Is Staircase Renovation Greener than Replacement?

If your staircase needs maintenance or you’re buying an older home with an equally old staircase, consider staircase renovation instead of replacing it.

staircase renovation

If you’ve just invested in a home that was built years ago and has intricate detail on every surface, you should aim to keep as much of it as you can. Many older houses have a large, grand staircase as their centerpiece, and you should therefore consider a staircase renovation instead of replacing it with something more modern looking.

It can be tempting to replace them. Many older staircases are worn beyond repair and can be too steep for modern regulations. However, there are some simple solutions which mean you don’t have to expensively gut it out and fit in a new staircase. This will also mean you’re avoiding the creation and use of new materials, and you’ll have a fresh new staircase which is consistent with the character of the rest of the house.

Staircase renovation is the greenest option when dealing with a staircase in need of some care and attention, so here’s some advice to make sure it all goes according to plan.

If your staircase is beyond repair and staircase renovation isn’t an option, replace it with one that fits the original design

This can help reduce the amount of alterations you make to the rest of the house to accommodate a different size or shape of staircase. This can sometimes prove to be a bit tricky though if you formerly had quite a steep staircase. Newly built staircases need to comply with building regulations, which include:

  • A maximum pitch of 42°
  • A minimum of 2000mm of headroom above the pitch line
  • A minimum tread width of 220mm
  • A maximum rise between each step of 220mm
  • A maximum gap between balusters of 100mm

As long as your old staircase was within those limits, you should aim to keep to the original design. Serious structural problems with period staircases are quite rare, so hopefully you’ll be able to just stick to a staircase renovation.

Worn steps are extremely common and extremely simple to put right

You can easily repair worn treads from above without much fuss. Click here for the full, detailed method of how to do it. It can be a longwinded and time-consuming job, but you should be able to do it yourself if you have the right tools. It’s just a case of cutting away and filing down the worn areas and gluing some new hardwood in its place. Indeed, it doesn’t sound like that big a job, but even smaller homes probably have a staircase with at least 10-12 steps to work on.

The front edge of each step, also known as the nose, is the most likely part of a staircase to get worn, damaged and split over time as they bear the brunt of people’s feet. Therefore, if you’d rather hire a professional, you shouldn’t find it too difficult to find one who can do it. Staircase renovation is meant to be the greener option of restoring your staircase to its former glory, so there’s no shame in hiring someone else to do it for you if you’re unsure of how to do it properly!

In part 2 of our guide to staircase renovation, we will discuss sorting out your creaky floorboards and why it’s an important safety issue that damaged or missing balusters and wobbly handrails are seen to as soon as possible.

Creaky floorboards can be annoying, but not annoying to fix

The reason that most staircases have a few creaky steps is because of wood rubbing against each other where it has warped or become misshapen over time. If your stairs are exposed underneath, this part of staircase renovation can be very simple to rectify. But if that’s not possible, you’ll have to fix them from the top. As this detailed article states, you could sort this out at the same time as replacing any carpeting because it’s possible you’ll have to tear it up anyway to get to the squeaky stair underneath.

Hopefully your squeaky stair is solvable by simply drilling in a screw. It’s actually possible to do this without having to detach the carpet first. If you locate the exact location of the squeaky spot, with a special kind of drill attachment you can shoot a screw through carpets without making any visible damage to it on the way through. You’ll need to make sure it goes into the riser nearest to the squeak source.

Repairing balusters is the most important part of staircase renovation

If you have small children it’s important they can’t fall through broken or missing balusters, which makes this bit of staircase renovation very important. Not only are they dangerous if not fixed, but they make an otherwise gorgeous staircase look abandoned and neglected. Fortunately it’s generally very easy to change this. You might be lucky enough to find new balusters which match your current ones, but this isn’t a very common occurrence. Styles and trends change year on year, so it’s unlikely you’ll find a DIY store or local professional who’ll have what you need.

But that’s not the end of the world. Many local tradesmen will be able to build and shape new ones which are identical to the ones you currently have. As long as you don’t mind supplying a sample of one for them to work with, preferably one that’s complete and isn’t broken, they’ll be able to fix you with some fresh new balusters consistent with what you’ve already got. This isn’t the greenest thing to do, but when the safety of young children comes into the mix you’ll have to sacrifice some of that.

A wobbly handrail needs immediate attention if you have older relatives living with you

Repairing a wobbly handrail is as important during staircase renovation as sorting out your balusters. If an elderly or disabled relative or friend grabs hold of a handrail which isn’t fitted into the wall sturdily they could easily fall back down and injure themselves. In most homes, handrails are made of wood and are attached to the stair wall in brackets. Hopefully it’s just a case of some loose screws which need tightening up, as this is often the case. If so, you won’t have to replace the handrail with a new one. However, if the problem is more severe than that you may have to follow some more complicated steps. Staircase renovation is normally a simple task, but unfortunately there are times when it isn’t.

Image: Gabriel Pollard

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