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Project Blogs

Open plan staircase with glazed balustrading


The Regs on replacing stairs

Thinking of replacing your staircase or just wanting to bring it up to date with new balustrading? Whatever you choose to do, the right staircase can make a great first impression and a welcoming entrance to your home. Our blog explains what you can do, when and what building regulations apply.

Safety first

With more than 54,000 visits to A& E and more than 80 deaths a year relating to falls on steps and stairs, they are a leading cause of accidents in the home. Any changes or alterations should therefore not be taken lightly and it is one of the main reasons that building control often needs to be involved. 

Staircase jargon

Staircase terminology can be confusing, so we have given a short explanation of each of the components that make up a staircase.

  • Balustrade - the structure that projects from your staircase ie the spindles, banisters and the other components such as newel posts, that allow people to use the stairs safely
  • Base rail - the railing at the bottom of the spindles, supporting the steps
  • Banisters - also known as handrails
  • Newel posts - the structural support for the banister
  • Newel caps - decorative tops that finish off the look of the newel posts

Carpenter working on piece of wood

Replacement staircases

If you plan to replace your staircase, either in situ, or by moving it to *another location in your home, you will need to make a building regulations application before work is started. We would recommend you employ a staircase manufacturer/installer or a reputable joiner to carry out the work for you. 

  • They can offer recommendations on styles to suit your budget and needs
  • They will have the experience to make sure the new staircase fits perfectly and complements your home
  • They should be up to date with the requirements of the building regulations and ensure your staircase complies
  • They should take full responsibility for the measuring of your new stairs and a site survey is normally included within the price.

If you are confident to, you can of course measure up for your own staircase. Lead time for ordering a ready-made staircase, which is less expensive, can be as little as a few weeks. For a bespoke handmade staircase, expect to wait longer. 

*If you are moving your staircase we recommend you contact us in Building Control first. By providing us with a sketch of the new layout, we can confirm the placement of the new stairs does not compromise your means of escape in the event of a fire.

Complying with Building Regulations

It is important that when you submit an application to building control, you include your staircase design. This is so that we can check the plans for compliance with Approved Document K before we come out to inspect the installation in your home. There are a number of building regulations requirements that need to be met Under Approved Document K:

  • The maximum number of stairs you can have in a domestic staircase is 16 - which should be more than enough for a normal sized house
  • Head room above the staircase at any point must to be a minimum of 2m and the slope of the staircase (known as the pitch) can be up to a maximum of 42 degrees
  • The width of each step, known as the ‘going’, needs to be the same and must be between 200-300mm
  • The height (or rise) of each step should be identical and be between 150-220mm
  • A handrail must be fitted and where the width of the stairs is more than 1m, there must be a handrail on each side
  • Handrails should be placed between 900-1000mm above the highest point of the steps and any spindles/balustrades should have a gap no greater than 100mm and be installed to prevent children from readily being able to climb the guarding
  • There is no minimum width of a domestic staircase flight
  • At the top and bottom of every flight there should be a landing, with the width and length being at least as great as the smallest width of the flight
  • A full clear landing must be maintained at the top of the stairs, however a door may swing across the landing at the bottom of the stairs maintaining a 400mm clearance
  • The landing at the top and bottom of the stairs should be level and flat.

Staircase with metal spindles

Replacing your existing balustrading

Before you do any work, you should satisfy yourself that you are not making your stairs any more hazardous to use. You may even be able to improve their safety. For example, if the banister and spindles to your existing staircase have been removed to give an open plan feel to the room.  Whilst you are not breaking any rules, we would strongly advise reinstating both these elements, especially if children or elderly people are likely to use the stairs.

As mentioned above, the building regulations (specifically Approved Document K) apply to replacing or installing new stairs. However regrettably not usually to the replacement of handrails and balustrades, but there are exceptions. (See LABC article referenced below.)

LABC has written an excellent article about what to consider when refurbishing, rather than completely replacing your stairs, including a step-by-step ‘good practice’ guide to follow.

Glazed balustrading

Is a very popular choice now and will add a contemporary, light and open feel to your home. However, depending on the type of glazed balustrading you choose, ie frameless or with posts, the type and weight of glass will vary. The key is that it must be able to withstand the load of someone/something falling against the glass without it breaking. The Building Regulations state that the horizontal uniformly distributed line load for balustrading should be 0.36 kN/m.

Staircases to new loft conversions

If you are thinking about creating an additional floor in your home, there are several aspects of the building regulations to take into consideration when planning access; from fire safety to protection from falls. We advise contacting a specialist loft conversion company or an experienced architect who will be able to help you through the process and submit a building regulations application on your behalf.  You can read further advice in our chapter on loft conversions in our Guide for Property Owners. 

If you are planning a loft conversion, you must have fixed stairs in place to give safe access to the new room. Where there is not enough room for a traditional staircase, it may be possible to use a ‘space saving’ stair.  Retractable ladders or stairs are not normally allowed.

Go Green

Forests are one of our biggest contributors to CO2 reduction, as they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, helping our fight against climate change. Sustainably sourced timber is wood that has been grown and harvested by sustainable methods. FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is a global organisation that certifies whether a forest is sustainable or not. You can check for the FSC mark on any timber products you buy.

There are various types of sustainable timber used for stairs which include:

  • Scandinavian pine - a budget softwood option. This is also known as European Redwood and is a slow growing pale softwood grown in renewable plantations. Pine will slowly darken with age to a honey colour and can be stained, varnished or painted.
  • Southern Yellow Pine - another cost-effective choice. This has a golden colour and attractive grain with a small number of knots. Grown plentifully in the Southern United States this timber is similar in strength to oak.
  • Ash - is a fairly sustainable wood and offers the strength of a hardwood without the expense of choosing Oak.  Light in colour it has a straight grain and takes stains well.
  • Oak - more expensive, but with a beautiful colour and grain.  American White Oak and European Oak are both slow growing which makes them almost watertight and able to withstand a lot of wear and tear. They can be treated with stain, varnish or hard wax oil to seal the wood.

If you have any questions

If this blog has raised any technical questions about your plans for a new staircase please get in touch. We can be contacted via our contact form or by calling one of our team on 0330 0249355 during office hours.

Categories: Blog, Other projects