Want to Remodel Your Stairs? - Here is your Strategy

So, you have looked at your tired old stairs for long enough. The time has come to take the plunge and make a change. Like any project, you have to identify key attributes that can take the project from conception to the finalized product. I will cover this in simple terms assuming a limited experience level. Let's start with 5 key elements:

  1. What styles do I prefer?
  2. What can I afford?
  3. Where can I buy it?
  4. What is my timeframe?
  5. Who can install it?

Selecting your Style

Let’s first start by identifying the styles that you like. The internet has brought these products to the tips of our fingers. Search stairs and or stair parts, and many companies provide these products. Sites like Pinterest are also a great resource for looking at stairs. One thing we recommend is focusing on which stair part designs fit the architectural theme of your home. We have recently cataloged many common architectural styles and paired them with families of stair parts that we feel are a great marriage of form and function. I have provided that link here for your convenience. Stairs are commonly visible from the entrance of your home. The last thing that you want to do is install parts that are too large or overpower the space. On the other hand, the stairs (just like a kitchen) should be a functional WOW factor! So, my suggestion is to find something you like. Take our catalog, Fitts’ “Life and Style” brochure and pick out some families of products that catch your eye. Choose a newel, a baluster, and a handrail profile. Then determine what species of wood matches the rest of the home. Write it down. Have a column A for your first choice and a column B for your second choice. This list will be important later for determining the price.

Pricing

The biggest decision regarding a stair upgrade is the price. If you are like me, it never fails that the one you pick is the most expensive. Take it as a compliment; it means you have good taste. Costs are going to vary based on your location. A stair in Manhattan, New York, and Manhattan, Kansas are going to be at different ends of the spectrum. On average, the price of a small basic stair parts job (without installation labor) is between $1500-$3000. The job usually will increase in cost with upgrades like these:

  • Wood species
  • Product offering or greater detail
  • Size of the products
  • Availability and shipping charges

Now, to narrow down pricing you have two routes to take: one traditional method is to reach out to your local lumberyard, and the other is to search for those items from an online retailer. You have several basic items written down on your list, so you can do some simple price comparisons from this. Keep in mind you have labor and potentially freight to account for. Other considerations that can affect the overall pricing will include whether you can reuse any existing items? Is this job going to be a total demo and do-over? Are you doing a major demo knocking out a wall and installing a rail for the first time? You can tell from the complexity of what I described if the scope of the project is large or small.

Where to Buy?

You have many choices of where to buy stair parts. There are the traditional lumber yards or pro-dealers, big-box superstores, specialty millwork retailers, and even online retailers that will ship directly to you. We have tried to make it easier to find Fitts stair products by providing a dealer locator on our website. If you are unable to locate our products in your area, please reach out to us so that we can accommodate your needs. Another alternative to purchase stair parts is from stair installers. Many stair installers do enough stair work that they can buy direct from the manufacturers. This gives you the ability to get a turnkey price. Having the list of items that you like is a great advantage for the process because it allows you to quote products through a variety of different places.

Who Will Install?

If you are handy and have done complex trim-carpentry work, this may be a job that you want to tackle. You are going to need a pretty good bevy of tools including a compounding miter-saw, drills, measuring tape, angle, etc. For the masses, the best bet is to locate a trim-carpenter or someone knowledgeable about stair installation. You can search the internet, use the yellow pages, or reach out to your local lumber yard that sells millwork and ask for references. This individual will also be an enormous asset in determining the scope and cost, and can help you with a full parts list. Communicating with your installer is key. You will be able to explain what you want and they will be able to tell you how they will do it and in what timeframe. (continued below)

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Timeframe

Time is the second currency. Today, as we struggle with the COVID-19 virus, you may be surprised to find trim-carpenters that would love the work and have free time. That is usually not the case and the project scope can be 30-60 days. So plan for this. If you have that time, also consider that the product you order may have to be manufactured and transported to you. So there is generally some lead time to account for. Don't put yourself in a bad position. The installation itself may take more than a week. Be prepared for some inconvenience inside of your home.

Pitfalls

Make sure you find someone that you trust to install the stairs or railing system. Ask questions. Ask for references. There is a big difference between a finish carpenter and a carpenter. Stairs are complex. Don't pay less for someone who is on the job twice as long. Rather, pay someone who knows what they are doing a little bit more. Remember - the stair needs to be up to code and safe. Ordering products online and using online companies to bid and buy products has benefits and shortfalls. It is great to be able to quickly quote and see the products online. What you are not able to see are the benefits that come with the products that dealers sell. Those dealers buy the best products they can for their markets. They do so because the manufacturers (like Fitts) back those products with warranty, support, and consistent sourcing that makes reordering simple. You also have to know that some dealers carry stock material and can easily backup any shortages that you run into. The main issue is product consistency and like the old saying goes, “cheaper isn’t always better.” And who doesn’t like to support their local economies?

Here are the Benefits

Like any home remodeling project, this is a stamp of your taste. This project can change the character of the home and update your space with enormous impact while increasing the value of your home. We always say the stair is a piece of furniture for the home. Except in this case, it remains a semi-permanent item. So embrace the project and understand that while it isn’t a simple project, the benefit of the quality and craftsmanship will last for many years. If you are interested in learning the basics of stair construction, check our Stair Installation Instruction Manual. If you buy from Fitts stair parts from one of our vendors you have our commitment to stand behind the warranty of our products. We support our dealers and we want you to be satisfied with your stair system parts.

Lastly, like everything in life, don’t be afraid to seek out help if your stair project is complex. Stairs can be very difficult to figure out concerning product layout. Make sure that your project remains in code and is well constructed. Start your project with great quality stair parts that you can count on from Fitts.

By Boyd Winkler