Nick Rackham of Complete Stair Systems explains why housebuilders and developers need to consider investing in custom-made staircases, and how they can do so on a budget.
A staircase is generally the first feature on view when entering a property, creating the opportunity for a wonderful first impression. Having a specially designed staircase in the hallway can further increase this effect, while enhancing the style of the property.
While choosing the right stair is an important decision for any housebuilder, margins are often strict, so it’s vital to understand how bespoke a staircase your budget will stretch to.
A closed softwood flight with carpeted treads and risers might be the most economical choice, but would it give the right impression? There are a few key elements that affect the price of a more custom-made flight with open risers.
Shape and form
The simpler the shape of the staircase, the cheaper the cost of the flight. A straight flight staircase is therefore the cheapest to produce, followed by a quarter turn (90 degrees) and a half turn (180 degrees).
Spiral staircases (steps arranged around a central pillar) can be fairly cost-effective, depending on the materials used. The most expensive option is to add curves to the staircase, whether in a complete curve (helical shaped), or just a swooping entrance. While a curved stair can look stunning, it will definitely come at a significant cost.
Above and beyond the conventional double timber stringer construction, there are many other ways the steps of the staircase can be supported. Steel is very popular, as a smaller structure can support a greater weight and therefore appear less bulky than timber. Steel stringers can be cut to a certain shape, or can be located under the centre of the stair to form a spine.
Treads and balustrades
Hardwood treads are generally the choice for most custom-made staircases, but glass, granite and stone are popular.
Conventional timber spindles tend to be the standard choice of balustrade on a basic softwood stair. For a more modern, open and light feel however, a custom-made flight is likely to have a glass balustrade, stainless steel spindles or rails.
Glass is extremely popular and is generally held in place between timber or steel newel posts, or bolted to the edge of the stringers or treads to give a frameless ‘no newel’ appearance.
Horizontal rails are attractive and a little less costly than glass, but check your building inspector is happy with them before purchasing. They can be viewed as forming a ‘ladder’ in effect, and are therefore climbable.
Spindles are available on more custom-made staircases and are often constructed in steel or stainless steel. They are also generally thinner in profile than their traditional timber counterparts. The cost of spindles will likely be less than glass, depending on their finish.
Many custom-made modern staircases have open risers to allow light to pass through. Building Regulations stipulate that the gap between each step cannot exceed 100 mm for safety reasons. All specialist companies will be aware of the regulations and will have solutions to reduce the gap, but if they have many methods to do this they might not include the cost in the quote. Instead, they might list and cost the options separately, so check the quotation carefully.
Another item to consider that can add considerably to the costs is the requirement of any landing balustrade. This is to protect around voids over the stairwell, and is generally protected with balustrade matching the staircase. A company is likely to price this per metre, so be sure to work out how many metres you need and calculate accordingly.
Installation is another cost to be factored into the staircase budget. Most companies will offer a cost for supply only and/or supply and install, giving you the option of self-assembly. Given that many of the custom-made staircases are straightforward to fit, it might well be a more economical option to install yourself, but make sure you get a price if not. Any install price a company provides will most likely be a little inflated when including travel and accommodation (if applicable).
To keep your new staircase within a respectable budget, the best advice is to keep the design simple. The most economical option would be a traditional straight flight formed with softwood treads and stringers and ply risers. This style however is unlikely to provide the same impact as a custom-made design.
If you are looking for something a little more striking and modern, in keeping with your new build, it’s advisable to gather some inspiration from the internet and trade shows. It is important to prioritise the list of the elements and materials you would really like to have (for example oak treads, glass balustrade), and be prepared that you might have to make sacrifices to meet your budget. For example, opting for stained beech rather than walnut steps, or perhaps having a stud wall at first floor level instead of matching glass balustrade.
If you can, influence the design at an early stage. Try to specify a straight flight configuration, or at least stay away from curves. Your architect should be able to give you an indication of costs at this stage, before you filter down your selection and contact some specialist companies for a precise quotation.
When getting quotations, ensure they are for a ‘like for like’ product and check if the price includes fitting or is supply only. It can also be helpful to check if it is possible to see the product in a property or a showroom to satisfy yourself with the quality before proceeding.
There are more specialist staircase companies operating in the UK than ever before, each with some wonderful designs. Enjoy gathering inspiration, but remember, the more ambitious the design and shape and the more unusual the materials, the more the price of the stair is likely to soar.
Nick Rackham is managing director of Complete Stair Systems