Many builders are learning the hard way that staircase design and installation requires close attention and preparation. There are not many joinery items in a home that must be installed with zero tolerance, stairs are one.

Over the last few years, many staircases have been reworked or removed because of minimal (in some cases 1mm) variation in the rise, handrail or balustrading heights. Whether a staircase is timber, steel or concrete with tiles the same rules apply.

Rob Beard, the Director of S & A Stairs and Chairman of the technical Committee of Staircase and Balustrading Association of Australia has outlined some points to consider when considering the next staircase.

Designing a staircase
Rob Beard, the Director of  S & A Stairs and Chairman of the technical Committee of Staircase and Balustrading Association of Australia, says as time and architecture has evolved, the staircase has become a fundamental element of the architectural design. A well-designed staircase makes a powerful statement aesthetically while still needing to functionally perform.

The staircase design must meet technical requirements that ensure safe and functional construction that complies with the Building Code of Australia and the appropriate Australian Standards.

Also, with the introduction of more socially responsible building standards that require continuous handholds thus allowing better and safer access to buildings for the disabled and visually impaired, the importance of staircase design allowing for handrail installation has never been better.

Staircases perform many functions in a home. The staircase allows simple and economical access between floor levels or can make a statement that enhances the architectural style of a home. For example, contemporary glass balustrade designs allow for an openness that is in demand.

The influences at work when managing the spaces in and around the stairwell can be complex. As an example, designing the final layout of a feature staircase can create conflict between spaces in a dwelling.

Each space has a function, it maybe a narrow hallway, a doorway under the staircase or breathing space from the front door. Often a stairbuilder finds them the negotiator seeking a harmonious outcome that benefits all stakeholders and allows each space to function as it was intended.

Entry and exit points of a staircase must be will managed and need to take in account a dwellings heavy line of traffic. Small design adjustments here can significantly decrease the occupant’s travel distance.

While the modern trend is minimalistic in its style using glass, stainless steel, stainless steel wires and simple square timber components, there is nothing new in stair building styles and all these components have been used before.

Therefore, it is important that the style of stair compliments the interior of the home where the stair is located. This will minimise the risk of having a stair or balustrade that is out of kilter with the rest of the house.

Also the modern staircase must be able to marry these materials while considering the structural requirements and the stress and strains the particular staircase may be putting on to an existing or new structure.

It is important that builders, architects, designers and owners are clear on the product that the stair builder is to provide. Fortunately, modern technology provides these customers with a world of information through the internet.

It is essential that the stair builder is able to replicate the desired result and should be able to showcase their work through the company’s website or a showroom. A reputable and experienced stair builder can advise customers on what styles of stairs and balustrades will enhance the proposed design or existing design of their house.

Current trends are returning to a simpler and cleaner design with straight sanitised lines. Stairs tend to have square instead of rounded nosings with treads butting up against walls without the use of the tradition wall stringer.

Treatment to the outside of the stair is square cut stringers without any of the traditional decorative work such as tread brackets and scotia moulds. In terms of balustrade, the move has been right away from decorative timber balusters to simple square balusters, usually of a smaller size such as 32mm x 32mm.

Stainless steel has become the ideal balustrade material. This may be in the form of vertical balusters, stainless steel wires with staunchions and in some cases, stainless steel handrail. Toughened glass as a balustrade component, used in conjunction with stainless steel and/or timber, can make up approximately ten percent of balustrade, despite the high costs.

Maximum importance needs to be given to ensure it complies with the Building Code of Australia and the appropriate Australian Standards. Staircases by their nature can be a hazardous and litigatious component of any building project. Therefore, care should be taken when engaging and informing the stair builder of your needs.

It is essential that the stair builder is aware of all aspects of what is required of them and are provided with whatever information they require from the builder etc. Specifically the stair builder must be aware of the floor finishes to the adjacent floor areas to ensure that the riser heights throughout the stair are uniform and that level handrail meets a minimum height of 1m above the finished floor levels.