So, how do I build a staircase?

I’m sure my architect must have thought he was being super cool and trendy when he came up with the concept of sloping the corridor that runs through the middle of the house, and I have to admit I liked the idea when he first suggested it.

Well these ‘architecty’ ideas may be all very well on paper, but who ever thinks about the practicalities of decorating. I decided I want to contrast my slate floor with some wood, but have you ever tried getting wooden planks to bend downhill?

I hadn’t actually given it a thought when I ordered the flooring. Fortunately I bought engineered board, which does have a degree of flexibility, but only because that’s what’s recommended for use with underfloor heating. It was good luck not good planning. And even with that little bit of bendiness, laying a wood floor on a slope is not a job for the fainthearted. Particularly as the unevenness of the concrete in my barn means my floor doesn’t just slope downhill from top to bottom; it also randomly slopes from side to side as well. Oh, and I had to work out how to get it to go round a corner too… Cue a lot of swearing, a fair few bruises and, being very girly about this, lots of broken nails.

Still, it went down a whole lot quicker than the slates did, and wasn’t anywhere near as messy to put down (or clean up afterwards!) And it made a huge difference to the look of the place.

So now the only thing left in terms of floors downstairs was a few steps… There is a reason for the slope in the corridor – pretty much every room in the house is on a different level. Aside from the bog standard straight staircase connecting the ground floor and the master bedroom suite, there are actually 10 other sets of steps in the house. Some of them, like the couple of steps up from the main entrance in the bothy and the steps down into the music room, had been put in when the concrete screed was poured – so all I’d had to do was put down slates to finish them off.

The steps from the corridor up to the kitchen were put in when the first concrete (before the finishing screed) was poured.  But that was done by Mr Incompetent Builder – the one that I sacked – which meant I had six steps, all different, with heights varying from 5-25cm and treads varying from 24-30cm. Not exactly the look I was aiming for, and highly unlikely to be passed by any pernickety building warrant inspectors who may happen to drop in.

So first job was to swot up on the building regs regarding staircases – minimum tread, maximum rise, how to calculate every step was exactly the same height, (clearly Mr IB didn’t read this chapter of the regs). And all of this can be a bit of a challenge when building off a sloping subfloor………a whole heap of things to figure out before just going out and buying a load of timber.

After mulling over the mess Mr Incompetent Builder had made of the kitchen steps, I came up with a cunning plan. I would turn 6 steps into 7 slightly shallower ones, by building a wooden frame and filling it with concrete, and then laying slates. How simple is that?

Elsewhere was not so straightforward. From the corridor down to the living room there was a small cliff-face, 4m wide, that needed steps, and similar going up into the TV room. I’d originally had very grand ideas about having solid oak steps built, but by this stage, the bank manager was not my friend. So I had to fall back on Plan B – out with the trusty old ‘Practical Housebuilding’ book, and a bit of DIY – Building a staircase – well how hard can it be?

First off, I went out and bought me a new toy; because it doesn’t matter how much I mark it off or how slowly I go, I can never make a totally square cut in a bit of wood. And wonky stairs because I can’t saw straight was not a good idea – well with this little beastie, problem solved!


I then I sat down with my calculator and a pencil and paper, trying to work out the whole tread/riser/wonky floor thing. And came up with a design that I have a suspicion is massively over-engineered! So terrified that it won’t be strong enough, I think I probably unnecessarily killed half a rainforest in the construction…

Still, when the frame was in place and I’d plasterboarded the risers, used up the leftover flooring on the treads, and added a natty but of trim to finish it off, you have to admit the finished result is impressive – if I do say so myself.

Another skill to add to the CV……!

2 thoughts on “So, how do I build a staircase?

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