The Complete Staircase Buying Guide for Beginners

The addition or remodel of a staircase need not be a difficult undertaking, as long as the person planning and making it understands that it needs to be functional, safe and beautiful to look at. 

A functional staircase and safe staircase must follow the building requirements of the state and provide easy negotiable stairs from one level to the next. The design elements that make a staircase beautiful are the lines and form that will allow it to blend in with the rest of the indoor elements.

Staircase Building Choices

 There are two choices for those deciding to incorporate a staircase into their home. 

Firstly, if the design is complicated and requires built structures and special supports, the best solution is for an expert craftsman to take the project to completion from the building plans. In this event, the homeowner must be sure to choose someone with the right expertise in stair building and to get at least three bids.

However, many types of staircases can be bought as pre-built and ready-to-assemble units that are affordable, and easy to install by contractors or homeowners. 

Determining the Type of Staircase

When a new home is planned the best way to determine where a staircase is to be placed is best done by the architect. This ensures that every bit of space is utilized and that the staircase matches the rest of the home. 

In an existing home or one with a simple design, where there is no doubt as to where the staircase must be placed, and what shape it must be, then it’s easier to pick out and create a staircase in a do-it-yourself project. 

 Types of Stairs that are Easy to Build: 

Straight Staircase: This is the easiest and most affordable design to build, but needs quite a bit of floor space. 

180-degree Staircase: The stairs are divided by a landing, most often half way up, that reverses direction. They do take up space but are safe to climb. 

90-degree staircase: This type of stair makes a 90-degree turn at a landing and requires less space. 

Circular staircase: This staircase is characterized by a broad curve as it goes from one level to the next making it easy to climb.

Spiral Staircase: Two combinations of the spiral stair are: a centre pole that has steps radiating out from it, or a helix-style spiral with a curving center support that follows the sweeping twist of the stairs.

Buying Guide for a Straight Staircase 

These can either be built by a carpenter on-site or bought pre-made from manufacturers. They can be bought in sections that are ready to connect at landings or end-to-end. After the manufacturers get the measurements they are usually delivered within 2 weeks. They can be assembled in just over an hour by two people and the only tools needed are a hammer, level and drill.  The prices depend on the type of stairs ordered, and range from reasonable to expensive for custom designs. 

Some pre-built hardwood stairs come with pre-cut and pre-fitted numbered newel posts, railings and balusters, making their assembly very easy. Others have pre-assembled railing sections that can adjust to any stair slope.

There are even contemporary, open look staircases available that are easy to assemble at home. Their stair treads are held by single or paired stringers that are pre-welded to the treads. The stingers need to simply be bolted to the header and floor, and then the treads are bolted to the stringers.  Finally, the balusters are bolted to the treads and handrails, and the staircase is ready.

Buying Guide for a Spiral Staircase

This is the most popular staircase type available and comes in pre-built and knock-down kits.  Pre-built kits are more expensive but more durable. They are economical, both in price and in the amount of space that they use. They are especially popular for connecting basements or attics to the rest of a home and are often used as a secondary access to rooms. 

They are available in a variety of materials, including steel, aluminum, hardwoods and combinations of these. Many companies make both wooden and metal staircases, allowing homeowners to combine the materials to customize their design, while other manufacturers make only wood or only steel. 


Hardwoods are available in a huge variety that includes Red or White Oak, Poplar, Ash, Walnut, Mahogany, Cherry and other woods. The choice of finishes in the steel and aluminum stairs is also vast they are hot-dipped galvanized or color coated. 


There are numerous types of treads available. Flat, embossed, steel, hardwood, gratings, plywood, rubber and even a steel base that can be carpeted are some. There is even a model with illuminated, low-voltage tempered glass treads available. 

Diameter and Twist Direction

The diameter is important when a spiral staircase is ordered and so is the direction of the twist. The choices of twist are right hand railing up or left hand railing up. The standard diameters that are offered by most manufacturers are: 4 feet, 4 feet 4 inches, 5 feet, 5 feet 4 inches, 6 feet and 6 feet 6 inches. Anything smaller than 4 feet is not recommended for safety reasons. 

Prices vary from relatively cheap for kits with prices increasing for pre-built stairs. Kits may be cheaper to buy and ship, but installation may require the help from a couple handymen. 

Buying Guide for a Circular Staircase

These types of staircases are usually built at construction in more expensive homes. If the staircase is not constructed by a builder there are complete pre-assembled units available. Their installation needs to be supervised by the company and the curved walls are built by a carpenter after the installation. There are also disassembled pre-built units and one piece units that need a crane to lift them for installation because of their weight. 

Manufacturers of pre-built staircases have tapped into the DIY market and made it easier for homeowners to put together their own by designing units that are beautiful and easy to install.

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