Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stairways: Working with Your Contractor

Your home beautiful is just around the corner. You've selected your architect and your general contractor, and soon tradespeople will be appearing at your doorstep to put in those much-needed renovations. Now, it's about speaking their language so you can answer questions intelligently and get the results you want.

One key area that takes special crafting is your stairway. You can keep an eye on how things are progressing if you know the basics of stairway construction.

Learning the Lingo

Like any craft, building stairways has its own jargon. Learn the most common terms here.

Tread: The part of the step that is stepped on.

Riser: The vertical portion of the step between steps.

Balustrade: Refers to the collection of newels, balusters and handrail on a staircase.

Handrail: The horizontal member of a balustrade system that sits on top of the balusters and is supported by newel posts.

Balusters: Vertical posts which help support the handrail and comprise an integral design element in the formation of the balustrade.

Newel Posts: Located at the bottom and top of a staircase, and positioned at turns and support positions for the balcony rail, these posts form the major support of the balustrade system.

Nosing: The portion of a tread or landing tread which protrudes beyond the face of the riser.

Bullnose: The wider, rounded portion of a first step of a stairway that is open on one or both sides.

Run: The horizontal distance measured by the entire stairway.

Stringers: A supporting structure which runs the length of the stairway and supports the treads, risers, and balustrade system.

Staying in Step with the Workers

Now that you know what the workers are talking about, you can also know what they're doing with the tips below.

1. Make sure the contractor has checked the local building codes. Building code requirements for stairs vary from town to town, and you want to be sure you're in compliance.

2. Confirm correct stairwell dimensions. You may see measurements on a blueprint, but it wouldn't hurt to check the numbers again when the workers aren't around. You don't have to say anything if they're right; if they need correcting, you've just saved yourself some money.

3. Follow standard rules of thumb: Check the charts as well for stair parameters. Stair rise should be no higher than 7-5/8 inches, and the stair tread no more narrow than 10 inches. You'll ensure there's no stumbling when guests are over.

4. Choosing the material: Use specially crafted parts, especially for the weight bearing parts such as stair treads. If any wood will be exposed, you'll want to find a grain that harmonizes with your taste and d├ęcor.

5. Fasteners and adhesives: Ask your contractor if they intend to "glue and screw," and not just provide one or the other. This extra connecting power will help keep the stairway from creaking.

6. Strength and noise: Once the stairway is built, take a few moments to run up and down it before any carpeting or staining takes place. Be sensitive to bounciness or squeaks. This is the one and only time they can be dealt with affordably.

It's your house, and your involvement helps ensure things are done right. And, you'll enjoy your new stairway all the more knowing what's gone into it.

About The Author
Shawn Capell is the cofounder of Stair Warehouse. Stair Warehouse specializes in beautiful American Cherry stair parts, ornamental contemporary and iron balusters and Newel Posts. Visit them today at to find Stair Treads at warehouse pricing!

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