Sarah Mitchell

One of the focal points of residential architecture is staircases. Many homeowners today prefer sleek, modern staircases to the more ornate styles of the past.

Floating staircases, also known as cantilever stairs, have become a staple of luxury home design. Despite what the name says, floating stairs don’t actually float. People can’t defy gravity despite their best efforts. They have, however, mastered the fabrication and design of modern stairs with a minimalist and light appearance.

A modern floating staircase, by definition, is any staircase with open risers. The stair treads, in this staircase, aren’t linked to one another. Instead, the builder connects these treads with one or more stair stringers that run along the sides or beneath the treads.

These modern stairs can come in a variety of materials. Homeowners, for instance, can have floating wood stairs built to complement their home’s hardwood flooring. They also have the option to use other stair tread materials, such as steel and glass.

Apart from versatility, floating stairs offer convenient and practical storage. Given that these modern staircases hide or minimize their support, they open up an area beneath them for storage space. This means that you could use the stairs to store belongings and avoid clutter.

Are Floating Stairs Safe?

At first glance, floating staircases might seem dangerous. These stairs, however, are safe when properly constructed and accompanied by a secure railing system.

Homeowners can alleviate safety concerns by complying with applicable building codes. They can keep their floating stairs safe doing the following:

  • They hire a skilled engineer to closely assess the structural rigidity of each staircase’s steel support system. Besides safety, structural rigidity affects how the floating staircase feels when a person walks up or down the stairs.
  • They follow building code requirements in their area, which can include handrail size, tread run, tread rise, guardrail clearances and stair openings.
  • They have an expert regulating the space present under each tread. This is possible by adding a steel lip, mesh, cables or glass. These measures can improve stair safety while maintaining the staircase’s openness and allowing the passage of light.

How Much Do Floating Stairs Cost?

Custom floating stairs are a stunning visual work of art that adds value to your property. This staircase, however, comes at a cost. The price of modern floating stairs varies but it usually costs somewhere between $5,000 and 30,000. The cost range is extreme due to the variety of finish options and other factors surrounding the staircase.

The basic model of a floating staircase may be relatively affordable. As you add or customize the project, you can expect the total cost to go up. Your stairs will also become more costly when you have a high floor-to-floor height, as you’ll need more materials to achieve a higher elevation.

Obviously, a straight run will cost less than a complicated stair style for the same reason: more necessary materials.

If you’re opting for wood as the material for your floating stairs, you can expect the price to vary depending on the wood species you pick. Some species are more affordable than others because of availability.

If you need to keep your costs down, you have the option to select a less expensive wood. Then, stain it to satisfy your design preferences.

Then, there’s the railing system. The total cost of your project will be lower if you chose aluminum over stainless steel, as the former is more affordable. Stainless steel, though, offers extra strength for more robust applications.

Long story short, there are so many factors to consider when determining the cost of a floating staircase. Getting an exact price is virtually impossible unless you obtain an actual quote from a reliable contractor.

How are Floating Stairs Built?

Constructing a custom, modern floating staircase requires a solid design, accurate measurements and the right materials.

If you’re building floating stairs as a DIY project, you’ll be better off doing this with a metal stringer, an important component that supports the structure from the bottom. Also, you’ll need a minimum of four people in the installation process. After all, the stringer itself weighs approximately 300 pounds.

Another vital part of the floating stairs building process is measurement. You’ll need a laser measurement tool that can measure from subfloor to subfloor. You’ll also need a standard tape measure. Be sure you’re noting down inch designations and not the metric markers.

Then comes the materials. Besides the stringer, here are other materials you’ll need to obtain:

  • Subfloor – A structural layer laid down over the joists. This will serve as the base of your completed floor.
  • Joist – These are supporting beams made out of steel or timber.
  • Header – This is the framing piece on the second floor where you’ll secure the top riser of the floating stairs.
  • Stair Treads – These are horizontal pieces that make up the stairs.
  • Stair Brackets – These components connect the stair treads and the stringers. They make building structurally sound staircases easier for you.
  • Handrails – Although not adding this component will help you achieve a true, minimalist look on your floating staircase, this will make the stairs dangerous. Including this part for safety reasons is highly recommended.

Once you have the measurements and materials, you take on the task of attaching the stair treads to the wall. Then, you proceed with attaching the other components, such as the joist and the stringers, to your floating staircase.

Important note: If you don’t have the skills and expertise to take on this project (or have no idea if your planned DIY staircase meets building code regulations), you’ll need to hire a professional. Although DIY projects are great to pursue, you have to know and acknowledge your limits, especially when an error in staircase construction could result in an injury.

child developing motor skills
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

How Do You Childproof Floating Stairs?

You can keep babies and young kids from falling down the floating staircase by equipping a proper safety gate for stairs.

An example is a baby gate. This structure, when placed in strategic locations, can keep your “young adventurer” safe from hazards. Whatever safety gate you purchase from the store, make sure it completely restricts access from the stairs.

If you have older children, you’ll need to install a graspable handrail that will support a person as they go up and down the stairway. Make sure that the handrail has the correct size. If it’s too small, it won’t give your child enough surface to grasp. On the other hand, your handrail will be difficult to hold if it’s too big.

Floating stairs, when built properly, maximize living space and remove visual obstructions. They’re safe for kids (and adults) as long as their construction and design follow International Residential Code (IRC) standards.    

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