Outdated stairs are not a lost cause. Before considering a whole staircase remodel or replacement, there may be cosmetic changes that could be made to improve the appearance of the staircase before making structural changes to improve the functionality of the stairs.
Deciding what the ultimate goal is and looking at the costs to complete the staircase remodel will help frame the decision about how to move forward with the project.
How Do You Remodel Stairs?
That’s the million-dollar question, really (and don’t worry, that’s not a budget estimate). Staircases are the sum of their parts, and each of those parts presents an opportunity for a refresh that may help retain the value of your home. Staircases are more than just a large structure used to move from one level of a house to another. They can be a major decorative element in a home.
Your staircase remodel may be superficial, but still visually effective, like painting spindles, re-staining treads, and risers, or adding or removing a carpet runner. It may involve carpentry work, like replacing the handrails, newel posts, and spindles for a different profile or materials upgrade. Or, it may be structural—making major changes to the bones of the staircase and the walls it’s housed within.
Understanding the various project scopes from the outset can help you not take on more than you intend, while also helping ensure that the selected home improvements are worth your time and money.
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Staircase Elements and Materials
Being familiar with essential staircase anatomy can help refine project goals and have productive conversations when getting estimates for the job. The focus here will be on interior stairs, as outdoor staircases materials, pricing, and regulations will differ even though the two share elements.
The stair tread is the part of the stair that is stepped on and what is likely pictured when thinking of stairs. They’re often made of wood, although they may have another finish layer on top, such as tile or carpet.
Stair risers are the vertical pieces that connect the treads—the piece of the staircase in front of your toes as you’re walking up. Risers might be made of wood or an engineered wood product for extra strength.
Spindles, aka Balusters
Spindles, a term used interchangeably with balusters, are the parts that go from the stair treads to the handrail to create the side of a stairway where there’s not a wall. There are a variety of materials to use that will suit the style of the home. More traditional staircases might have wooden spindles, while a more modern aesthetic might use metal.
This part is simply the rail where you put your hands. There may be more than one handrail piece in staircases with turns or angles. Wood, composite, and metal are all standard, although, like other parts of a staircase, there is room for creativity.
Newel Posts and Post Caps
The heftier vertical posts that go in line with the spindles and create endings to the railing are the newel posts, and the post cap is the decorative element that tops the newel post. If the staircase has an open side with a railing, the newel post will be at the base of the staircase, as well as at any turns or landings along the way, as handrails start and end in newel posts. Materials mirror those of spindles.
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Estimating Project Scope and Cost
Being familiar with these parts of the staircase, individually or together, can be helpful when deciding on design and organization of the remodel—even if it’s being done piecemeal. For example, refinishing the stair treads now and replacing the spindles and handrail later, or repainting the whole staircase so it has an updated look until replacing it is affordable might be budget-friendly options.
• Using paint made to withstand the wear and tear this high-traffic area is prone to is essential for the paint job to be long lasting. Look for floor, deck, or heavy-duty paint. Water-based, not oil-based paints, will prevent discoloration, especially on light colors.
• Other important considerations in painting stairs are proper preparation (cleaning and sanding), protecting neighboring surfaces, and priming the stairs so the paint will adhere correctly.
• For DIY projects, materials are the main costs and can be between $175 and $350.
◦ An average indoor residential staircase will require one gallon of paint at $30 to $40 per gallon. If the handrail, spindles, and/or newel posts will be a different color than the treads or risers, an additional gallon of paint will be needed. Polyurethane, at about $50 per gallon, will help protect the new paint finish.
◦ Other necessary materials, if they aren’t already owned, are sandpaper, paint rollers or brushes, tape, and drop cloths, costing about $45 to $70.
◦ Priming will add about $25 to $30 dollars to the job, including the cost of additional rollers and brushes.
◦ Depending on the state of the current stairs, allot $25 to $100 for solvents, carpet removal, and cleaning supplies.
• To hire a professional to complete the work, the cost may range from $350 to $400 and will depend on the finishes chosen.
• Another option for changing the color of a staircase, refinishing requires additional time and materials. It might also seem like a more daunting task than painting for some people.
• Involves stripping off the current finish with solvents and sanding, which is easier to do on flat stair treads than turned spindles or even vertical risers.
• Refinishing the spindles or handrail won’t involve much extra cost, but will take extra time.
• Materials will be similar to those required for painting, with some additions.
◦ Use of a chemical solvent ($40 per gallon) and plastic scraper is recommended to strip the original finish. Solvent manufacturers recommend using heavy-duty rubber gloves and a respirator mask in a well-ventilated area when using these products, which might cost approximately $45.
◦ Tack cloth to clean up after sanding.
◦ Staining will show imperfections in the finished product that painting might hide, so preparation is doubly important if going this route. A power sander will make the job easier and faster. This piece of equipment can be rented for about $15 per day or purchased for about $50.
• Hiring a professional to do this work will range in cost from $60 to $75 per hour, and can take about two hours to complete a staircase with 10 treads.
Replacing Staircase Components
• Swapping elements like spindles, newel posts and caps, or handrails for a different style can change the overall look of a staircase.
• Replacing carpet-covered treads with a stained-wood tread, or vice versa, can help rectify an outdated look.
• If the staircase has historic elements, getting spindles or other pieces to match other elements in the home might require custom work if replacements can’t be found through architectural reuse or salvage sources.
• Costs to replace parts of a staircase will vary depending on what is being replaced.
◦ Every job will include costs for tools, prep and finish materials, and disposal of old materials.
◦ Hiring a carpenter is approximately $45 per hour.
◦ Midrange costs for unfinished wood replacement parts are approximately $100 per newel post, $7 per spindle, $30 per stair tread, $18 per stair riser, and $8 per foot of handrail.
• Completely replacing a staircase is logistically and financially complex.
• It can be a necessary option when faced with structural changes or a complete design overhaul.
• Consulting a building or remodeling professional, such as a licensed construction engineer or residential architect, about safety and fire code and potential structural implications for the home is a good step to take.
• Using midrange materials, the cost of a new staircase averages around $1,800 to $3,500, depending on its location in the house, design specifics, and finishes. Labor would be an additional cost.
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The average cost to remodel a staircase varies greatly according to the scope of the project, from basic repainting to a total replacement. But there are many budget-friendly changes you can make so your staircase will contribute, rather than detract, from your home’s style.
Is your goal to make the space to feel brighter, more open, unique? Making less-expensive changes, like fresh paint or new spindles can completely change the feel of a staircase—and the living space that surrounds it, making a house feel like a home.
Simple updates may be manageable using money set aside in a savings account, and avoiding taking on debt to pay for renovations is always ideal. But for larger upgrades to something like a staircase, extra funding might be necessary. A home improvement loan could be the thing that makes it possible for your staircase to become a showcase.
SoFi offers unsecured, fixed-rate personal loans that offer lower interest rates than you’ll typically find with credit cards. Checking your rate takes just two minutes.
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