet requires a separate underlay and you should use foam-backed carpet only if it is specifically sold for stairs. If you do use foam-backed stair carpet you would need either to use stair rods or to stick it down permanently with adhesive; double-sided adhesive carpet tape doesn’t have sufficient holding power for stairs and the special purpose stair grippers sold for foam- backed carpet may not be adequate forstair-grade carpet. In any case any movement of the carpet is likely to damage the backing.

Fitted or Runner?

Carpets for stairs can be fitted wall-to- wall or be centrally-placed runners.

Carpet runners are simpler and quicker to lay than fitted stair carpet as they are easier to manoeuvre into place and there is little, if any, cutting involved. Runners also have the advantage that they can be moved up and down to distribute the wear more evenly and as a runner is not made to measure it can be moved more easily to another house – most fitted stair carpets are sold with the house.

Measuring up

The easiest way to measure the length of stairs is to run a piece of string over each tread and riser – following the outline of any curved nosings carefully and taking the largest dimensions of winder treads. If the stairs are to be covered by a runner, add an extra half metre so that you can reposition the carpet occasionally to distribute wear across the whole length rather than concentrate it on the treads. With fitted carpet, check the width of the stairs in several places. Plan to have any seams in the angles between the treads and the risers. If you use a seam on a runner, you won’t be able to reposition it.

Fitted carpet

Step 1

Fix gripper strips to the back of each tread and bottom of each riser so that the pins face into the stair angles. Leave agap between each pair of grippers equal to about twice the thickness of the carpet (take the guesswork out of the spacing by using a homemade wooden spacer as a gauge). Alternatively, use special- purpose right-angled metal stair grippers. Fix additional grippers to the outside edges of winder treads. Tack a section of underlay over each tread and down the riser below. Leave the internal stair angles between grippers uncovered.

Step 2

Leave the landing carpet with a section long enough to bring over the top stair secure to the gripper on the highest riser. Cut the carpet roughly to shape and loose lay it with the pile facing downwards to improve wearability.

Working from the bottom of the stairs, ensure the carpet is absolutely straight as you pull it taut overeach tread. Use  knee kicker to stretch the carpet towards each stair angle and hook it between the grippers with a thin piece of wood. Trim the carpet as you progress up the stairs until you join up with the landing carpet atthe angle of the top stair. Use separate pieces of carpet foreach winding stair. Fix them between the gripper strip on the winder tread and the one on the riser below. If you have a half landing, treat it as two Sets of stairs.


Step 1

You can use stair rods but gripper strips give a neater finish. Cut the gripper strips 40mm shorter than the width of the carpet and use tacks top and bottom. Use your fingertips to position the carpet centrally.

Step 2

You need to lay  runner in one piece in order to move it as it becomes worn. Fold the 0’5m wear allowance under at the bottom riser and tread and use the extra thickness as underlay. When you later move the carpet up to distribute wear you must then insert strips of underlay on the bottom stair.

Atwinder stairs, take up the carpet slack by making a series of folds against the riser. Instead of using a gripper strip atthe base of this riser, secure the carpet with 40mm non-rusting tacks.

Carpet runners are simpler and quickerto lay than fitted stair carpet as they are easier to manoeuvre into place and there is little, if any, cutting involved.



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