While on the face of its different types of staircases and railings might look like a simple affair, picking the right ones can get confusing. While various staircases and railings vary in make, material, and configuration, as well as the final design, also depends on safety regulations and climatic conditions.
An expert can quickly help you navigate the many daunting concepts but understanding how staircases work can expedite this process. When you know the different aspects of staircases and railings, you can pick what works best for you within your budget.
Understanding the different parts of a staircase:
A staircase is not designed or manufactured as a single unit. It is broken down into various components that are often manufactured separately and then put together. Here are some crucial components of a staircase you should know about:
1. Railing systems of a stairway
Railings are metallic contraptions that are placed on both sides of a staircase in order to fall-proof it. They need to be sturdy enough to be able to resist an external force while meeting certain decorative needs. Railing systems come in different makes that need to be chosen carefully with thoughtful consideration.
2. What is a baluster?
Balusters are the vertical poles, usually made in rounded vase-like shapes on railings. Balusters are popularly preferred in a stainless steel finishing or in a cast stone make. However, they are also made in carved stone, plaster, plastic, precast concrete, and wrought iron. The balusters are placed together parallelly to create decorative railings with intricate motifs, patterns, and finials. A modern stair railing uses a glass panel that holds the balusters together giving the balustrade a contemporary touch.
3. The difference between a bannister, baluster, stair handrail and railing
A railing or balustrade is made of vertical poles or balusters, that are held together by a bannister or a handrail. While these terms might seem unimportant, they help you narrow down the perfect staircase for your home or office space. Simply put, a stair handrail is what people hold on to while climbing up and down a staircase. A railing on the other hand creates a safety net along the entire staircase. Both the structures need to be sturdy to resist sudden external force as well.
4. Treads and nosing of a staircase
Often you will hear your architect speak of a tread, a riser, or a nosing. While the tread is the flat surface of a stair, the riser is its vertical portion and the nosing is the horizontal portion that juts out. Apart from the aesthetics, treads and nosing can help create sturdy staircases for pedestrian safety. The choice of material, their dimensions, and the weather conditions are some factors that can determine how fall-proof the stairs are. Moreover, it is important to note that the standard step height cannot be less than 4 inches or more than 7 inches, as per Chapter 10 of the International Building Code.
5. Fire escapes and access ramps
The purpose of the staircase- residential or commercial – will determine its design vis-a-vis safety compliance. Fire lanes and fire doors are crucial within commercial and larger residential establishments. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also specifies certain requirements that access ramps must meet. If your building or home is inaccessible through an elevator, consider installing access ramps.
Types of Staircases & Railings
Staircases come in all kinds of configurations. However, space optimisation, functionality, and aesthetic alignment are some factors to consider before narrowing down on a specific type of staircase and railing.
1. Straight Stairs
Straight stairs are fairly common and offer many advantages such as ease of access, construction, and design. However, they are suitable for spaces with a lot of linear space, especially if their vertical height is more than 12 feet. These are more suitable for commercial spaces where aesthetics or privacy is not a major concern and there is plenty of linear space for the construction.
2. L-shaped or U-shaped stairs
Spatial limitations of straight stairs can be overcome by adding an L-shaped configuration to the staircase. This is created by adding a landing that leads to a 90-degree bend. L-shaped stairs can be better suited to larger homes due to their contemporary aesthetics and can be adjusted in accordance with the home’s dimensions.
A 180-degree bend in the straight stairs can further ease any spatial restrictions. However, they are a little more difficult to build.
3. Winder or Spiral Stairs
Winder stairs are a more fluid form of the L-shaped stairs i.e. they are designed without a landing. They offer a rustic charm to the space, but adding handrails and navigating them can be a little more difficult.
Spiral stairs are a more flowing form of winder stairs i.e. they flow into a helical arc and don’t end after just one bend. They are compact and attractive, making them perfect for smaller spaces. However, they can be more difficult to navigate.
4. Cantilever stairs
One of the more aesthetic kinds of stairs, the treads in a traditional cantilever staircase are made to seem like they are floating in the air. This is done by attaching stair stringers to the treads. These stairs are charming, optimise space, and feel airy but need to be constructed following research and planning.
What is the best railing system?
What railing system works for you best will be determined by several factors such as functionality, decor, budget, and space. You can have them made in stainless steel, aluminium, wrought iron, and even wooden handrails.
1. Picket Stair Railing
Picket railings consist of parallelly placed vertical posts held together with a handrail. They can be made in either wood or iron which aren’t suitable materials for construction in coastal areas. However, they are economical, and easy to install and maintain.
2. Multi-line Stair Railing
Multi-line railings consist of multiple horizontal rods or tubes connected by vertical posts. They create a clean look but create a safety hazard when children climb up them.
3. Cable Stair Railing
Cable railings are made by attaching cables instead of rods or panels. They are strong, durable and easy to maintain, and versatile. However, they can be expensive and are prohibited by some local governments.
4. Panel Railing
Panel railings use glass panels instead of cables or pickets. They offer visibility, protection against wind, and aesthetic appeal. Even though they are easy to maintain, they are uneconomical.
Different Handrail Types
Handrails can either be mounted to the guardrail, attached to walls, or integrated into the top of the stair railing. They can be made from various materials depending on your needs and budget. It is recommended to check up on various building codes such as IBC, ADA, and OSHA before you narrow down on one and install it.
Configurations of various staircases and railings need to be considered not just for design implementation, but majorly for safety compliance. There can be a huge risk of falls if the staircase is not installed correctly or is made with incorrect materials. Moreover, the right configurations and styles can largely impact the visual appeal and life span of your staircase. Hence, it is important to understand the staircase terminology and research well before you narrow down on a particular type of staircase.