REPLACEMENT, FINISH, REMODEL, BUILD
In the United States, around:
That represents around 37 million homes in the country that have basements. That is 37 million homes that have a set of stairs down to their basement.
The importance of a properly-built set of stairs cannot be overstated. 12,000 Americans die each year from falling down the stairs. Obviously this is an extreme example, but it shows that stairs represent a major hazard. Basement stairs are more likely than others to fall into disrepute because they are often out of sight of the main part of the home.
This guide will discuss the process of upgrading your basement stairs, focusing on replacing, finishing, remodeling, and building. If you’re planning on using your basement as an additional usable space or just repairing a set of broken stairs, this guide will help you.
If your basement stairs are in a state of total disrepair, then replacement may be the only option left. Generally, if individual steps are broken or rotten, then it’s okay to repair it.
On average, stair repair costs around $50-$300 or $5-$8 per square foot. This does not include add-ons such as railings or finishes.
However, if there are extensive patches of rotten wood, then it is far safer to replace the whole staircase to avoid accidents in the future. If in doubt on how to handle stair replacement yourself, you can always hire a contractor to complete the work.
A contractor will usually be able to build a staircase fairly quickly over a couple of days, meaning the labor costs are relatively low.
In addition, you can buy pre-made staircases and simply install them yourself. Again, this does require some expertise in woodworking or construction and is best not done by an amateur for safety reasons.
THE COST OF BASEMENT STAIR REPLACEMENT
The average cost of basement stair replacement is between $850-$3,000. Factors that can contribute to the final price include the level of finish, how complicated the configuration is, and the quality of materials used. If you have grand design ideas in mind, this price could get much higher into the tens of thousands.
Pre-made staircases typically cost between $1,000-$2,000. This is before any finishing, additions such as railings, and installation.
If you do decide to replace your stairs, then you may need help with removing and disposing of the previous staircase. Again, if you are unsure, a professional will be able to help you. You should also check that you are disposing of any potentially hazardous material in a way that is allowed under your local city codes.
If you already have a set of stairs in your basement, it may simply be a case of finishing them. Most basement stairs are rudimentary and consist of bare, unpolished wood. One of the first things you can do to improve your basement is to finish the stairs to match the type of room you want to create. There are four common options for basement stair finishing.
Carpet has three main benefits on a set of stairs. First, they make the steps warmer and more inviting (particularly if the original stairs are concrete or cement). Second, it helps to protect the staircase against the weight of people moving up and down all day. Third, it can make stairs safer. When walking around in socks, it is much safer to walk up and down carpeted stairs than wood stairs, where you are more likely to slip.
If you do decide to go with carpet, you may want to factor in the need for regular carpet cleaning, especially if it becomes a high-traffic area.
Installing carpeting on stairs can be tricky. Again, if in doubt, get a professional contractor to do the work. If you install it improperly and it slips, it is a major falling hazard. For information on how to make your stairs safer for children and the physically disabled, go to our pages on home safety for kids and babyproofing and home safety for people with disabilities.
If you’re budget-conscious, or want a project you can complete yourself, carpet runners are a great option. This is a strip of carpet that runs up the middle of the stairs, with metal stoppers either side to hold the runner in place.
The benefit of runners is that you don’t have to worry about the exact width of your stairs since they don’t cover the whole stair anyway. You can very easily install runners yourself over the course of an afternoon.
Professional carpet runner installation costs around $350 for an average staircase with 13 steps. Things like padding and decorative accents will increase the final cost.
Painting your stairs to match the rest of the room will instantly make it appear more welcoming. If you have unfinished wood, you may need to sand down the surface and use a primer so that the paint holds.
Generally, you should aim to use a lighter color on stairs so that the treads are always visible, even in low light. Dark colors can confuse your eyes and lead to tripping.
If you want to retain some of the rustic feel of your basement, you can simply varnish the unfinished wood. This has the benefit of making the staircase bright, as well as adding a layer of protection.
Both painting and varnishing are easy enough projects for amateurs to complete.
Remodeling is a way to take the staircase you have and totally change its character, shape, and even direction. Practically, it falls between replacement and finishing a staircase.
The price range for a stair remodel is very broad as there is such a wide range of changes that constitute a remodel, from updating the railings (railings cost between $330-$600 on average) to a complete staircase overhaul, which can cost up to $20,000.
SOME OF THE THINGS YOU CAN DO WITH A REMODEL INCLUDE:
CHANGE OR INSTALL A RAILING
The railing often sets the character of a staircase. A simple railing made of wooden planks is often the default when it comes to basement stairs. However, these are usually easy enough to remove. Once you’ve done that, you can replace it with an updated railing that matches the decor of your home (or the intended decoration of your basement).
Be sure in all cases to check your local building codes, as unsafe railings can be extremely dangerous.
If you are feeling extremely advanced (or know a good contractor) you can install a floating staircase. You may be asking, what are floating stairs? These are staircases without risers, where the supporting structure is more hidden than for a typical staircase, which gives the visual that they are floating. This type of staircase may look precarious but is actually quite safe.
In addition, you can convert your wooden staircase to a floating one without the need to totally replace the treads. Floating staircases typically cost between $3,000 and $5,000.
Basements tend to be darker rooms than the remainder of the house. When it comes to stairs, this can be a problem due to the difficulty of seeing individual steps. Improving your basement space often involves adding additional lighting, and this can become part of a stair remodel.
You can embed lighting into the stairs to provide uplighting. This is a fairly laborious task that should only be attempted by a professional, although it does give a glamorous and inviting feel to the basement. Other options include adding LED stripping on the steps or adding lighting to the railing, which are far simpler. Either way, adding light will improve the overall vision and safety of those traveling up and down the staircase.
BUILD A STAIRCASE
If you’re building a staircase totally from scratch, it can be difficult to know where to start, particularly if you don’t have a previous staircase to work from. Of course, if you have recently had a basement dug out, then the contractors who did the work will be able to add a staircase for you.
If you’d like to build a staircase or simply want to familiarize yourself with the process, here’s a general outline for how to build a staircase:
Here are the measurements for a standard set of stairs:
How to build a staircase
Mark the Wood
Assuming you use the measurements outlined above (riser height: 7 inches, tread depth: 10 inches), you should use a square ruler to mark the wood at the correct size. Remember to follow the dictum that you should measure (and mark) twice, and cut once.
Cut the Wood
To cut the wood, you’ll need to use a circular saw (along with the adequate safety equipment – particularly eye protection and gloves). However, once you’ve cut almost all of the wood, use a handsaw to complete the cut. This allows the wood to retain much of its strength.
Attach the Stairs
To actually attach the stairs, you can use plywood and stringers as guide marks. Then use a combination of wood glue and screws to attach the treads. Following this, connect the tread and risers to the railing you’ll put in place. This will keep everything as sturdy as possible.
Again, if in any doubt, have a professional install the staircase. You don’t want a staircase that breaks due to shoddy installation
Ultimately, the basement stairs are an important gateway. If you are converting your basement into a room for you and your family to enjoy – such as a TV room – then improving the stairs is a vital step in this process. Not only does it make the space safer, but it will also help set the tone for the room.