Posts Tagged ‘Stairs’

Where you will not save money when remodeling your stairs

Friday, April 27th, 2012

What you are about to read is going to save many stair remodels and a fair amount of cash. This is important for anyone who is going to be involved in a stair remodel or upgrade in the near future. It addresses an issue that frequently comes up when I meet with clients about their stair project. It may be a hard one to grasp as it has become second nature to want to recycle, re-use and re-purpose the things we would have easily thrown away twenty years ago.


It is not cost-effective to re-use existing stair parts. You will not save money if you re-use the old handrail, balusters or newel posts. Now, realize that I know you are looking at your existing stair case and thinking, “These still look pretty good. I bet they would be fine if I just replaced the treads…”. Yup, when I first began doing stair remodels I, too had a problem tearing apart a perfectly good stair case and tossing it out. I tried to save parts and reuse them and wound up wasting a lot of time with a bunch of used and useless stair parts in my workshop.

Here’s why:

When a staircase system gets built, it is a custom job. Each staircase has its own particularities and unique assemblage. When a stair guy is building a staircase he is always thinking and planning ten steps ahead. Sometimes building stairs can be a very complex task because there is more than one way to approach an installation. Each piece gets cut, assembled and sanded to the requirements each installation step demands. Sometimes you have to tweak a fitting or handrail to make it fit. One side may require a little more sanding than the other. Balusters and newel posts get cut to different lengths. A stair case is NOT a fit-and-snap together system; all parts are not created equal (even though they do try). We stair guys are dealing with curves and angles that never line up perfectly. This is where experience, skill, know-how and a wicked sharp chisel come into play.

Custom Curvy Wrought Iron and Wood Stair Remodel

Every staircase remodel is a custom job.

Now imagine this, a staircase was built 20 yrs ago by somebody else doing the same thing as above, only he may or may not have had adequate experience and skill level. He may have had a different method of building all together than the way we do. With that said, take this stair system apart without breaking any parts and put it back together. Yeah…no.

Another problem faced when trying to use the old system is having different surfaces, textures and finish types sitting next to each other. Old stain with new stain will never be a perfect match. Compare it to building a house with used materials. Sure, it can be done but what will it look like? Like a house built with shabby used materials.

And here is a little known fact: The amount of time a carpenter must spend getting a used stair part to fit back into place and look decent can double or triple the time it takes to do a stair remodel with new materials. It actually ends up costing more and looking like you re-used materials to save money.

Now, I have a work shop full of used stair parts that keep me warm via the wood stove, and when we disassemble a staircase system (with care), most of it is re-usable and gets hauled off to a rebuilding center or Habitat for Humanity. And, I can sleep at night with a clean conscience.

So if you are planning to remodel or upgrade your stairs, keep in mind that the stair parts that are there now (handrail, newel posts and balusters), should not be re-used. Your budget is better spent elsewhere on the staircase.




5 Ways to Tell if Your Stairs Need Updating

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Fashion trends change with season. Home interior trends change about every decade.   This doesn’t mean that your home will need a new set of stairs every ten years. In this new economy, I have assisted many clients find cost-effective ways to improve/update/change the look of their stairs. This list was compiled from actual client experience. Enjoy…

Here are some tell-tale signs of stairs needing a bit of upgrading:
  1. Your staircase has a carpet-wrapped edge on each step. This makes a great cat scratching post, but really dates your staircase! One cost-effective option for this is tearing out that carpet and replacing it with beautifully stained wood end-caps with a new stair runner/carpet; this gives your staircase instant style.

    change carpet wrapped stairs with wood end-caps

    Carpet wrapped stairs on the left and Wood end-caps on the right.

  2. Your balusters and newel posts are generic and blah. The old ball top posts are a great design for ages 8 to 15 to swing off of, but also are very dated. If you have young ones, you can stop the use of your staircase being used as a jungle gym quite easily with this simple handling:
    A quick way to modernize this scene is to replace the balusters with simple (yet elegant) wrought iron. The newel post can also easily be replaced.   All of this can be accomplished without having to tear apart the stairs, thus making it much easier on the bank book, plus it can be accomplished quite quickly.

    Baluster Replacement photos

    Top: wooden balusters. Bottom: rubbed iron balusters

  3. Your stairs sag, squeak and creak. This is good for the parent with teens ages 16 to 18 at 1:00 a.m. either coming or going; however, it can be rather annoying any other time of the day. The remedy entails something a tad more invasive than mere cosmetic changes to your staircase. It could require a tread replacement/repair. It could just need a little reinforcing too, so be sure and ask a real stair guy!
  4. The finish or stain on your handrail and/or balusters are worn, dirty or chipped. When that “lived in” look becomes “run down”, you know you’ve got to take action!  If this is the scene in your home, I recommend the handling in #2, but if you love the balusters and handrail, then what you need is a REALLY good painter/finisher. Please do not try to refinish the wood on your own. It always looks unprofessional. Your stairs are the focal point of your home, as well as a major selling point.  Call a stair guy for a solid referral.
  5. Your staircase looks out of place with your more (ahem…) modern interior furnishings.Your stairs were probably constructed from basic stock materials and not intended to stand the test of time. Unfortunately, experience has taught me that they also don’t stand the test of quality either. The plus point here is you now have a solid justification to buy new furnishings now that you have upgraded your stairs. Reinforcing the stair system and doing a few cosmetic changes will breathe new life into dull stairs. Most stair system upgrades can be done in 1 or 2 days and cost a fraction of the cost that a new stair system would.

If you are interested in discussing/asking questions about your stair system, please comment and I will answer all questions.

Thank you for reading!

Shane Kenney