Stair Remodeling:
My Green Home Loses One Set Of Stairs
And Gains Another

My unusual stair remodeling project involved moving the basement stairs to a different location.

I know, this sounds like a scary, complicated idea. Believe it or not, it's a lot easier than you think.

And dollar-wise, it's very little money for a huge improvement in quality of life.

Of course there is also the increased value of the house itself.

Read on...


Step-By-Step Photo Account Of The Stair Project

1. PREPARATION


How to move stairs: the old staircas

The first thing you saw when you entered the house that I had just bought was this ugly staircase.

Not a pretty traditional set of stairs with turned spindles and wooden steps, like you might expect in an old house.

No, there was just this functional, panelled, gloomy box with stairs in it.



In addition to their repulsive appearance, these stairs had the effect of breaking up the main floor in two because of their location smack in the middle of the house.


The builder had taken advantage of the wasted space to build the stairway to the basement on the back of it, and this had the unfortunate effect of also breaking up the basement in two.

And so my first thought when I was that house was "Those stairs have to go!". Stair remodeling wasn't even an option. Relocating the stairs would be the solution.


The crew was hardly in the door that demolition started.

Although I wanted to photograph everything, after the dust started flying I had to go because I'm allergic to it!



When I came back, an hour later, the awful staircase was gone and I could already see and feel what that big room would be like.

That was a very happy moment!



However, the removal of those walls was causing a weakness in the structure. This possibility had been brought up before. The builder, Darrel, said that I might have to put in a new beam all across the house. Meanwhile, I would have to put up with a column.

Not only was that not a problem for me, I was glad to have a column there because I could use it to attach the curtains that I wanted to hang around my sleeping area.

While the demolition was taking place, Darrell was preparing the site of the new basement stairs. This led to a pleasant surprise: contrary to what I believed, underneath the carpets and vinyl flooring there was an interesting spruce floor. I hadn't seen the original floors before because they had been covered with sub-floors.


2. STAIR CONSTRUCTION: STRINGERS


After preparing the area and marking off the location of the new stairwell, cutting the hole in the floor with a reciprocating saw was a matter of minutes.



The local lumberyard sells precut stringers, but Darrel prefers to make them himself. He must have a good reason because the difference in price isn't that great. I



I'm glad he made them because that way I was able to see how they're made and take these pictures.

Here is a close-up of the stringer taking shape.





Stair installation: the first stringer is in place, snug against the foundation wall.




3. STAIR CONSTRUCTION: TREADS AND RISERS


Building wood stairs: as specified in the contract, the treads are built with 2" by 6" lumber.

I suppose it's cheaper than 2" by 12" planks or pre-made treads and in an unfinished basement, appearance is not really a factor.

Frankly, I'd rather spend the difference somewhere else.



I appreciated the fact that Darrel didn't cut corners by eliminating the risers, as they sometimes do for basements.

Those risers will keep the dirt and dust out of that space under the stairs and I will be able to use it for storage.




4. FINISHING UP


Once the basic stairs were in place, one of the men got busy covering the old hole to the basement with planks over a new supporting structure.

Later, I installed some spruce planking to match the rest of the floor and in order to build it up to the correct level.


The other worker was put in charge of closing up the ceiling, leaving a gap of the right size for the hatch cover and attic ladder that will go there.



This is the foldiing attic ladder that we installed.

Even though I don't plan to go up there very often -- my feeling is that if it's in the attic, you don't need it! -- , I still wanted something easy to use, and I didn't want to spend a lot of money on that project.

I have created a page describing the installation of this folding attic ladder.




5. THE RESULT


Here's a photo of my nice big room sans that awful staircase. What a difference!

You can see the new beam that Darrell put in, and the supporting column that I mentioned earlier.



The new stairs are neatly tucked against the wall, out of the way.

Note: the dampness disappeared once the land was re-graded and rain gutters were installed.


Why I Wanted To Get Rid Of The Stairs

As long as that stairwell was there, it was impossible to go ahead with the design that I had in mind, which was to turn the whole main floor into one big room.

In addition, for the sake of energy efficiency and my desire to live in a small house, I had decided to seal off the second floor, that is, to transform it into an attic. I had no need for a stairway to the second floor.

Moving Stairs Was The Only Solution

But what to do with the basement stairs? There was only one solution: move them to an outside wall, that is to say, build some new ones.

But Who Is Going To Do That Job?

As you may know if you've visited this site before, at that time I didn't have a regular contractor. The situation in my village is such that if you want anything done, you have to get on a waiting list.

After seeing Darrel's ad in the local newspaper, I decided to give him a call. Did he know how to build a staircase? Yes, he did. But I needed to be sure: I asked around about him. He had an excellent reputation. He happened to have a couple of free days and so he agreed to take on that job with his two workers.

During his first visit, he carefully measured the length, width and height of the space where I was planning to have the new stairs. This is because in order to build stairs to code, the treads have to have a minimum depth and the risers a certain height and that takes a fixed amount of space.

As it turned out, there wouldn't be enough room to turn comfortably between the last step and the wall, and so a platform would have to be created instead of the last step. Darrell asked me if it would be a problem to raise the stairwell ceiling over that part - by the same height as the platform - but as it turned out all I wanted above was a cupboard, so it was okay.

How Much Did It Cost?

Of course the next thing I asked Darrel was "How much does it cost to move a staircase?"

Darrel's stair remodeling estimate read:

Work detail will be as follows:

  • Supply labor and material to cut stairwell in floor behind partition wall and carrying beam to back side of home. Cut stringer out of 2" x 10" and treads out of 2" by 6" with 1/2" riser boards to complete stairway into basement.
  • Supply and frame support wall under floor as necessary.
  • Stairs to be 35" wide and built to code measure.
  • Will frame door opening at top of stairway through partition wall for 32" x 80" door.
  • Remove existing stairway system out of middle of house (basement and upstairs).
  • Frame and board in existing stairway to basement and stairway to upstairs framing opening for ceiling drop ladder (if sizes obtained).
  • Install temporary post under ceiling joists for support.
  • Save whatever portion of material that can be reused and pile rest of debris at rear of building.
Total cost for above work detail including all labor, materials, and applicable taxes: $1416.00 + $184.00 (HST) = $1600.00.

Method of Payment: $800 at start and $800 upon completion.

That seemed reasonable to me, and so I signed the contract and we agreed on a date.

What Else?

In case you're wondering, the door to the new basement stairs is going to be inside the new bathroom. Not the most conventional place, but why not? After all, this is hardly a typical stair remodeling project.

I'm very happy with the location of the basement stairs and the fact that there's going to be a small window in the new stairwell. (It used to be the kitchen window.) Not having to turn on a light to go to the basement during the day is right in keeping with my energy efficiency goals and the permaculture principles that I'm applying.

I can't wait to try more permaculture ideas! Stay tuned...

I was also very satisfied with Darrel's handling of this stair remodeling project. I wanted him to come back and do some more work on the house but he was booked up until the end of the year and beyond.

I was back to square one.

Dollar-By-Dollar Account

Check out my Dollar By Dollar page for the complete details of my green home project's expenses so far.

More Stair Remodeling Info

Coming soon -- Stay tuned!

Don't Be Afraid To Try Something Different!

I hope that this account shows that not only is everything possible, it's usually a lot simpler and cheaper than we amateurs think!

When we think of remodeling stairs, moving a staircase is not something that usually occurs to us when we design a new floor layout, yet as you can see, there's no reason to put up with a cumbersome set of stairs or one whose location doesn't fit in with our plans.

A perfect time for moving basement stairs, for instance, would be when contemplating a basement remodeling project. A basement remodel doesn't have to work around the existing floor plan, considering how easy and inexpensive it is to relocate stairs.

Another reason to rebuild a set of basement stairs would be if the old ones are too narrow, generally unsafe or without risers. In such a case, basement stair remodeling is a necessity.

Yes, You Can Build Your Own Stairs

My friend Larry, whose website is a treasure trove for self-building enthusiasts, says that "stair construction is kind of tricky, but with the right formula anybody can learn how to build stairs." He gives that formula in detail on his Stair Construction page. I highly recommend it!


GREEN NOTES

ELIMINATING THE SECOND FLOOR. Hardly anything contributes to energy conservation and efficiency like containing the heat by preventing it from escaping to an upper floor and out through the roof.

Additionally, if you live in an area where summer temperatures require air conditioning, you already know how hot that second floor can get while the main floor is a cool, comfortable place.

If you don't need the additional space, don't hesitate to seal off that extra floor and turn it into an attic. I've never seen that suggested, yet as energy prices rise and rise, and reducing our ecological footprint becomes necessary if we're to avert the disasters caused by global warming, it's certainly an option worth considering.

In my case, an additional factor was inevitable: I'm not getting any younger! I've even planned a ground floor place for my washer and dryer eventually, should it become necessary to get them out of the basement.

REUSING SALVAGED BUILDING MATERIALS. There was a nice piece of salvaged lumber of the right size in the basement and Darrel used it to create a beam for reinforcing the structure. He did this even though it was not included in the estimate. I was very grateful, and relieved at the thought that I now had a solid structure to work with.

CONSTRUCTION WASTE. The demolition part of this project was definitely not a deconstruction job! Therefore, I was left with the inevitable pile of debris destined for the landfill. This pile grew considerably afterwards, I'm afraid!




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COMMENTS

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Dean
Prague, Czech Republic

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I would just like to thank you for maintaining this resource. It's essential that information about environmental issues are easily and broadly accessible.

Steve
United States

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Thank you so much forsharing your exquisitely well-told stories! I have spent the last 2 hours reading the whole saga, and I appreciate all of the detail that went into your decision making. I hope you are enjoying your green home with cozy surroundings and energy efficiency.

Candice
Unites States

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United States

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United States

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Canada

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Canada

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Spain

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United States


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United States

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Minnesota

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                  Australia

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Canada

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BACKGROUND

A few years ago, I bought this fixer-upper for $10,000.

It had been vacant for six years, had no water supply, needed a new roof, and was likely to conceal an unsuspected number of nasty flaws.

Don't believe me? See these "Before" pictures.

My intention was to turn it into as "green" as home as I could, within my physical, financial, and geographical limits – and to share this adventure with you, step-by-step and dollar-by-dollar.

I'm not quite finished, but I do have a few "After" pictures to show.

If you want to follow me on this exciting adventure, you can subscribe to this site by RSS feed -- see the box below the navigation bar on the left.