Interior and exterior staircases make an instant first impression and reinforce a home’s architectural style. Remodeling a staircase can completely change the look of an entryway. Fixing problems in older staircases, like squeaky or loose steps, can also make them safer and eliminate annoying defects. Minor repairs will cost less than a total remodel, of course, because your carpenter or contractor will need less material and repairs will typically require less time than rebuilding the staircase from scratch. Prefabricated staircases will cost less to install than custom structures because of the precision and time required to measure and plan for the design and materials. Jeff Thompson, master carpenter and owner of Thompson Builders in Hingham, Massachusetts, says homeowners should plan to spend a minimum of $10,000 to have an existing staircase removed and replaced with brand-new custom wooden stairs, rails, balusters and newel posts. Factors that affect the overall average cost of a staircase remodel include labor, the extent of the remodel, the complexity of the design, the materials and more.
Master carpenters who have experience building stairs will typically base the project fee on an hourly rate of $45 each for themselves and any additional carpenters needed to complete the job. A large job might require three people, says Thompson of Thompson Builders, for a total hourly rate of $135.
Updating existing stairs
You could also update the look of your existing staircase by replacing the treads and risers. Thompson Builders’ Thompson says giving your staircase a facelift is likely to cost $3,000-$4,000, which breaks down to about a week’s worth of labor for three carpenters at $135 per hour plus the cost of materials. Another way to update the look of a staircase is to replace the rails and balusters.
For interior staircases, Thompson says oak is the preferred wood for the treads, but for risers and stringers (the sloped boards that support the other components and carry the weight of people walking on the stairs), he will often use Parallam or Microllam, engineered wood products that are stronger and straighter than natural wood.
Calculating stair rise and run
A carpenter with experience building stairs knows that calculating a staircase’s rise and run is a crucial detail. This is why hiring someone with experience—and the proper licenses and insurance—is important. The total rise is the vertical height the stairs have to cover. The run is how much horizontal distance the staircase covers as it climbs. The ratio of rise to run must be consistent to achieve a safe, well-proportioned staircase. There may also be building code requirements that dictate the rise-to-run ratio and/or tread depth for interior and exterior staircases. An experienced stair builder will know what these are and construct your stairs to comply.
For safety reasons, interior staircases are not usually a single run of steps. More common is an L-shape, which is safer. An L-shaped staircase features a landing in the middle that creates a 90-degree turn before the second set of steps begins. This will take longer to build and require more framing, and thus more materials, increasing your cost. U-shaped stairs are similar to L-shaped stairs, but they make a 180-degree turn by adding a single, wide landing, or a second smaller landing at a different level than the first. Less common are spiral staircases, which are, not surprisingly, expensive to have custom-built. Prefabricated spiral staircases made of wood or metal are available, but you are still looking at a minimum cost of $3,000, including installation.
Thompson Builders’ Thompson says exterior stairs are sometimes less expensive than interior stairs, in part because your builders don’t have to take as much care to protect nearby surfaces from dust and debris during the building process. Thompson recently installed a set of straight wooden steps leading up to the front door of a Victorian home in his area for $15,000.