Interior Finishes

Stairs and Railings

Stairs provide structural access to different floor levels of the home. For safety, stairs have strict building code parameters regarding landing sizes, step heights and widths, handrail heights/sizes and baluster spacing to make them safe.

For our purposes, this section on stairs will also include steps, landings, ramps, build-in ladders and elevators. All of these devices are used to safely move from people one elevation in or around the home to another.

Purpose

Stairs, ladders and elevators are used to move from one full floor (or more) to another. Steps and ramps act like mini stairs to transit lesser elevation changes. Steps are commonly used at entries, porches, patios or in garages to get up to the interior floor level from the ground. They are also used on the interior of split-level homes or homes with raised or sunken rooms. Ramps are sometimes used in lieu of steps in order to make it possible for wheelchairs to move from one level to another.

Image looking down a stairway of wood stained treads
Luxury stairway

Handrails are required by the Uniform Building Code for any stairs or steps that exceed three risers. Because safety is important, the code has strict requirements for stair and handrail dimensions, placements and spacing. Ladders may be used as emergency, secondary escape methods or for accessing attics or basements that are not occupied spaces.

Designs

There are several common designs for stairs ranging from very utilitarian to stunningly complex and beautiful. Some staircases are actually designed to become the main feature of the home. The most challenging to build and also most fun to look at are spiral or helical stairs. These staircases are very space efficient and were commonly found in old world towers and castles because of this. It is said that during medieval times, spiral stairs were designed to wind in a clockwise direction to give defenders an advantage against invading (mostly right handed) swordsmen as the stair newel would hinder their sword use. One of the most interesting helical stairs is the all wood “miracle” staircase built for the Sisters of Loreto in the chapel of Our Lady of Light, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Elevators and Lifts

Elevators and mechanized lifts are sometimes used in residential applications. Elevators are mechanical devices used for moving people vertically from floor to floor through a building. Building codes have strict requirements on their construction and should be serviced by licensed professionals on a regular basis.

An interesting thing about elevators was the following simple algorithmic logic code that was developed to control them:

  • Continue traveling in the same direction while there are remaining requests in that same direction.
  • If there are no further requests in that direction, then stop and become idle, or change direction if there are requests in the opposite direction.

This simple, efficient elevator algorithm has been used in computer operating systems as code for scheduling hard drive storage requests.

Maintenance

  • 1x per year: check the handrail and balusters for any loose components and make repairs as needed.
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