In many situations, you can move a staircase to a different location in your home. Moving a staircase may seem unusual, as homes are often designed around staircases. Moving a staircase can dramatically change the look, feel, and operation of the home, so careful planning is recommended. Today we will look at the process of moving a staircase and suggest when you may want to enlist a contractor to help.
Why Would I Want to Move a Staircase?
Moving a staircase is a fairly common project and is probably not as difficult as it appears. Moving a staircase is often easier than building a new one if the floor heights are the same in both locations. Much of the effort required to move a staircase is actually in finishing the floor and trim after moving it. Here we will discuss two common reasons staircases are moved.
Staircases get relocated for many reasons, but the majority get moved to make way for a remodel. Stairwells can be any size or shape, so there is no better time to integrate a new staircase design than during a remodel. If your remodel project will incorporate a new design, like replacing a regular staircase with a spiral version, hire a professional. Accidentally removing a weight bearing floor joist could be disastrous for the structure of the home.
Completely new designs may require substantial framing changes and pros will have the training and skill to do the job correctly. Some stairwells rely on an exterior wall for support, while others are self-supporting, so it’s important to know which type you have. If you have any doubts, consult a professional for advice. Saving a few dollars on labor is a poor trade if doing the project yourself causes more problems than it solves.
Staircases are also commonly moved to make space for an elevator. As the population ages, in-home elevators have become a very popular feature in upscale homes. Fortunately, most residential elevators use a very similar floor opening to that of a staircase, allowing the reuse of the opening. In many remodels, the staircase will be relocated to a location nearby the elevator for the non-disabled, much like a hotel.
Can I Move a Staircase Myself?
If you have good do-it-yourself experience with lumber and power tools, you can probably move your own staircase. Moving a staircase can take a fair amount of time and money however, so having a plan to minimize both is a great idea. A staircase is really just a comfortable ladder that connects two levels, so many times the staircase is only supporting its own weight. In these instances, moving the staircase can often be done on a weekend.
In other designs, staircases are built in parallel with an exterior weight bearing wall, such as a foyer staircase. Professionals strongly recommend getting a structural engineer involved in these situations, because structural damage can occur when modifying a bearing wall. Moving the staircase is often still possible, but a permitted, certified design will be required. For example, most hidden staircases have solid walls on both sides, so removing either could cause a collapse of the second floor.
How Do I Move a Staircase?
Moving a staircase is done in stages. In this section, we will describe the common steps involved in moving a staircase and why they are important. In this example, we will be relocating a staircase from a foyer to a more prominent location in the home, like a living room. We will assume no bearing problems exist, so we are just moving the staircase and handrail.
Step 1 Disassemble the Old Staircase
The first step is to take apart the existing staircase and handrail and take an inventory of all of the parts. In this example, we plan to reuse the materials, so we are as careful as possible to prevent damage, especially to hardwood treads. First, we remove the treads (the part you step on) to expose the framing under the staircase. We remove the risers as well (the vertical board between the steps), as this will allow us to see the floor joists on the second floor.
Next, we determine if the staircase is parallel or perpendicular to the second floor joists. If it is parallel, the job is easier because this likely means the staircase is not weight bearing and can be moved. If the staircase runs perpendicular to the joists, stop and call a structural engineer or architect for advice. Stairwells that run perpendicular to the joists likely include at least one weight bearing wall and removing it (even temporarily) can cause structural issues.
Step 2 Prepare the New Location
In this step we determine if the new location is suitable for the new staircase. Again, we determine if we can install the staircase parallel to the joists. If so, we can lay out the opening for the staircase. At this point we open up the second floor by removing the flooring and subfloor to expose the second floor joists.
The joists will likely be spaced on either 24” or 16” centers, depending on the width of the joist. If the joists are on 24” centers, we can remove one joist and establish the needed opening, or if the joists are on 16” centers we will remove two joists. Either way we end up with a 46 ½” opening, which is plenty to comfortably use the staircase. Next, we add double trimmer joists to the entire perimeter of the opening to replace the bearing support lost when the joist(s) were removed.
Step 3 Install the Stringers and Cripple Studs
At this point we should have the old stairs disassembled and the new opening built into the second floor system, but no staircase. Now we just reassemble the stairs in the opposite order using the inventory list we made earlier. Most professionals use joist hangers to re-attach the joists to the framing, but they can also be nailed or screwed together. We then hang the stringers from the trimmer joists, install the cripple studs under the stringers, and replace the treads and risers.
Step 4 Finishing Up
The last step is to finish the staircase out and repair the demolition from the old staircase location. Professionals will usually begin by installing and finishing the drywall first, followed by flooring and trim, and then painting. Often, the quality of the finishing makes all the difference in appearance, so many pros spend over half of their time on the details. As the goal is a seamless repair, patience and attention to detail will pay dividends.