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Looking to add a second storey to your Sydney home? Where you place the stairs for your new addition is almost certainly more critical than you think. We look at why, explaining the important aspects to consider to help you make the most from adding a new floor to your home.
Planning a major renovation to expand your home is exciting, but the array of choices can be a little overwhelming. It’s easy to get lost in the details and, depending on the advice you get from the professionals you engage, you can overlook some of the fundamentals.
One of these – and maybe your most important first decision – involves the stairs.
Sydney’s Single Storey Homes
It may seem obvious, but your ‘typical’ Sydney single-storey Federation home built 100 years ago, or California Bungalow, wasn’t designed to anticipate a second storey being added in the future.
And when we use the term ‘typical’, whilst there is a high percentage of single storey housing in Sydney, the designs vary considerably, especially as many of the homes weren’t built to a template, and configurations have often been altered at some point after the original build.
The placement of the stairwell therefore isn’t a given. Get this wrong, and you might lose space and functionality from your current ground floor.
Get this right, and you can minimise the loss downstairs and maximise the gain in your new second floor.
It’s also possible to turn this functional necessity into an aesthetic focal point as well as incorporating other useful features around it.
Stairs from the Start
When you sit down with the designer or architect to create your plans, they should start by discussing the placement of the stairs.
If they don’t, you should insist they do … or you should find someone else who specialises in additions.
Until the stair placement has been decided, the rest of the new configuration – both upstairs and down – can’t be planned properly, especially in cases where the intention isn’t to do much work to your existing downstairs layout.
It’s not uncommon for people to fall in love with a certain design, and then try to shoehorn in the stairwell. To accommodate it, major structural work is then needed for the ground floor, you lose a room, or the positioning is unsightly and ruins the flow of downstairs.
On the other hand, a skilful designer experienced in home additions can locate the stairs so that very little space is lost. They are also able to design the area around the stairs to good effect: for storage, a downstairs toilet, study nook, shower room or features like a wine refrigerator!
Whoever designs your stairs should be well aware of Australia’s National Construction Code that regulates all the important aspects of their construction to ensure your stairs are safe.
Fail to observe this code and you might not get your Certificate of Occupancy.
Whilst some of these regulations may constrain some of the ideas you might have, there is enough leeway to allow plenty of choice, whether that’s the use of materials (typical wood or steel) to the style of the rails and balustrades.
However, we advise homeowners to always think about the practical implications of their choices, not just the aesthetics.
For example, you might like the look of a spiral staircase, or the fact it saves space. However, they are a nightmare when it comes to moving furniture between floors.
If your home addition is intended for family members with mobility issues, using a wider tread and more gradual slope relationship should be considered.
The measurements in the code apply after you’ve fitted floor-coverings such as carpet, so these decisions need to be made before you finalise your stair design.
And if there are plans to change the flooring downstairs (making it higher or lower), be aware that a few millimetres can make a difference as all risers need to be constant.
Getting this wrong could mean a completely new stair design especially given the constraints of not more than 18 and not less than 2 risers in each flight. A 19th stair would require a landing and would potentially completely alter your design.
Building Your Stairs
Whilst the positioning of the stairs should be decided right at the start, building the stairs will be one of the final activities in your construction.
The person building your stairs should take their final measurements once the new level has been built. To do so beforehand would be a mistake because, despite the modern technology employed today like using lasers to ensure the built measurements are the same as the plans, there may be small variances for a variety of reasons.
Most stairs are of wood construction and therefore made by a carpenter, but whilst technically any carpenter could build your stairs, Addbuild always recommends a dedicated specialist stair builder.
These specialists have the deep experience and know-how required. They are more accurate, efficient and able to problem-solve the unique challenges found in almost every job.
Cost of Your Stairs
Addbuild makes the cost of the stairs a ‘provisional sum’. That means that whilst it’s assigned a specific amount in your contract, there is leeway in case of a change of materials or some other aspect of the stair construction.
Whilst this is common practice, it’s important to ask your builder all the assumptions they used to decide the provisional sum listed. Addbuild is transparent about this, but less scrupulous builders may have very basic assumptions that could lead to a shock once the actual cost is calculated.
Given the vast array of materials and choices that go into stair design and construction, the price can vary significantly, from a basic stair costing $4,000 to $5,000 or something more elaborate and bespoke that could be more than 10 times that amount.
Addbuild has been building first-floor additions for Sydney clients for decades, and have the hard-won experience of designing and constructing well over 1,000 second floors.
Addbuild’s ‘concept-to-completion‘ service can also include the management of the Development Application process on your behalf.
If you are looking to add a second storey to your home, we’d love to hear from you. Call our office on (02) 8765 1555 or send us a message using our contact form if outside of office hours.
If you are still looking for ideas and advice for your home addition, feel free to delve into our comprehensive suite of articles with advice about all aspects of renovating.