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Room in Focus: Stairways

More than just latter-day ladders, stairs enrich the log ambience.
by Country's Best Log Homes staff

Log Home Stairways

Credit: Rocky Mountain Log Homes Photo

In some cases, stairs are interwoven with the log work so that it takes some effort to tell where the superstructure stops and the stairs start. This effect is most noticeable in log homes where stairs lead to a loft, and the stair railing continues past the top of the stairs as the loft railing.

Even though the stairs in log homes often look different from those in ordinary homes, they share form and components. No matter how stairs are designed and arranged, they are intended to provide safe movement up and down, and provide adequate headroom.

The basis of any staircase is the stringers, which run at an angle from one floor or landing to the next floor or landing. Stringers support the treads and risers. Treads are the horizontal parts of the stairs that you step on. Risers are the vertical parts from the back of one tread to the front of the tread above. The tip of the tread that extends beyond the riser is called a nose. It is usually rounded. A stringboard is sometimes placed along the inside of a staircase to cover the ends of the steps. These are the parts of stairs that are concerned with the feet, which do the stepping.

Almost all stairs also provide grab bars, called handrails. They can be attached to the wall or staircase enclosure with brackets or supported by posts called balusters. Most stairs with just one railing position it on the right side. Left-hand stairs have the rail on the left as you ascend. The top of the bottom baluster is called the newel post.

Stairs may consist of a straight run, without a landing, or turned, with one or more landings. A flight of stairs is a continuous run from landing to landing; stairs from one floor to another with a landing in between, therefore, would constitute two flights.

Spiral stairs, also called circular or winding stairs, move up and down around a vertical center. Winders are steps whose treads are cut narrower at one end to swing around the axis. Besides having an appealing look, spiral stairs take up little room7mdash;a big advantage in a smaller home. Their chief disadvantage becomes apparent when you try to move a full-size sofa from one level to another.

Stairs are measured by the total run and the total rise. The run is the horizontal distance of a flight of stairs, measured from the face of the top riser to the face of the bottom riser. The total rise is the vertical distance from one landing to the next. The relationship of the run and rise determines the pitch, or steepness, of the stairs.

The most important consideration with interior stairs is headroom, which is measured from the front edge of the nosing to a line parallel with the pitch of the stairs. The minimum prescribed by building codes is 6 feet 8 inches.

Other code requirements will also affect the design of stairs. They determine the height of handrails, for example, as well as the distance between the balusters.

Stairs in log homes adhere to these same elements but with their own interpretation. Foremost is the less formal character of the components. Railings and balusters are often hand-peeled logs and branches, for example. Stringers may be rough-sawn lumber or full logs resembling the wall logs. A popular log-home tread is a half-log with the flat surface facing up that is either bolted onto the stringers or set into notches cut into them.

Risers are as often absent as they are present. This open-tread design is especially well suited to log homes that feature open floor plans. It also reduces the mass of the staircase, which might otherwise seem considerable with large log components.

As important as deciding which stairs are right for your log home is the look of the stairs themselves. Stairs can be prefabricated or built on site. Any competent trim carpenter can install prefab stairs. Site-built stairs require a higher level of expertise. If you prefer something elaborate, consider hiring a carpenter who specializes in stairs. Naturally, the extra cost will add to your building budget.

On the plus side, rustic stairs are invariably cheaper than more finely finished ones and generally easier to install. If you are on a tight budget, you can always opt for prefabricated conventional stairs and cover them with carpeting.

The stairs in your log home might be part of your log-home package. If so, your producer may offer both plain and fancy versions. Whichever you choose, your regular trim carpenter should have no trouble installing it.

Some handcrafters also offer stairs as part of their log work. They will design and build the staircase as part of the home and erect it when they reassemble the logs on your home site.

Installing any stairs in a log home must allow for settlement. This phenomenon occurs as the logs in a newly built log home shrink from evaporation and compression. It is a natural tendency and not a problem but must be provided for. As the home settles, for example, the distances between the steps must remain uniform. A common method is to calculate the effects of settlement on the dimensions of the staircase and its components, then install the stairs so they can be adjusted during the first year or two after the home is built.

Because there are almost as many different kinds of stairs in log homes as there are log homes themselves, the best way to find out which stairs will suit the home you are planning is to look at lots of pictures while you are gathering design ideas. Pay particular attention to the size of the components, their appropriateness for the scale of the room they will go in and the degree of rusticity or formality. By keeping your eyes and your mind open, you will be sure to choose the stairs that will enhance the beauty of your home.

Published in Country's Best Log Homes
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